Why do we need to debate a motion? 02/01/2011
Why do we need to debate a motion?
Volume 13, Issue 2
By Robert McConnell Productions
I recently read an internet blog where: “Pamlico County Commissioner Carl Ollison said a 4-2 vote taken by his board at a budget session Monday shouldn't be allowed to stand because it came as the result of a violation of Robert's Rules of Order. The parliamentary procedural manual governs the board's meetings, and Ollison said its rule on ensuring every board member has a chance to speak on issues up for vote wasn't followed.”
Mr. Ollison and another member of his political party were cut off when someone of the opposing party moved the “previous question,” which means to close debate and take a vote. Evidently this County Commission had some agreement that everyone should be able to discuss the issue before a vote was taken.
Why the need for discussion?
So today we will take up this important question. Why do members need to discuss a motion? And why does the assembly or a board need to hear opposing views?
The purpose of discussion is to get information and not just to hear why someone is in favor or opposed to an idea. That assembly is wise who makes sure that the members have all the information about an issue, both pros and cons, before taking a vote.
I remember one meeting that I attended where I came prepared to vote against an item that was put in the call letter to the meeting, but after listening to the discussion I changed my mind. There were points made that I had not considered. I have also known of cases where a maker of a motion has ended up voting against his own motion because members presented very persuasive evidence that the motion would cause harm to the organization instead of benefiting it.
Discussion or debate not only allows a member to present information, but also allows him to persuade other members to his point of view. If debate is closed too early, or to prevent the opposition from giving its points, the minority is silenced. Valuable information may be suppressed that would be of benefit for others to know.
Henry Robert’s says
In Robert’s Rules of Order Simplified and Applied there is wonderful quote from Henry Robert about debate. He 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 to 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.”
Prosperity of Democracy
Discussion or debate is the prosperity of democracy. It gives the individual member a voice in the organization and an opportunity to make his wishes known to the assembly. When members feel that they have been heard by the others, they are more willing to carry out the wishes of the assembly. Silencing members causes factions, distrust and lack of cooperation. If members continually feel that they are not heard, they will leave the organization and take their talents somewhere else.
And the most important point for everyone to remember is this. Today you may be with the majority. But tomorrow you may be with the minority. So vigorously insist that the rules of debate be carried out in a fair and equal manner. That way all will ultimately win.
©Robert McConnell Productions 2011
www.parli.com and www. Robertsrulessimplified.com
Volume 14, Issue 1 By Robert McConnell Productions Introduction
A blog impels our topic....
Because we are interested in Robert’s Rules, we read many blogs that mention this book. A blog came to our attention stating that the new Republicans in Congress want to read the constitution out loud on the second day of the 112th Congress and to ensure that “every bill introduced include a clause citing its constitutional authority.” The blog presented this information in a satirical manner that it made one question the sanity of those proposing such a thing. So is it outlandish and perhaps naïve to require legislation to conform to the US Constitution?
What does Robert’s Rules say?
We must understand a basic principle that underlies all government. It is this: “That constitutions and bylaws are created to give governments and organizations restrictions within which they can govern themselves.” If this were not so, why go to the trouble to create such documents? The reason we have a constitution or bylaws is to limit the power of both those who govern and those who are governed.
The second basic principle under Robert’s Rules is that the purpose stated in a constitution or bylaws establishes the limits for which an organization can propose business. The purpose tells members what the organization was created to do. For example, if an organization is created to help stray animals, those joining know that is its purpose and it is not to help homeless people. If a person wants to help homeless then he needs to go somewhere else. It would also be out of order for such a person to make motions about helping homeless people in an organization formed to help stray animals. The Constitution or bylaws now become a protection to its members from those who might want to highjack an organization and turn it into something it is not.
The third basic principle is that if a motion is made that conflicts with the constitution or bylaws (and not just its purpose, but other provisions) is out of order. “No motion is in order that conflicts with federal, state, or local law; with the rules of a parent organization; or with the organization’s constitution or bylaws or other rules of the organization. Even if a unanimous vote adopts the motion, it is null and void if it conflicts with the previously mentioned rules.”For example, we received a call where at a meeting the members voted to set the salary for a certain position. But in reviewing the bylaws, it was discovered that only the board of directors had the authority to set salary for this position. Therefore, the motion was null and void and would not be carried out. If the members wanted to set the salary, they would have to amend the bylaws to do that.
Reading the Constitution at a meeting:
Let’s take up the question of reading the US Constitution at the second meeting of Congress. Here is a question for the reader. How many members of organizations have actually read the bylaws? And if they have read them, how many are actually familiar with them to know if a motion at a meeting is in order or not? And, how many actually bring them to meetings?
So if members, including officers, aren’t reading the bylaws, or referring to them during business meetings, how can they effectively govern themselves according to their own governing documents? This is why so many organizations are in trouble and are divided. Perhaps if members, officers and directors would take the time to read their bylaws out loud at a meeting, and understand what the bylaws require, more members would be working together instead of against each other.
There are organizations actually doing this and finding it effective in self-governance. A recent volume of Imprimis magazine published by Hillsdale College had this to say about how its Board of Trustees operates: “Just yesterday we had a meeting of our Board of Trustees, and we began the meeting, as we begin every meeting, by reading from the College’s Articles of Association.”So if a Board of Trustees of a small liberal arts college can find this a good practice, could other organizations find it helpful, too? Could our US Congress find it a valuable practice?
By keeping governing documents at the very foundation of business, what does this do? It keeps everyone focused on the work that should be done and what should not be done. If our Congress faithfully did this, might things be different?
Citing of Bills to their constitutional authority:
It is the duty of every presiding officer to know if a motion is in accordance with the constitution and other rules of an organization. (It is important for members to know this, too.) When the president knows this, it saves time and keeps emotions in check. I was presiding at a board meeting where some business carried over from the previous board to the new board. Several new members did not like what the previous board had done, and that this new board had to finish what it started. The issue had to do with a bylaw requirement to contact members who had been absent for at least a year. The bylaw required that the board send out a letter of inquiry and if the member did not return an answer, there were other steps to be taken which included removal from membership. One of the new board members did not want to continue the process and made a motion to stop the process. As president, I had to rule that motion out of order because the bylaws required the board to continue this process. If a president did not know or perhaps was persuaded not to continue because members’ feeling would be hurt, what would that do to the integrity of the bylaws? Basically a few board members would have amended them without going through the process or made the bylaws null and void to allow a motion to take precedence. Where is the democracy in this?
When we elect people to serve in office or in Congress, is it naïve or ridiculous to expect them to uphold the Constitution or bylaws of the organization? Although our US Constitution is over 200 years old, the Founding Fathers included both the checks and balances and the limitations on power that has kept our country safe from tyranny. Its simple principles have not failed us yet, nor will they ever fail us, because they are based on the ideal of self-government, which is never out-of-date for freedom loving people.
Roll Call, December 22, 2010
Robert’s Rules of Order Simplified and Applied, page 39
Imprimis, Volume 39, Number 11, page2