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.

What if a colleague says something outrageous and insulting?

© Can Stock Photo/andrewgenn

Dear Dinosaur:  At a recent citizen advisory committee meeting, a colleague made hateful statements about a minority group as a whole. This was in response to diversity training we had received. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do.

Answer: It is indeed shocking when someone makes outrageous statements attacking a category of people. It would be in order for you to make a Point of Order saying that courtesy and respect are required at meetings, and that these remarks violate the rules of decorum.

If the committee is discussing the topic of the training, you could further say, after the Point of Order is resolved, that you strongly deplore such remarks. The chair of the committee could also make a general statement that the city is committed to diversity and inclusion, and does not associate itself with the commissioner’s personal comments.

It can be a challenge to respond on the spot when something unexpected happens. Another approach would be to move for a 5-minute recess, in which you could collect your thoughts, and be prepared to address the issue after the meeting resumes. The Motion to Recess cannot be debated, and takes a majority vote to pass.

I’m glad to learn that the city responded strongly after the incident, repudiating the remarks, and that the commissioner has resigned from office.

As a reminder, these were comments made by a citizen volunteer during an official city meeting, so the city can do something about them. Members of the public are not bound by the rules of decorum for local government bodies when giving public comment at meetings. While a city can set rules for the time, place, and manner of public comment, in order to conform with the First Amendment, all such rules must be viewpoint-neutral. See this article, When First Amendment Rights and Public Meetings Clash, for more.

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.