Demystifying Malden’s ordinance-making process

So, what really happens behind the Malden City Council’s blue curtain?

Malden’s 2016 Rules and Ordinance Committee consists of five councilors: Chairperson Craig Spadafora, Vice Chairperson Debbie DeMaria and three other members including councilors Crowe, Kinnon and O’Malley

Other councilors, city officials, interested parties and citizens may attend the meetings and often do.These meetings are governed by the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law. Issues before this committee impact the lives of Malden residents every day and in many ways.

Photo: A number of residents attended the January 12, 2016 City Council Meeting.

Vice Chair DeMaria cited a recent example to describe how “ordinance making” works:

“Someone (e.g. Councilors, Mayor, City Official, or citizen) perceives a problem (e.g. replica guns pose a threat to public safety, as they can be mistaken for real guns with really bad results). They then ask a Councilor to propose an ordinance to address it. Someone drafts language (in the case of the replica gun issue it was the Mayor and Police Chief, but it could be the City Clerk, a City Councilor, the City Solicitor, the City Planner, a citizen, etc.).  The Council refers this to the Rules & Ordinance committee, which meets to discuss and refine proposed language. Depending on the complexity of the issue, the amount of discussion and/or research varies widely.  The Rules & Ordinance Committee makes a recommendation to the full Council.  The full Council votes on the proposed matter, and if it passes, the council enrolls and ordains it go to Mayor Christenson for his signature.  At that point, it becomes city law which the city enforces.”

This year’s Rules & Ordinance Committee agenda has been dominated by discussions related to the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The CPA passed by popular vote on the November 2015 ballot. This requires Malden create an ordinance establishing the Community Preservation Committee. Taking a closer look at activities related to the CPA provides a good view of how the ordinance making process works.
Photo: Discussion at the February 23, Rules and Ordinance Meeting.

Many hours of work and long Rules & Ordinance meetings took place during the first two months of 2016. On February 23, 2016, the committee met to discuss recommendations related to Public Hearings and finalize details for a Survey designed to gather more input from residents related to the CPA. After several meetings focused on the CPA, the Rules & Ordinance committee voted unanimously to report favorably their recommendations to the full city council. Here’s some video from a recent Rules & Ordinance discussion related to the CPA: 

Once a committee votes, the action goes before the full 11-member City Council for consideration. A unanimous vote out of committee, such as occurred on February 23, signals strong support. As expected, later that evening Chair Spadafora brought the Rules & Ordinance recommendations to the full City Council. After a brief discussion, the Council voted unanimously to support these recommendations. (One councilor was absent.) A short video of that City Council vote is here:

The next morning, Councilor D’Arcangelo – who voted to support this item the night before – unexpectedly filed what’s known as a “reconsideration motion.” This is a procedure allowed by Roberts Rules of Order and Malden’s own rules that govern City Council meetings. The procedural maneuver has the effect of suspending activity until the reconsideration motion is discussed at a subsequent city council meeting. Greg Lucey, who served multiple terms as an At-Large Councilor and has long been a contributor to the larger Malden community, provided some perspective on this:

“Reconsideration of your vote is intended to be used when you vote with the majority on an issue and then change your opinion. By notifying the clerk within 24 hours of that vote you would like to reconsider your vote it will delay what was passed by the majority. Unfortunately, it is used more as a stall tactic with the request to reconsider not a change of heart on the issue but rather knowing going into the initial vote where the majority will land, vote with them, fully aware you can reconsider your vote to delay what was being passed. I never reconsidered a vote in my 6 years on the council and only have seen a few councilors use this tactic.”

Under current Council rules, the councilor is not required to explain or state the reason for their motion for reconsideration. That may change in the future. Councilor O’Malley proposed an order at the February 23, 2016 City Council Meeting “That City Council Rules be amended relative to motions for reconsideration.” There is a shared concern that motions for reconsideration can be misused and abused with a detrimental impact on the council and the community. O’Malley’s proposal will be discussed at a future Rules & Ordinance Committee meeting.

D’Arcangelo’s motion for reconsideration is expected to be discussed as part of the March 8th City Council Agenda.  Procedural obstructionism by elected officials might be considered “the practice of deliberately delaying or preventing a process or change, especially in politics.” This can lead to legislative gridlock, delays in much-needed progress and higher cost burdens of governance imposed on citizens and taxpayers.

Looking ahead in 2016, a citywide parking sticker program is a top priority for Chair Spadafora. As Spadafora said at the recent meeting:

“From my perspective, I think this is the number one quality of life issue the city is facing. …  It’s already happening by metamorphosis. Every time you go to a traffic committee meeting … somebody’s adding another street. It’s a domino effect – if you do this part of West Street you’ll be back six months later…”

Spadafora has begun research into the extensive parking programs of neighboring communities: “There are a lot of good ideas out there.”  Members of the Rules and Ordinance Committee have taken on homework assignments to further investigate details from a number of cities.


Photo: Parking stickers from various programs.

Spadafora’s goal is to see an initial launch of Malden’s citywide parking sticker program before the summer. It will require a lot of “Ordinance Making in Malden” between now and then. You can watch more of the recent parking sticker discussions at this link.

There are a large number of other Committees covering a wide range of topics. If you see any topics that interest you, drop by and attend a meeting. Attending a committee meeting is a great way to learn about the latest happenings and discover ways you might help contribute to the future of Malden.
Photo: List of 2016 Malden City Council Committee Assignments
You can find more video excerpts from recent Rules & Ordinance Committee meetings at
The latest schedule and agenda for City Council and Committee meetings can be found at


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