pwilson

Written Features of Motions

20 posts in this topic

I’m concerned about features of a motion other than its exact wording that are recorded in the minutes and that might affect its meaning, e.g., punctuation, capitalization, italics used for emphasis, and the spelling of homophones. The secretary, when recording a motion in her written draft of the minutes, reproduces the exact spoken words used by the chair when putting the question but often has no guidance regarding the exclusively written features listed above. Similarly, the assembly, when approving the official written minutes, normally has to go on only what it hears when the minutes are read and may be unaware of these written features. Hence, features of a motion that could be significant or controversial may become part of the official record without anyone but the secretary having seen them. Am I missing some precaution in RONR that guards against this possibility?

Written text is associated with some motions—e.g., in the written notice of the exact wording of a bylaw amendment; in copies of a resolution or complex motion given to the chair, secretary, and/or assembly; and in a written committee report than contains a motion. In such cases, what authority does such text (i.e., those parts of it that were not amended during debate) carry regarding the exclusively written features listed above? In preparing a draft of the minutes, for example, may the secretary correct typographical errors that have no effect on the wording in which the chair put the question and that the secretary believes have no effect on meaning? Indeed, may the secretary make such corrections after the minutes have been approved by the assembly as read (in cases in which no written draft has been distributed)?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, pwilson said:

Hence, features of a motion that could be significant or controversial may become part of the official record without anyone but the secretary having seen them. Am I missing some precaution in RONR that guards against this possibility?

No, but the assembly could, if it wished, adopt a motion ordering the Secretary to distribute a written draft of the minutes, either at the meeting or at some time prior to the meeting.

20 minutes ago, pwilson said:

Written text is associated with some motions—e.g., in the written notice of the exact wording of a bylaw amendment; in copies of a resolution or complex motion given to the chair, secretary, and/or assembly; and in a written committee report than contains a motion. In such cases, what authority does such text (i.e., those parts of it that were not amended during debate) carry regarding the exclusively written features listed above? In preparing a draft of the minutes, for example, may the secretary correct typographical errors that have no effect on the wording in which the chair put the question and that the secretary believes have no effect on meaning? Indeed, may the secretary make such corrections after the minutes have been approved by the assembly as read (in cases in which no written draft has been distributed)?

The Secretary has no authority to correct typographical errors in an adopted motion unless the assembly has authorized the Secretary to do so. The Secretary absolutely does not have the authority to make corrections to minutes which have already been approved.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If the assembly in concerned about this possibility, it can require that the reading of minutes be accompanied or replaced by a prior written draft, or that the reading of the minutes and any corrections offered must include verbalization of all punctuation marks.  This can also be done on particular motions by requiring that they be submitted in writing and copies made available, either on a case-by-case basis where the need appears unusually great, or as a Special Rule of Order, applying to all motions or all minutes, or both.

Without question, the secretary has no authority to change words or punctuation except under the direction of the assembly.  And punctuation can be important, as we all know.  Compare:

  • Let's eat, Grandma.
  • Let's eat Grandma

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the helpful suggestions of remedies in cases in which the assembly suspects a problem and asks for written copies of a motion or the minutes. If no one suspects a problem, however, the secretary’s choice of punctuation may alter the meaning of a motion in a way that causes problems only much later. But perhaps that’s a reasonable price to pay for having written records of oral/aural meetings.

Two follow-up questions:

(1) Am I understanding correctly that the written version of a motion, if there is one, is definitive with respect to punctuation and the like, including obvious typographical errors? Am I missing a passage in RONR to that effect?

(2) A totally different scenario: suppose the secretary is placing the approved minutes in her substantial binder when she notices an obvious typo, e.g., two periods at the end of a sentence instead of one. Hers is the first written record of the motion containing the typo, and the minutes were approved as read, without written copies having been distributed and without anyone knowing about the typo. Is the only recourse to Amend Something Previously Adopted?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, pwilson said:

(1) Am I understanding correctly that the written version of a motion, if there is one, is definitive with respect to punctuation and the like, including obvious typographical errors? Am I missing a passage in RONR to that effect?

No, I don't think that RONR goes so far to say this. RONR provides that the version stated by the chair is shag is definitive.

With that said, if the chair refers members to a printed copy which has been distributed or displayed on a screen, rather than reading a lengthy resolution in full, it would seem to me that the written version motion of the motion is the version stated by the chair.

