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Guest Richard Tatara

Issues at hand

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Guest Richard Tatara

Our private organization's constitution contains the following clause entitled "Conducting Business Meetings": Any member may attend any meeting of the boards, committees and societies and speak to issues at hand if not restricted by this Constitution; though, for good order, the chairman has the right to place restrictions and policies on meeting guests.

The chairmen of some boards have put guest policies in place where guests are entitled to speak to the business items on the pre-published agenda at the start of the meeting, then proceed with the board meeting in a closed session consisting only of the elected board members who are entitled to vote. These chairmen have therefore defined "issues at-hand" to mean the business motions that were on the pre-published agenda, which is always adopted as the agenda for the meeting. They believe the spirit of the constitution clause is satisfied by giving general members time to speak ahead of the formal board member debate.

However, a dispute has arisen with a member who has interpreted the term "issues at hand" to mean the items under discussion at the time they are opened for debate among the board members, therefore allowing them the right to attend the closed session and be given the chance to participate in the debate. They define "at hand" to mean the real-time debate by the board voting members. Under this interpretation, there would be no closed sessions.

It appears that resolution of this concern requires agreement on the term "issues at hand". This does not appear to be a formal term in RONR, and I am interested in opinions from the forum on this debate.

 

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You are correct that "issues at hand" is not a defined term in RONR. It does, however, use the term "business at hand" on a number of occasions. In defining Incidental motions, for instance, RONR states: "Incidental motions relate, in different ways, to the pending business or to business otherwise at hand . . ." (RONR pg. 69, ll. 7-8).

But even if you define the term to mean "pending business," I'm not sure it changes anything. To me, what is important is the next line in your constitution, that says: ". . .  for good order, the chairman has the right to place restrictions and policies on meeting guests." That statement is unqualified in your constitution, which I would read to mean that the chairman may put in place any "restrictions and policies" he so chooses.

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1 hour ago, Guest Richard Tatara said:

Our private organization's constitution contains the following clause entitled "Conducting Business Meetings": Any member may attend any meeting of the boards, committees and societies and speak to issues at hand if not restricted by this Constitution; though, for good order, the chairman has the right to place restrictions and policies on meeting guests.

The chairmen of some boards have put guest policies in place where guests are entitled to speak to the business items on the pre-published agenda at the start of the meeting, then proceed with the board meeting in a closed session consisting only of the elected board members who are entitled to vote. These chairmen have therefore defined "issues at-hand" to mean the business motions that were on the pre-published agenda, which is always adopted as the agenda for the meeting. They believe the spirit of the constitution clause is satisfied by giving general members time to speak ahead of the formal board member debate.

However, a dispute has arisen with a member who has interpreted the term "issues at hand" to mean the items under discussion at the time they are opened for debate among the board members, therefore allowing them the right to attend the closed session and be given the chance to participate in the debate. They define "at hand" to mean the real-time debate by the board voting members. Under this interpretation, there would be no closed sessions.

It appears that resolution of this concern requires agreement on the term "issues at hand". This does not appear to be a formal term in RONR, and I am interested in opinions from the forum on this debate.

It is up to your organization to interpret its own constitution. I think the bigger issue of interpretation is not what the meaning of "issues at hand" is (which I'd personally argue is a meaningless phrase which adds nothing to the rule), but how much latitude is intended to be granted to the chair by the clause "for good order, the chairman has the right to place restrictions and policies on meeting guests."

1 hour ago, Hieu H. Huynh said:

Perhaps the bylaws could be amended to remove "issues at hand".

Maybe, but I don't think that will resolve this argument.

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5 hours ago, Guest Richard Tatara said:

Our private organization's constitution contains the following clause entitled

"Conducting Business Meetings":

>> Any member may attend any meeting of the boards, committees and societies and speak to issues at hand

>> if not restricted by this Constitution;

>> though, for good order, the chairman has the right to place restrictions and policies on meeting guests.

The chairmen [plural?] of some boards have put guest policies in place where guests are entitled to speak to the business items on the pre-published agenda at the start of the meeting, then proceed with the board meeting in a closed session consisting only of the elected board members who are entitled to vote.

These chairmen [plural?] have therefore defined "issues at-hand" to mean the business motions that were on the pre-published agenda, which is always adopted as the agenda for the meeting. They [plural!] believe the spirit of the constitution clause is satisfied by giving general members time to speak ahead of the formal board member debate.

[...]

It appears that resolution of this concern requires agreement on the term "issues at hand".

This does not appear to be a formal term in RONR, and I am interested in opinions from the forum on this debate.

 

Q. You want an interpretation of what these chairmen [plural?] meant by their usage, and their application, of the term, "issues at hand"?

I doubt that each chairman would have agreed with previous and succeeding chairmen.

***

Q. Indeed, what is the difference between the two rules, with one minor edit?

S1.) Any member may attend any meeting of the boards, committees and societies and speak to issues at hand

>> if not restricted by this Constitution;

 

S2.) Any member may attend any meeting of the boards, committees and societies and speak to issues [. . .]

>> if not restricted by this Constitution;

 

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12 minutes ago, Kim Goldsworthy said:

S3.) Any member may attend any meeting of the boards, committees and societies and speak [. . .]

>> if not restricted by this Constitution;

One more sample to ponder.

(i.e., Rid reference to "issues at hand" completely.)

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Thanks to all who have shared valuable insight. Use of the term "issues at hand" has been interpreted by some general members that they should be allowed by the constitution to be present and given the opportunity to speak when formal debate by board members is being conducted, even if the meeting is a session closed to voting board members only. Elimination of the term "issues at hand" from the clause of constitution would perhaps strengthen the authority granted, in the second section of the clause, to board chairmen to restrict the opportunity for non-board members to speak at a specific time, including addressing the board before a closed session. Modifying the organization constitution is a more complex process, bur perhaps should be undertaken for the sake of clarity.

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2 hours ago, Richard Tatara said:

Thanks to all who have shared valuable insight. Use of the term "issues at hand" has been interpreted by some general members that they should be allowed by the constitution to be present and given the opportunity to speak when formal debate by board members is being conducted, even if the meeting is a session closed to voting board members only. Elimination of the term "issues at hand" from the clause of constitution would perhaps strengthen the authority granted, in the second section of the clause, to board chairmen to restrict the opportunity for non-board members to speak at a specific time, including addressing the board before a closed session. Modifying the organization constitution is a more complex process, bur perhaps should be undertaken for the sake of clarity.

I'm completely lost as to why either side believes the phrase "issues at hand" is vested with some deep meaning. I think it is certainly a good idea for the organization to clarify its rules on this subject, but I don't think removing "issues at hand," in and of itself, makes the rule in question any clearer.

If it is indeed intended that members of the society are permitted only to attend a hearing held at the start of the board meeting, at which time they may speak only to issues which are placed on the board's pre-published agenda, then the rule should say as much. The rule as written (with or without "issues at hand") is sufficiently vague that it is no surprise that there are arguments on the subject, and I think that both sides can find support in the text.

The rule provides that all members may attend all meetings of any board, committee, or of the society (the last of which is unnecessary, because this is already true) and that they may speak at such meetings (specifically, that they may speak to "issues at hand," which apparently people in the society believe has much more meaning than I am aware of, although they cannot agree on what that meaning is). It then provides, however, that the chair may "place restrictions and policies on meeting guests." There is no clarification of either statement, and thus it is left entirely up to the assembly to figure out how to resolve these two statements, until the rule may be replaced with something much clearer.

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