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Highland Park City Council’s first official full agenda meeting lasted almost five hours last week as councilmembers struggled to understand some items and motions.
All five members of the council are new, and will serve four-year terms.
The entirely new body was sworn in last month after ambiguous paperwork and a lawsuit removed at least three previous councilmembers running for reelection off the ballot.
Council President Jamal Thomas told Outlier Media he was disheartened to get so little done during such a long meeting, even calling it “dysfunctional.”
“The two meetings that I’ve had as city council president have been a testimony to chaos,” Thomas said. “We had a meeting that took four hours, 45 minutes just to get the agenda approved, and it seemed like much of the behavior that was going on there was instructed.”
Some motions and resolutions needed to be explained a few times before councilmembers made a decision.
Thomas, who has lived in Highland Park for about 20 years, said he’s hopeful to be able to work with his colleagues to improve the city, and that they are all still establishing what type of politicians and policy makers they’re each going to be.
Help might not be on the way anytime soon. The council voted during the Jan. 2 council meeting (3-2) against getting a parliamentarian from the National Association of Parliamentarians to help run their meetings.
A parliamentarian helps provide guidance on rules and procedures during government meetings — especially with an inexperienced body.
Councilmember Khursheed Ash-Shafii was one of the opposing votes. He told Outlier that he didn’t understand all of the details of this proposed motion, and hopes to be able to vote on it again during the next council meeting, if more information on costs and how candidates would be chosen is provided.
“I can’t vote on something blindly if I don’t know about it. I’m sorry, I can’t do it,” he said.
Ash-Shafii has lived in Highland Park for 20 years and decided to run for office after decades of community activism. He used to attend some of the Highland Park council meetings, but said the learning curve to being a councilmember is steep.
“I felt it was a little bit rough,” he said. “I felt that we could have done a lot better, but this was our first official meeting.”
Ash-Shafii said he hopes to be able to learn how to operate as a council going forward.
The councilmembers serve on a part-time basis. Ash-Shafii said he gets paid $500 a month, or $6,000 a year. Thomas said he’s compensated $11,000 for his role.
Some of Ash-Shafii’s goals are to help Highland Park be more transparent as a city, and to eventually attract more residents and businesses to move to the city.
“This is a prime location,” he said. “There’s no reason why Highland Park should not be growing at the same rate that every other city that’s surrounding it’s growing.”
Council President Pro Tem Sharmaine Robinson and councilmembers Temeko Manica and Kallela Martin did not respond to Outlier’s request for comment.