During an intense debate about Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan on Monday, the Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle walked up and grabbed the ceremonial mace. This ornate five-foot staff represents royal authority. Without it, the House of Commons can’t meet or pass laws. The Speaker of the House promptly ordered Russell-Moyle to leave the chambers.
The MP subsequently explained that he wished show that the Prime Minister, by delaying the vote on her plan, was abandoning the principle that her authority rests on the members of parliament and their constituents. Read his statement, “I’m proud I grabbed the parliamentary mace,” here.
Whether you buy his argument or not, the action he took violated the rituals and norms that govern the House of Commons. Under basic principles of parliamentary procedure, a governing body has the right to enforce its rules and require decorum. If a member breaks those rules, the body has the right to sanction.
Like the House of Commons, you too may sanction
This means that if you have a city council member or board director who uses abusive language, or refuses to wait their turn to speak, or otherwise breaks your rules, you can do something about it.
It’s best to try to educate the troublemaker first. Have a conversation outside of the meeting (remembering to follow your state’s open meetings law as applicable). See if you can help the individual recognize the harm that the actions are causing.
It’s also best if you have specific rules of procedure or bylaws that define unacceptable behavior, and what the consequences might be. But even if you don’t have such provisions in your governing documents, Robert’s Rules of Order gives you that authority.
What kind of sanction?
Sanctions could include admonishment, reprimand, written censure (read more about censure here), being removed from committees, or being ordered to leave the meeting. (In general, you can’t order someone removed from future meetings.) If you have to undertake a formal disciplinary process, you will want to read Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition, chapter XX, Disciplinary Procedures.
In any case, consult your attorney about the options! It’s important not to undertake sanctions lightly. It’s also important not to allow an unruly member to wreck your meetings. If you have such a member, take steps and take control, in order to allow your body to carry out its work and fulfill its obligations to your community.