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Individual Rights of Privacy vs Open Debate


Guest Sandra Chaviel

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Guest Sandra Chaviel

Outside of a meeting, our Women's Golf club recently experienced an incident of member-to-member bullying in the form of an anonymous letter.

The letter writer criticized the recipient's manner of dress and followed that with insults and name-calling. The writer implied that her words represented the feelings

of the entire club.

 

Our Bylaws contain no provisions for punishing errant members. As the presiding officer, I called an emergency meeting of the Executive Board to deliberate the wording of an

anti-harassment bylaw amendment proposal. The amendment wording was unanimously approved, as was the direction to put the proposal to the entire membership for their consideration. Email balloting ensued with 84% of the respondents voting 'yes' for the proposed amendment.

 

Based on that outcome, at our next Regular meeting, the Board plans to ratify/adopt the proposed bylaw.

 

The problem?.... Sadly a small faction of our club wants to pillory the victim and would like to use the privilege of debating the motion as an excuse to do this at an open meeting.

Decorum in debate will not be observed and I refuse to participate or preside over this mistreatment. Our Bylaws also do not provide for the protection of individual rights of privacy.

This same group would also like to nullify the vote/bylaw amendment by claiming a violation of our bylaws since no previous notice was given regarding the Executive Meeting. 

 

What should I do?

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While we can't comment on the alleged improprieties in  your bylaw amendment process (we don't know what your rules say in that regard), but when a main motion is pending approval, it's debatable, and it's your job, as presiding officer, to enforce the rules and insist upon decorum in debate.

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If the motion is to ratify, it doesn't really matter if the Executive Board meeting was held properly or not. I always hate to encourage cutting off debate, but with 84% in favor the motion, it is likely that someone could move the previous question before things go too far and bring it to an immediate vote rather than letting people use it as a sounding board.

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The Chairman of a meeting has the power to call members to order, and to make sure that debate is germane to the motion being debated (hence why a motion must be made before debate.)  As such, you - as Chairman - can rule a member out of order if they start insulting another member.

 

Also, as Timothy has pointed out, if enough members are in favour of the motion, a 2/3 vote to end debate would likely succeed.

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While we can't comment on the alleged improprieties in  your bylaw amendment process (we don't know what your rules say in that regard), ...

 

 

... our Women's Golf club recently experienced an incident of member-to-member bullying in the form of an anonymous letter.

 

... As the presiding officer, I called an emergency meeting of the Executive Board

 

... Email balloting ensued ...

 

Based on that outcome, at our next Regular meeting, the Board plans to ratify/adopt the proposed bylaw.

 

The problem?.... Sadly a small faction of our club wants to pillory the victim and would like to use the privilege of debating the motion as an excuse to do this at an open meeting.

Decorum in debate will not be observed and I refuse to participate or preside over this mistreatment.

 

 

 

This same group would also like to nullify the vote/bylaw amendment by claiming a violation of our bylaws since no previous notice was given regarding the Executive Meeting. 

 

What should I do?

 

A few thoughts on the above excerpts:

 

1.  Please take the time to read Chapter Twenty in RONR.  (Don't put it off.)  While an anti-harassment bylaw might pleasingly provide specifics, RONR already says that "In most societies it is understood that members are required to be of honorable character and reputation, and certain types of associations may have particular codes of ethics to enforce [p. 643]."  So maybe your women's golf club is such an association, and this is the beginning of your code of ethics.

 

(As the presiding officer, please be sure to have read RONR - In Brief.  Come back to this, the world's premier Internet parliamentary forum, to ask questions about it.  Or about anything.  We never sleep.  Or get paid.)

 

2. In addition to improprieties in the bylaw amendment process, as Mr Mervosh said, we here on the Internet don't know what your rules for calling emergency meetings are, and we don't know how well you all complied with them. Or, of course, what effect that might have on your bylaws-amendment process.

 

3.  Is e-mail voting provided for in your bylaws?  RONR prohibits it, like all other absentee action, unless your bylaws do allow it.

 

4. As Mister Mervosh, Mister Fish, and Mister Ed pointed out, yes there will be decorum in debate.  You, O esteemed brave puissant presiding officer Guest_Sandra Chaviel_*, must, and shall, see to it.  I am confident.  I can give you a couple of tips.

 

4a.  To begin with, make sure there are no golf clubs, or other forms of alarming weaponry, in the room.

 

4b.  Before the meeting, speak to as many members as you can about the importance of orderliness, especially in discussions of contentious matters.  Especially if you can recruit some to back you up.  I'm guessing that most indecorum would consist either of improper remarks made in the course of an otherwise legitimate speech, or of improper impetuous interruptions.  Your supporters could be prepared to pounce whenever these arise, raising a point of order, which both (properly!) disrupts the impropriety, and relieves you of playing the disciplinarian, the Mommy, the bad guy, all the time.

 

4c.  This is strictly not Robert's Rules.  But it worked for me the two times I tried it.  Start the meeting by acknowledging, asserting, that there will be contentious issues arising, and that we grown women must behave like such.  Disorder and disruption breed chaos, and none of us wants that.  Members will stand while speaking, after being duly recognized, and others will not stand:  so the person who is standing is the person who legitimately may speak, and no one else, being seated, shall interrupt.  This is not only decency, though it sure is, it is practicality:  if we want to all scream at each other, we can say heck with our golf club and cross the street to the bar there and scream at each other about the football game on the big-screen TV there that none of us is bothering to watch.  Here at our meeting, a woman who disrupts will be firmly asked to leave.

 

4d.  Note that debate must be germane to the pending motion.  If the pending motion is adopting an anti-harassment bylaw, then any mention of a member's "manner of dress" is prohibited.  (I think.  If your members think it's germane, then for your women's golf club, it's germane.  My judgement gets distracted when questions of women's manner of dress comes up.  Of course, that's just me.  Of course, that's not just me.)  You might get to tap the gavel in reproof for once.

 

What should you do?  Be brave.  Hang in there.  Hang tough.  Soldier on.  "It's a proud and lonely thing to be a man."  Or a woman. Golfer. Presiding officer.

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Guest Sandra Chaviel

My gratitude for all of your good advice.... very helpful and encouraging.

 

At the heart of the problem, which I did not originally mention, is that our Bylaws are woefully inadequate and confusing.

When specifics/procedures are missing (which is a lot), our Bylaws do direct us to RONR for guidance; and at the same time they use terminology that seems contrary to RONR.

For instance, 'Regular Meetings' are referred to as 'Executive Board Meetings' (which to me means 'closed session'). At these 'Executive' meetings the membership is allowed to attend and comment, but not allowed to make motions or vote. At the same time, there is no provision for 'closed sessions', which was so necessary in our recent situation.

 

Thank you for your help.

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For instance, 'Regular Meetings' are referred to as 'Executive Board Meetings' (which to me means 'closed session'). 

 

Don't confuse meetings of the Executive Board (which can be "open" or "closed") with meetings held in executive session (which, though often thought of as "closed", just requires confidentiality on the part of all persons present).

 

Any body (e.g. the general membership) can choose to meet in executive session. Further. even if not meeting in executive session, non-members can be excluded (since they have no right to attend in the first place). And (just to confuse things), selected non-members can be invited to attend meetings held in executive session.

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