Extra rules to add to Robert’s Rules

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Robert’s Rules of Order is a daunting subject for many folks who haven’t yet seen how much it improves meetings. We strive in Jurassic Parliament to distill key information that will help you run effective and fair meetings. Distillation is one thing, but ADDING RULES? When there are already hundreds of pages of rules in the official book? Can that be a good idea?

Well, yes, it can. When you adopt Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, you have a parliamentary authority as the foundation for your organization. A “parliamentary authority” is the book of rules that your group names to govern its meeting procedure. Then you need to build a house on that foundation, within which you will conduct your business. The house consists of the state laws that apply to your organization, your bylaws, and any special rules of order that you adopt.

What are “special rules of order”?

“Special rules of order” supersede any rules in the parliamentary authority. You can read more about them, and how to adopt them, in our article What are special rules of order in Robert’s Rules? Over our years of interacting with Robert’s Rules, we’ve come up with some special rules that we think make sense for the small boards of many organizations. This article provides them to you for your consideration.

  1. The chair has the authority to arrange items on the agenda in a way that makes the best use of member energy, subject to amendment by the board at the meeting.
  2. The minutes will not include the names of the maker or the seconder of motions.
  3. Main motions that do not receive a second will not be included in the minutes.
  4. The maximum time for a speech by a board member is five minutes.
  5. No motion to end debate may be made until each member of the board has had an opportunity to speak.
  6. Staff members may raise a Point of Order when they judge it appropriate.
  7. No amendment to any motion will be allowed which changes the intent of the original motion.
  8. The motion to postpone to a definite time may be used to postpone a motion to a time that is further away than the next meeting, provided that it is within a quarterly interval (3 months).

What is the reasoning behind these recommended special rules of order?

  1. Flexibility in arranging agenda – The “Order of Business” is the list of broad categories of items in a particular order. Here is a simplified version of the standard Order of Business as given in Robert’s Rules of Order:
  • Approval of minutes
  • Officers’ remarks and reports
  • Committee reports
  • Unfinished business (not “old” business)
  • New business

It can be wearisome to take up new business only at the end of the meeting, when people are tired. By placing a key item or a strategic issue early in the agenda, you get the benefit of fresh thinking.

  1. Not including name of maker or seconder of motion Robert’s Rules of Order says that the name of the maker of the motion should be included in the minutes, but not the seconder. Some bodies wish to emphasize the fact that a motion is a decision by the entire board, and therefore don’t include the name of the maker either.

Note that many local governments include the name of the seconder, and if that is your custom, it is fine to continue to do so.

  1. Main motions with no secondRobert’s Rules of Order says that all main motions should be included in the minutes. The book does not address whether failure to receive a second creates an exception to this rule. The Robert’s Rules Association, which publishes Robert’s Rules of Order and is an authoritative source of interpretation, has given an Official Opinion on this topic, #2006-7. This opinion states that motions that do not receive a second should be included in the minutes (read it here).

Jurassic Parliament disagrees with this position. We have seen instances where outlier members of a board frequently move motions that no one is interested in discussing. It can become a kind of “grandstanding” and waste people’s time. We believe that if a member makes a motion and no one else indicates that they want to discuss it by seconding it, it is better not to include it in the minutes.

Note that under Robert’s Rules of Order, motions do not require a second on a small board (up to about 12 people).

  1. Maximum time of speechesRobert’s Rules of Order gives 10 minutes as the maximum time for a speech by a member. This seems too long to us. For modern meetings, 5 minutes is a reasonable limit.
  2. Restriction on ending debate – The motion “to Call the Question” or, as it is formally known, “to Move the Previous Question,” enables a body to end debate immediately if it passes. Under Robert’s Rules, it is allowable to introduce a motion and then immediately call for the previous question. This happened on a city council, and we wrote about it in this article, No debate at all—legitimate, but unwise.

On a small board, we believe that it is reasonable to give everyone a chance to speak before cutting off debate.

Note that simply saying “Question” or “I call the question” is not enough to end debate. This motion must be approved by the board by a two-thirds vote. Read more in our article, How do you “call the question” in Robert’s Rules?

  1. Allow Point of Order to be made by staff member – Under Robert’s Rules of Order, only the member of a body may raise a Point of Order. We believe that staff often know the rules well, and that it is helpful to give them permission to raise a Point of Order when they see that an error may be in prospect.
  2. Amendments – Under Robert’s Rules, it is fine to amend a motion to change its purpose or intent, as long as the amendment is germane (relevant) to the original motion. Sometimes a member has a personal agenda that leads them to propose a wide-ranging change that can be disconcerting for the board.

And of course, once an amendment is made, debate must focus on that amendment, not on the original motion. Read more in our article, Amendment in Robert’s Rules. We think that imposing this limitation on changing the intent of the original motion can help channel discussion.

To clarify, Robert’s Rules gives this example:

Assume that the following is the pending motion: “That the City Council commend Officer George for his action in…” An amendment to strike out “commend” and insert “censure,” although antagonistic to the original intent, is germane and in order because both ideas deal with the council’s opinion of the officer’s action.” RONR 12:20.

In such a case, we suggest that the council defeat the motion to commend. It would then be in order to introduce a motion to censure.

  1. Postpone to a longer time aheadRobert’s Rules of Order says that the motion to Postpone to a Definite Time may be used to put something off until, at the latest, the next meeting (when such a meeting occurs within a quarterly time interval, 3 months). This rule seems too restrictive. We believe that for many organizations, it makes sense to be able to postpone to a further time out, for example, until after the village fair has taken place, or something similar.  On the other hand, you don’t want to postpone items into the wild blue yonder, which is why we suggest 3 months as an outer limit.

Special rules of order cannot violate member rights

Note that any special rule of order cannot violate member rights, and rules cannot be made that would change any process that would result in member rights being violated. You can’t make special rules that suspend or dismiss the use of Robert’s Rules of Order altogether. See our article, Suspend the rules with extreme caution.

Do you have other special rules of order that you recommend? Write to us here!

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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.