Mayor Nancy McFarlane established a new practice Tuesday for how City Council members should communicate during meetings. From now on, ask to be recognized before you speak, McFarlane told her colleagues.
"I would appreciate that a great deal," the mayor said at the start of Tuesday's meeting.
The directive comes two weeks after a tense exchange between two council members. Thomas Crowder touched Mary-Ann Baldwin's arm as he was trying to finish a comment. The two were speaking over each other, with both saying "excuse me" as they attempted to make their statements. The debate involved whether to impose tougher penalties on construction crews that make noise in neighborhoods.
"Please keep your hands off me in the future," Baldwin said.
Crowder continued with his statement and the incident did not come up again. In an interview, Crowder said he barely touched Baldwin's arm but would be more careful to avoid making contact.
The new practice is intended to bring order to debates and put an end to back-and-forth bickering sessions. It can be viewed as an attempt by McFarlane to manage personality conflicts that have flared on the council, especially since the departure of former Mayor Charles Meeker, who was known for running ultra-efficient meetings. McFarlane succeeded Meeker in December.
This is not the first disagreement between Crowder and Baldwin. Both Democrats, Baldwin tends to be friendlier to business and development groups, while Crowder typically sides with neighborhoods and has a reputation for being tough on developers.
On Tuesday, council members raised no objections to McFarlane's request. And they followed her instructions, making sure to catch the mayor's attention by either raising a hand or simply saying "mayor" and waiting to be recognized before they began making comments.