In any meeting where Robert’s Rules of Order are prescribed by the bylaws, a member with a working knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order is like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. He or she can navigate with surety while others ebb and flow with the tide.
Henry Robert, in his book Parliamentary Law, says:
Where there is radical difference of opinion in an organization, one side must yield. The great lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and to recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out, until they can secure its repeal.
The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee differences, on the face of it, appear to have some validity. One member states that the debate is cut off by a vote before she can have her full say. Bearing in mind that I was not present and am relying on a newspaper report, I think that the presiding officer was unaware of his responsibilities.
First and foremost, the business of an organization is conducted through the use of a main motion. Subsidiary, privileged and incidental motions can either help adopt the main motion or help business move forward according to the member’s wishes. Each class of motions has a certain purpose and is assigned an order in which it can be brought up in a meeting.
The officer presiding is responsible to ensure that the motion being debated has alternate pro and con speakers. Unless otherwise changed by the membership, each speaker is allowed a maximum of 10 minutes. No speaker can speak twice until every member present has had the chance to speak once. It would appear that before the member who resigned could speak twice, the motion was put to a vote.
What probably happened is that a member called out, “Question” or “Call for the Question” and the presiding officer immediately stopped the debate and called for a vote on the main motion under debate. Many people believe that when someone calls for the question you must immediately vote. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You don’t simply call out “Question” or “Move the previous question,” stop the debate and go to an immediate vote on the motion. Correctly done, the floor is obtained from the presiding officer and the speaker then says, “I move the previous question.” A second must be obtained. No debate is allowed and no amendment is allowed. Because someone is attempting to stop debate, a higher vote must be obtained - two-thirds of those present must vote in the affirmative. Then the presiding officer repeats the motion to the members and conducts the vote.
Calling for the question is the most misunderstood and misused motion in meetings. There is only one way to stop debate: A member must move the previous question. Many people do not understand previous question. They think they can yell out “Question” and the Chairman should stop debate and take a vote on the motion. The Chairman never has the authority to close debate as long as one person wants to discuss the motion. When the question is called for, it is an actual high ranking subsidiary motion calling for a vote on whether to stop debate and to put the main motion to an immediate vote. If everyone has not had the chance to speak, it deprives them of their opportunity to speak and builds anger and frustration.
There is nothing wrong with making a subsidiary motion to stop the debate. There is everything wrong with simply calling for the question and then going to an immediate vote on the main motion.
Knowing Robert’s Rules of Order would have allowed members to rise to points of order as necessary. If the chair ruled that the member’s points were not well taken, then that member or any member could have immediately risen and asked for an appeal from the decision of the chair.
The Rules stress that it is all about conducting business. The voting is about the motion and never about people or personalities. As much as possible, members should speak in the third person and address others by titles such as Mr. President, the Treasurer, etc.
It is difficult to influence an organization if you resign. A good and workable strategy is to read and know the bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order and learn how to apply them. Working with the presiding officer is a good idea. No one likes to be blind-sided. If you are going to do something not done or seen before at your meeting, call the officer up and discuss what you have in mind. Give him or her the opportunity to prepare and learn. After all, the whole idea is to use the rules to further the goals of the organization.
There exist many books on Robert’s Rules of Order. Most of the information I’ve provided came from Webster’s New World, Robert’s Rules of Order, Simplified and Applied, Second Edition. I use this simply because I like the manner of explanation, examples and style.
You have to be very careful about presenting yourself as an “expert,” which I am not. I simply have read the books numerous times and have become better acquainted with the parts which the organizations I belong to use the most. There are plenty of people who can eat my lunch on the “Rules.” As a presiding officer, if you are perceived as striving to be fair and applying the rules in a manner that moves the business along with everyone being heard, most people will work with you and never try to trip you or make you look bad. If you don’t know what to do or how to decide, ask for opinions, etc. Make your decision, explaining the reasoning. A decision that is off in left field will be corrected by a vote of the membership.
The individual member of an organization has the right to be heard, to be able to hear, to vote and to be comfortable (warm-dry) etc. That member has the tools in the form of the rules to bring misbehavior and misapplication of the rules to the forefront for discussion and voting. There is even a provision to censure an officer in the rules to let him or her know that the membership disapproves of certain behaviors and conduct.
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Robert Hunt is a Post Falls resident.