1 hour ago, pwilson said:

(2) A totally different scenario: suppose the secretary is placing the approved minutes in her substantial binder when she notices an obvious typo, e.g., two periods at the end of a sentence instead of one. Hers is the first written record of the motion containing the typo, and the minutes were approved as read, without written copies having been distributed and without anyone knowing about the typo. Is the only recourse to Amend Something Previously Adopted?

Yes, although what is being amended in this case is the minutes. See the second paragraph of FAQ #16.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm having trouble trying to think of any reason why anyone would move to amend minutes previously adopted just to strike out one of two periods placed at the end of a sentence.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

I'm having trouble trying to think of any reason why anyone would move to amend minutes previously adopted just to strike out one of two periods placed at the end of a sentence.  

Me too, but apparently the OP thinks it is important. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

I'm having trouble trying to think of any reason why anyone would move to amend minutes previously adopted just to strike out one of two periods placed at the end of a sentence.  

I can't think of a compelling reason either, yet the earlier posts emphasize that the secretary has no unilateral authority to make corrections to approved minutes--which is why I asked about the trivial extra period. Am I missing another way to correct approved minutes besides ASPA?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, pwilson said:

I can't think of a compelling reason either, yet the earlier posts emphasize that the secretary has no unilateral authority to make corrections to approved minutes--which is why I asked about the trivial extra period. Am I missing another way to correct approved minutes besides ASPA?

I think the suggestion is to leave it since it does not change anything.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
23 hours ago, pwilson said:

Am I missing another way to correct approved minutes besides ASPA?

No.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 9/12/2017 at 11:58 AM, Daniel H. Honemann said:

I'm having trouble trying to think of any reason why anyone would move to amend minutes previously adopted just to strike out one of two periods placed at the end of a sentence.  

Maybe the extra period is within some quoted text, such as a report for publication, adopted by the assembly, but the error is only in the minutes, not in the original report.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Shmuel Gerber said:

Maybe the extra period is within some quoted text, such as a report for publication, adopted by the assembly, but the error is only in the minutes, not in the original report.

Yes, I see, although in such an instance it will be necessary to produce the original report to ensure that both periods aren't there. If they are, failure to include both would be an egregious violation of the rules. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

I think the suggestion is to leave it since it does not change anything.

Thanks. I had missed the distinction between "too trivial to bother with ASPA" (which others were presumably thinking) and "so trivial that the secretary may correct it" (which I was thinking).

I understand that any written motion or report must be reproduced exactly in the minutes, but I'm still uncertain about the sort of case I raised above:

On 9/12/2017 at 10:36 AM, pwilson said:

Hers is the first written record of the motion containing the typo, and the minutes were approved as read, without written copies having been distributed and without anyone knowing about the typo.

In what meaningful sense has an assembly, in approving such minutes as read, approved typographical errors that only the secretary has seen and that have no effect on the wording as read aloud, the meaning of any statement, or the action taken by the assembly at the meeting in question?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, pwilson said:

Thanks. I had missed the distinction between "too trivial to bother with ASPA" (which others were presumably thinking) and "so trivial that the secretary may correct it" (which I was thinking).

 

In my opinion, the difference between these is that, in the former, the assembly is in a position to decide (by not making the motion).  In the latter, we'd be asking the secretary to decide, and the rest of the assembly may not notice.  With that in mind:

7 minutes ago, pwilson said:

In what meaningful sense has an assembly, in approving such minutes as read, approved typographical errors that only the secretary has seen and that have no effect on the wording as read aloud, the meaning of any statement, or the action taken by the assembly at the meeting in question?

I think you make a good case here.  After all, if the minutes say "hear" but mean "here," anyone listening to them being read would think they say "here."  However, that is, again, asking the secretary to make a judgment of which the rest of the assembly is unaware.  In my opinion, better to say that the draft minutes as they are written get adopted than to require the secretary to think "well, I'm pretty sure this wouldn't impact the reading."  Or think of it another way: if the secretary makes a mistake in reading the minutes, perhaps saying "monster" for "mobster," or stumbles over a word and needs to repeat it, would you say that the adopted minutes contain the error, or that they are simply the same as the paper the secretary read from?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

I think you make a good case here.  After all, if the minutes say "hear" but mean "here," anyone listening to them being read would think they say "here."  However, that is, again, asking the secretary to make a judgment of which the rest of the assembly is unaware.  In my opinion, better to say that the draft minutes as they are written get adopted than to require the secretary to think "well, I'm pretty sure this wouldn't impact the reading."  Or think of it another way: if the secretary makes a mistake in reading the minutes, perhaps saying "monster" for "mobster," or stumbles over a word and needs to repeat it, would you say that the adopted minutes contain the error, or that they are simply the same as the paper the secretary read from?

