Dear Dinosaur Advice Column

Got questions about Robert's Rules of Order? Ann Macfarlane is a dinosaur who knows her stuff. She explains the complexity of Robert's Rules so it makes sense. She loves hearing from readers with their questions about Robert's Rules of Order.

Can the chair take the minutes?

Dear Dinosaur:  In our organization, one person makes the agenda for the meeting, chairs the meeting, takes the notes, and creates the minutes. Besides being a lot of work for one person, it seems like more people should be involved to avoid the appearance of a concentration of power within the commission. Are there specific rules for who is involved in the meeting minutes process in Robert’s Rules of Order?

Answer: Indeed there are!  Read this passage:

“The minimum essential officers for the conduct of business in a deliberative assembly are a presiding officer, who conducts the meeting and sees that the rules are observed, and a secretary, or clerk, who makes a written record of what is done—usually called “the minutes.” Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, Section 3:6.

This means that the chair cannot take the minutes.  The chair and the secretary of a board, council, or commission that qualifies as a “deliberative assembly” MUST be two different people.

It’s easy to see the rationale for this bedrock rule. A single individual who could direct the meeting, and record its decisions, would indeed concentrate too much power in their hands. This rule applies to boards, councils, large standing committees, and citizen advisory groups like planning commissions or parks commissions.

Note that the situation is different for small, ordinary committees. “In small committees, the chairman usually acts as secretary, but in large ones and many standing committees, a secretary may be chosen to keep a brief memorandum in the nature of minutes for the use of the committee.” Section 50:24.

Dear Dinosaur provides simple, practical answers to questions about Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure. Send your questions to Dear Dinosaur here. Our answers are based on Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 12th edition. As always, nothing in this post constitutes legal or business advice. For specific issues, seek a qualified authority.

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.