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Parliamentary precision.

Ask any prospective board member how he or she feels about parliamentary procedure and you can bank on the reaction: a visceral groan, a cringe of pain, eyes twitching with fear.

In spite of a run lasting more than a century, Robert's Rules of Order still gets lackluster reviews. It's an unfair reputation.

In action, these rules of order are as beautiful as classical ballet: full of grace and logic, technically succinct, comprehensive, and enduring.

A quick look at the principles underlying parliamentary procedure shows how the application of these rules will eliminate the majority of meeting problems that eat valuable time and eventually discourage enthusiastic association volunteers.

Five principles

1. Only one subject may be before the group at one time. That is the reason for motions. How often do boards debate for 20 minutes, only to find that two or more factions have been talking at cross-purposes? A motion focuses the group's attention on one specific action or issue.

Seconding the motion. A motion requires a seconder because unless more than one person in the group wants to discuss the issue, it is a waste of the group's time. Sometimes the person who seconds the motion says, "I second it for the sake of discussion." By saying this, the seconder is signaling that he or she is not necessarily endorsing the action but believes it merits further discussion.

Speaking order. The mover of the motion speaks first and last. Having tossed the action on the table with little or no preamble, the mover of the motion logically speaks first to explain why he or she believes taking this action will benefit the organization. After several members of the group have spoken for and against the motion, it is only fair that the mover of the motion have an opportunity to remind the group of the motion's original intent, and so the mover of the motion closes the debate before the vote.

Negative motions. There is no such thing as a negative motion. If a motion is meant to propose action, it must be positive. The proper way to stop doing something is to make the motion and defeat it. There is no harm in defeating a motion; in fact, it is wise to have the proposed action on the record as having been discussed and rejected. 2. Each item presented for consideration is entitled to full and free debate. The chair must ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak. During discussion, speakers should signal whether they are speaking for or against the motion. This makes it easier for listeners to focus on the speaker's intent. The speaker begins his or her remarks by saying. "Speaking for [or against] the motion . . . ." 3. All members have equal rights. A speaker should not have a second chance to speak until everyone has had an opportunity to present an opinion. This principle of parliamentary procedure prevents outspoken members of the group from dominating the discussion. The chair determines the need for a second chance to speak, ensuring that fairness and time efficiency prevail. 4. The rights of the minority must be preserved, but the will of the majority must be carried out. During discussion, the chair ensures that both sides of the issue are debated fairly. Those taking the minority position must be allowed to state their case, but by voting on the motion, the group ensures that the will of the majority is carried out. 5. Once an action is passed, it should be supported by the whole group. Often called unity of action, this principle of parliamentary procedure is critical to an organization's effectiveness. Despite the individual positions taken during debate on the motion, whatever action was decided becomes a group action.

Added actions

Amendments to the original motion allow the group to make minor modifications so that the action being proposed is more acceptable to the group as a whole.

If the original motion is totally unacceptable, participants may defeat it, but if it simply requires some modification, they may amend it. An amendment may delete, add, or replace words in the motion, but it must not change the original intent of the motion.

Amendments are motions and as such require a seconder and full debate. During discussion, any member of the group may propose an amendment. He or she says, "I move to amend the motion by [adding words, deleting words, or replacing words]." The chair then asks for a seconder.

Only the modification being proposed may be discussed during the motion to amend. Remember, the reason for a motion is to focus the group's attention on one topic at a time. Only the action of removing, adding, or replacing words may be discussed when an amendment is on the table.

An amendment may also be amended. During discussion on the modification being proposed, it may become apparent that the modification is not exact enough. Instead of defeating the amendment and starting over, the group may amend the amendment. An amendment to the amendment is a motion and must be seconded and debated in the same manner as any motion. The chair must ensure that debate is focused only on the modification being proposed to the amendment.

Only three motions may be considered by the board at one time. Three motions - the main motion, the amendment to the main motion, and the amendment to the amendment - are as many as any group should be expected to handle at any one time. But the process may be repeated as many times as the group feels is ncessary. Once the amendment has been accepted or rejected, another may be proposed provided it is different in intent from the one already decided.

When a main motion is amended, discussion and voting occurs in reverse order. Since the second amendment modifies the first amendment, it must be decided before the group can consider the first amendment. And since the outcome of both amendments could affect the final wording of the main motion, they must both be decided before an action can be taken on the main motion.

Parliamentary pocedure is an effective means of running your meeting. If you ever forget the basics of parliamentary procedure, ask yourself two questions. What is fair, and what is time efficient? Your answers will rarely steer you wrong. Karen J. Lee is the owner of the Canadian public relations agency K. J. Lee & Associates Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:rules in running a meeting
Author:Lee, Karen J.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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