I doubt any assembly would want the secretary's verbal stumbling when reading the minutes to be taken literally. The reason she's reading the text is to put it before the assembly for approval. The text in such a case shouldn't be altered because of a careless or unintentional deviation while reading it.

The problem I've been grappling with is different and derives from the fact that written documents contain information (spelling, punctuation, etc.) that oral statements of them normally do not. In the case under discussion ("Hers is the first written record. . . ."), I don't see how the spirit or the letter of the rules would be violated if the secretary silently corrects an obvious typo that she introduced and that she alone has seen, that the assembly has not seen (let alone explicitly approved), that does not change the reading or inaccurately alter the meaning, and that is caught in a timely manner (when she "is placing the approved minutes in her substantial binder").

I'm thinking of the really obvious cases here (two periods together, the spelling of someone's name) and wonder if the assembly's best interests are being served if their only options are keeping the secretary's errors in the minutes or going to the trouble of ASPA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 minutes ago, pwilson said:

I doubt any assembly would want the secretary's verbal stumbling when reading the minutes to be taken literally. The reason she's reading the text is to put it before the assembly for approval. The text in such a case shouldn't be altered because of a careless or unintentional deviation while reading it.

The problem I've been grappling with is different and derives from the fact that written documents contain information (spelling, punctuation, etc.) that oral statements of them normally do not.

Yes, they're different - analogies aren't interesting unless there are differences.  The point I'm making, perhaps badly, is that there should be a consistent answer to "what is adopted?"  The answer shouldn't be "whichever one seems more correct in the circumstance."  At least, that's my opinion.  If there is to be a consistent answer, I think the written one is the better answer, even if there cases where it doesn't work out as well.  If the answer is "what is said is adopted, and what is written can be modified to match it" I think you get worse outcomes, like "After debate, cough, the motion was adopted."  

But that's just my opinion.  I don't know of a black-letter answer, although I'm sure someone will correct me if there is one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, pwilson said:

I'm thinking of the really obvious cases here (two periods together, the spelling of someone's name) and wonder if the assembly's best interests are being served if their only options are keeping the secretary's errors in the minutes or going to the trouble of ASPA.

If an organization wishes, it is free to adopt its own rules on this subject.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Josh Martin said:

If an organization wishes, it is free to adopt its own rules on this subject.

I'm satisfied with this answer, which seems the safest option. Ideally, such rules would be unnecessary because of clear guidance on how authoritative the secretary's written draft is and how much discretion she has in correcting her private typographical errors. But perhaps actual parliamentary practice isn't (yet) consistent enough for such guidance to be warranted.

I appreciate all of the above posts, which have helped me clarify my understanding of this topic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, pwilson said:

I'm satisfied with this answer, which seems the safest option. Ideally, such rules would be unnecessary because of clear guidance on how authoritative the secretary's written draft is and how much discretion she has in correcting her private typographical errors. But perhaps actual parliamentary practice isn't (yet) consistent enough for such guidance to be warranted.

I appreciate all of the above posts, which have helped me clarify my understanding of this topic.

I don't think I'd put it that way.

I'd say that such rules are necessary when the assembly does not agree with the clear guidance in RONR and wishes, for whatever reasons, to depart from it. Such is their right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll add a new wrinkle.

The minutes record what the chairman said when stating the question, not how the motion is written.

If the chair read motion as "Let's eat, Grandma," it would improper for the secretary to write, "Let's eat Grandma," even if that was how the written motion was worded.

This would be a definite reason for draft minutes to be distributed before, or for a committee to review the draft.

I have seen a transcripts of meetings where the text reads, "All those in favor say I."  I'm quite certain I never said that.  :)

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.
Reply to this topic...

×   You have pasted content with formatting.   Remove formatting

  Only 75 emoticons maximum are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

Loading...