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Mastering Council Meetings: A Guidebook for Elected Officials and Local Governments

Turn painful council, board, commission, and local government meetings into productive, pleasant and effective events that get the work of your organization done

Presiding over public meetings as a president, mayor or chair can be challenging and overwhelming.

  • Council use crude or insulting language to each other
  • Board members ramble about unrelated topics
  • Meetings go on and on, devolving into long, contentious and exhausting exercises
  • Members have conflicting priorities that slow progress on the issues at hand
  • Discussion is slowed by unfamiliarity with the often complicated and confusing terminology and procedures of Robert’s Rules of Order

And that’s not even mentioning the public scrutiny that comes with being a public servant.

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Mastering Council Meetings was written to address each of these frustrations and more. It guides councils toward smooth, efficient and fair meetings using effective leadership principles and practices grounded in Robert’s Rules of Order.

Fun and easy to read, this book instills confidence in council members to better utilize rules of procedure. It empowers councils to save time through efficient discussions and decision making. And it establishes a common understanding of proper meeting procedures. Council members learn how to respond calmly and clearly to challenging situations using the real-life techniques detailed in this book.

Mastering Council Meetings provides leaders with: 

  • Easy-to-follow charts, diagrams, workflows, sample documents and step-by-step meeting order templates so that you know exactly how to run an efficient meeting.
  • Real-life examples and techniques, including sample dialogue, to show you not only how to handle typical procedures but also what to do when things go wrong.
  • Ample white space and wide margins great for taking notes you can turn to again and again in your meetings.
  • Definitions throughout the book and a comprehensive glossary to help you quickly learn the special language used for meetings according to Robert’s Rules of Order.

Anyone who runs meetings for civic bodies—special districts, school boards, utility boards, city councils, county commissions, citizen advisory committees and more—will find Mastering Council Meetings to be an invaluable resource that you’ll turn to again and again to run efficient, fair and productive meetings. 

Table of Contents



Part I: Fundamentals

  • Presiding
  • Meetings
  • Agendas
  • Minutes
  • Voting

Part II: Making Sense of Motions

  • Precedence of Motions
  • Main Motion
  • Amendment
  • Refer to Committee
  • Postpone to a Definite Time
  • Table
  • Call the Question
  • Point of Order
  • Appeal
  • Request for Information
  • Three “Bring-back” Motions
  • Postpone Indefinitely
  • Withdrawing a Motion

Part III: Discussion

  • Seven Basic Rules
  • Small Board Discussion
  • Decorum in Discussion
  • Round Robin Method

Part IV: Keeping Order

  • When the Rules Are Broken
  • When to Interrupt a Speaker
  • Orderly Public Comment
  • Addressing Disorder



  • Appendix A. Resources
  • Appendix B. Motions Chart
  • Appendix C. Essential Rules for Discussion and Debate for Small Boards




About the Authors


Ann Macfarlane

Ann Macfarlane, PRP, served in the U.S. Foreign Service in Pakistan and on the Bangladesh and Soviet desks of the State Department, and became the first woman to serve as a staff assistant in the Near East South Asia Bureau. She has worked as a Russian translator and served as executive director of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. Ann holds the credential of Professional Registered Parliamentarian, offered by the National Association of Parliamentarians. Ann believes anyone can master the key principles and guidelines to run great meetings—meetings that are fair, efficient, and democratic. The principles are not hard to learn, they’re just different.


Andrew Estep

Andrew Estep, CAE served in the U.S. Air Force. After leaving the Air Force, he worked in nonprofit, health care and association management. He served as the executive director of a regional organization, where he learned that it is not enough to have efficient and effective systems; one must also account for and celebrate the diversity and strength that people bring to these systems.


Five stars! Ann is a master at teaching and a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. Not only is she entertaining and interesting, she brings simplicity and understanding to a difficult and sometimes confusing subject—public meeting rules. A must-have for council members, mayors and others that participate in public governmental meetings. 

—Cindy Hughes

I have gone through the training this book is based on and I learned so much and had such fun, I had to get the book. A must-have for elected officials and anyone serving on a board or commission that employs Robert’s Rules. Easy to follow and understand. Essential!

—Ruth Ross, Councilmember, City of Lynnwood

Mastering Council Meetings is a must-have reference guide for local governments. I have found it to be a valuable resource that offers practical solutions to virtually every question related to meeting management. It simplifies Robert’s Rules of Order for the layperson and provides the rationale for procedures designed to facilitate orderly, fair and productive meetings. I believe that following the principles in this book will help further the aims of the democratic process and promote greater trust in government. 

—Scott M. Passey, City Clerk, Edmonds, Washington

I was very nervous about running an upcoming meeting until I read this book. Ann Macfarlane and Andrew Estep have created a concise and easy-to-read guidebook that not only answered my lingering questions, but that was also enjoyable reading. I especially appreciated the quotes in the margins and the appendices such as the motions chart, rules for discussion, and glossary. The index allows me to look up particular questions in a hurry. It is a book I now carry with me to all my meetings

—Kathryn German, Past President, Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society

This volume, based on Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th Edition, fills a seemingly neglected need: a tutorial specifically for people who have been elected to public boards and councils. To that end, this book focuses on the rules as they apply to small groups and also focuses on the most commonly needed motions in these groups. But the real gem is the ample guidance for both members and presiding officers on how to participate effectively and deal with disorder. 

—Ronald J. Legere

I wish I had this book when I was first elected. It would have made things so much easier. The authors really know parliamentary procedure and can help you work through the toughest situations and meetings. The cost of the book is a small price to pay for the amount of information you get. 

—David Baker, Mayor, City of Kenmore Washington

I know it’s hard to imagine but this book is a real page-turner for anyone who leads or attends council meetings. With its combination of facts, practical application and humorous stories, I read it in one sitting. And I will keep it handy in the future for all the meetings I attend. 

—M. K. Beeby

This was a quick read, but the information is valuable. The book is written in a manner that makes confusing rules easy to understand. I will likely be carrying this to meetings. The authors are very knowledgeable and I am sure that I’ll be using this as a regular reference tool

—Diana T.

The actual book of Robert’s Rules of Order feels like it is part of the problem; it is too long and confusing. Mastering Council Meetings feels like the solution. It is easy and gives awesome real-world examples. It includes actual things that I can say, and I appreciate how it breaks it down in a way that can be quickly understood. If you need to use Robert’s Rules of Order during your meetings then this book is a must-have!! Thank you for making it so easy!! 

—Jared Patrick

This is a must-read for anyone who has just found themselves appointed to a board, committee or any formal assembly. Even those needing a brush-up on parliamentary procedure or a quick reference guide need to have this book. The book is easy to follow, well-written and uses the signature Jurassic Parliament touch to present meeting jargon and processes in simple and concrete terms. This guide will definitely be a first suggestion to anyone serving on future committees with me to ensure meetings run smoothly and effectively. 

—Christopher Mohs