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.

Is the Planning Commission a rubber stamp?

Dear Dinosaur: Some of the citizens in our area accuse the Planning Commission of being a rubber stamp for staff recommendations. How should we respond?

Answer: If your Planning Commission fulfills your duty of reviewing staff recommendations carefully, asking pertinent questions, deliberating on those recommendations, listening to the public, and allowing every commissioner’s opinion to be heard before voting, then this accusation is baseless.

In responding, you want to phrase your comments in a positive way. If you say, “We are not a rubber stamp,” you come across as defensive, and you actually reinforce the image of a rubber stamp. The reason is that before the brain accesses the concept of “not,” it produces the image that has been mentioned.

Dostoevsky wrote about this when he said, “Try not to think of a white polar bear.” More recently, the leader of the House of Commons said in October 2022, in response to an accusation, “The Prime Minister is not hiding under her desk.” She should have said, “The Prime Minister is hard at work in Downing Street.”

Similarly you must state, calmly and firmly, your affirmation of your work. “We on the Planning Commission work hard to review staff suggestions, and give them careful scrutiny. We take our responsibilities seriously and debate proposals, sometimes proposing amendments, before we vote on them. We are deeply committed to serving our community, and we stand by our work and the work of the staff.”

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.


  1. Miss S Green on August 23, 2023 at 2:53 am

    just to say, love your stuff . . . thanks

    • Ann Macfarlane on August 23, 2023 at 8:03 am

      Thank you!