Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Parliamentary Pointers for Presiding People

One of the toughest things to learn as a Master Councilor, or as any presiding officer for that matter, is that silly little book called Robert's Rules of Order. Let's be honest, the language is goofy, it's tough to remember, and it rarely makes a whole lot of sense. However, it is an important tool, and one that all presiding officers should make use of. In an effort to help you put that book to better use, here are some tips and thoughts on how best to use parliamentary procedure in your Chapter.

As a presiding officer, you’ll be responsible for maintaining order. You’ll want to be familiar with the rules of Parliamentary Procedure. Information can be found in the Resources section of www.pademolay.org, or you might want to check your library for a copy of Robert’s Rules. Better yet, see if you can find a simplified version like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Robert’s Rules (not that we’re calling you an idiot, but we sure found it easier to understand, so...)

Who’s in charge here?
A good presiding officer takes charge. You usually have the right, for example, to:

• Call for order and silence.
• Call meetings to order, recess, or adjournment.
• Determine the order of the agenda.
• Say who speaks, and when.
• Limit the time for discussion on an issue, or the number who may speak to it.
• Call for a vote, and choose the method of voting (voice, hands, written, etc.).
• Declare the outcome of votes.
• Rule on whether actions or speakers are in or out of order.

With power comes responsibility, so make sure you’re being fair, and everyone is being given the chance to be heard.

So what’s the down side?
Yes, sorry, there are limits to your authority. For example, you may not:

• Make any motions yourself (you may “entertain” or ask for them to be made).
• Participate in debate (you may provide information, but not opinion)
(If you just have to have your say, you must turn over the chair to someone else to do so.)
• Vote on motions, except to break a tie.
• Authorize action of the group without a properly passed motion.
• Act outside of the accepted Parliamentary rules.

Be aware that some of the authorities listed above can be overridden by a vote of the members, so all authority has limits. Again, act fairly!

What do I need to know?
Here’s a few key ideas:

• Do not consider/debate any topic until there is a motion on the floor. Open, unstructured discussion is for committees and planning sessions, not for stated meetings.
• Generally, you may not allow a second motion to be made while another is being considered. Call it “out of order” until the first motion is voted upon.
• Familiarize yourself with some key ideas like how to amend a motion, and the precedence of motions.
• Find someone to advise you on procedure. Appoint a Parliamentarian.

Hopefully this short article gives you some quick pointers on how to best use Robert's Rules. Do you like this stuff? Head on over to http://parliamentarians.org/ and check out the National Society for Parlimentarians! You too could become a certified expert in Parliamentary Procedure!

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