A BAD MEETING is like the mythical Hydra. Cut off one head, and two more sprout up. But you can tame this unfocused monstrosity with parliamentary procedure.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: a board meeting; a treasurer’s report.
Nobody likes a meeting, and this scenario illustrates why. There always seems to be too much to do and not enough time to do it. Looming above it all is the ever-present threat of tangents and diversions—the treasurer’s report that turns into a procedural debate, or the resident’s question that becomes a filibuster. Indeed, a poorly run meeting can be like the legendary Hydra, a monster that in Greek mythology grew two heads for every one that was cut off.
You don’t have the option of slicing off heads and searing the wounds with fire, as Hercules did to finally defeat the Hydra. But you have the next best thing: parliamentary procedure, which can help turn long, confrontational meetings into short, painless ones. Before you groan at the thought of member after member standing to intone, “Point of order,” at your next meeting, consider: Courts have held that all organizations—including community associations—are subject to the principles and rules of common parliamentary law. Members who act contrary to the rules they have adopted can be held liable for their actions. As a result, ignoring or incorrectly applying parliamentary procedure can lead to embarrassment and even lawsuits.
But the benefits of a well-run meeting extend beyond questions of liability. Presiding officers who make every effort to learn the essentials of parliamentary procedure might find their next meeting a bit less Herculean.
Leaders of community associations must be aware of parliamentary procedure basics. Courts have held that all organizations are subject to the principles and rules of common parliamentary law. Profit and nonprofit corporations and associations must observe proper rules when meeting to transact business.
WHAT IS PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURE?
WHAT PROCEDURES SHOULD YOU FOLLOW?
How you conduct your business is often determined by the size of your assembly. (To learn more about the total flow of business at a meeting, see “Business to Business,” p. 19.) Smaller boards and committees can and sometimes should be more informal. In fact, Robert’s Rules notes that formality can actually hinder business in a meeting of fewer than a dozen. As a result, in smaller boards, members aren’t required to obtain the floor and can make motions or speak while seated; motions need not be seconded; there is no limit to the number of times a member can speak to a question; motions to close or limit debate generally aren’t used; and the chair usually can make motions and vote on all questions.
Small boards can always follow more formal procedure on matters of sufficient importance or controversy.
In contrast, annual meetings of a community association must be more formal due to the number of members present. Debate must be limited to keep the meeting on time, and formal votes help avoid legal challenges to actions that are taken.
HOW IS BUSINESS BROUGHT BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY?
There are three steps for bringing a motion before an assembly:
Once properly before the assembly, a motion is considered in three steps:
WHAT MOTIONS ARE MOST USED?
Each motion has detailed rules on when it can be introduced, whether it needs a second, whether it is debatable, and the vote required for adoption. (See “Motion Detector,” below.)
HOW DO MOTIONS WORK TOGETHER?
Precedence is governed by two rules:
For example, suppose the motion being discussed is to authorize $5,000 for painting. A motion is made to amend the motion by striking “$5,000” and inserting “$7,500” (which is in order as it is higher on the list than the main motion). The amendment is discussed, and a motion is made to refer the matter to a committee (which is also in order). Discussion begins on a motion to refer. Then a motion is made to postpone the matter until next month’s meeting (again, in order). A member then moves to adjourn (also in order). Prior to voting on the motion to adjourn, a member obtains the floor and moves to recess for five minutes. The motion to recess is out of order in that it is lower on the list than the motion to adjourn.
This may seem like an unnecessarily elaborate process—reminiscent of our old friend the Hydra—for what seems like a simple item of business. But consider what has been avoided: unnecessary debate and the multiple motions being discussed at the same time. The assembly had only on question before it at any given moment. As a result, members were required to focus on the immediately pending motion only avoiding distractions.
Parliamentary procedure takes many forms and has many specific rules that are beyond the realm of this article. But the preceding example makes clear the true value of parliamentary procedure to leaders of community associations. A solid foundation of procedural knowledge can enhance credibility, produce shorter and better meetings, and make the difference between legitimate actions and illegal actions. Hercules couldn’t do it any better himself.
The following motions have no order of precedence and are decided immediately.
Jim Slaughter is an attorney, Certified Professional Parliamentarian, Professional Registered Parliamentarian, and past President of the American College of Parliamentary Lawyers. He also served as 2014 President of CAI's College of Community Association Lawyers. Jim is author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parliamentary Procedure Fast-Track and lead author of Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fourth Edition.
Updated and reprinted with permission from from “Heads-Up Meetings: Taming the Monster,” in the Community Association Institute's Common Ground magazine, cover story 2000
Charts and articles are intended to provide general information on parliamentary procedure and are not legal advice or a legal opinion.