A funny thing happened on the way to planning a Dublin City Council candidate forum last fall.
City officials discovered it could violate the council's own rules if a council incumbent took part in a debate at Dublin City Hall or the Dublin library, but challengers in the race were free to participate.
"That was crazy," Kevin Hart, an incumbent who would have been muzzled by the city rule, said later.
Cautioned about the rule, debate organizers moved the debate to another, less centrally located community center with a less sophisticated sound system, freeing up all candidates to attend. This month, council members said they intend to amend the rule they adopted to keep political bias out of council members' actions while doing city business.
"Sometimes, you mean to do one thing in a rule or law, but the details give you an unintended effect," Mayor Tim Sbranti said.
In the rule adopted in 2008 and modified in 2011, the council said that members "shall not engage in political activities relating to local, state or federal elections at the Dublin Civic Center or while representing the city in an official capacity as a member of the City Council."
Because the wording is so broad, the city's legal advisers said that a council member could violate the rule simply by taking part in a debate at City Hall or other parts of the Civic Center. Lawyers also advised the council that it could be a violation if a council member
"That's silly," Sbranti said.
The ban, he said, was aimed at stopping council members from wearing political buttons or displaying political posters during council meetings or while representing the city. In a meeting earlier this month, council members directed their lawyers to come up with language to allow the bumper stickers on cars in the Civic Center complex and to allow incumbents to appear in council debates there.
It's not clear what penalty there is for violating the rule since it's up to the council to enforce a rule it adopted by a resolution rather than by an ordinance, said John Bakker, the Dublin city attorney. While fines are not called for, the council might censure a council member who violated the rules, he said.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.