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Do customs ever become rules?


AFS1970
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I have read a little bit here about an organizations customs being kind of unwritten but generally understood policies, but does a custom even become a rule if it is not written down? I am thinking it does not, but I just don't know.

So more fun from my fire company meetings. First we had an issue with nominations, which we have almost no written rules for. Apparently the custom has been for nomination by another member and a second by a different member. Lots of organizations do it this way. The executive Board also nominates 1 member for each office but their nominations do not require a second. They serve as a nominating committee but are not named as such.

This year we had a member nominate herself for several offices. She was only seconded for two offices and that was after a few minutes of dead silence. 

Then another odd tradition kicked in. A member made a motion to nominate all candidates for office for all lower offices. This leads to a great deal of people nominated for the lowest office. 

So two customs were questioned in between the nominations and elections. 1 was self nomination. Our executive board thought this was not allowed but as we had no rule appealed to RONR and found that it was allowed. However the second thing was the executive board saying we had to follow RONR because the bylaws required it. Turns out this is also an unwritten custom, as we have no parliamentary authority listed. 

So I wonder does our custom of not allowing self nomination stand due to it being followed longer than any current member can remember? Does our parliamentary authority stand despite having no written rule to appeal to RONR? It seems to me that these two customs are inadvertently in conflict with each other. Have either or neither become a rule?

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Yeah there is a bit of a snafu since as you noted a custom which conflicts with the parliamentary authority falls to the ground upon a Point of Order being raised (RONR p. 19).  A body which doesn't have a parliamentary authority uses the General Parliamentary Law which surprise surprise RONR for the most part is a codification of (RONR pp. xxix-xxx).  Of course since RONR isn't your parliamentary authority who cares what it says ?;)  I would ask though if not the General Parliamentary Law then what rules are you all going to follow??

Edited by Chris Harrison
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On 6/30/2018 at 9:36 AM, AFS1970 said:

So I wonder does our custom of not allowing self nomination stand due to it being followed longer than any current member can remember? Does our parliamentary authority stand despite having no written rule to appeal to RONR? It seems to me that these two customs are inadvertently in conflict with each other. Have either or neither become a rule?

Neither has become a rule. Customs do not become a rule merely because of the passage of time. A custom nonetheless should be followed if it does not conflict with a written rule, unless the assembly chooses to do otherwise in a particular case.

With that said, you should formally adopt RONR as soon as possible. If you also wish to continue the custom of prohibiting self-nominations, you will need to formally adopt that as well, since this custom conflicts with RONR. I think this would require a rule at least on the level of a special rule of order, and possibly even a a rule on the bylaws.

Edited by Josh Martin
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  • 3 weeks later...

Thank you, I agree that we need to adopt a parliamentary authority. I suspect that this will be an uphill battle. So far this year there have been 4 or 5 attempts to amend the bylaws and all have failed. With the exception of one they were all fairly short and pretty straight forward, and all had a surprising number of members speak against them. For whatever reason the membership does not seem to like making changes.

Seeing that a custom does not ever become a rule, can one appeal to such a custom in a meeting? Without the parliamentary authority I would think that the custom might hold at least as much weight as rules that we are not actually bound to. Although I expect that the debate would be between which custom do we appeal to.

 

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8 hours ago, J. J. said:

I would classify custom as being a type of rule, though a very low ranking one that can be easily changed.   In your case, your assembly may follow the custom that self nominations are prohibited, until it decides that they are not prohibited.  That sounds a bit trite, but it is actually the case.

I think  the repeated use within RONR of the phrase "rule or custom" indicates that the authors consider the set of all rules and the set of all customs to be disjoint sets.

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15 minutes ago, Gary Novosielski said:

I think  the repeated use within RONR of the phrase "rule or custom" indicates that the authors consider the set of all rules and the set of all customs to be disjoint sets.

There isn't a really good definition of what a "rule."   I would say that, broadly, a rule is something that governs the actions of the assembly. In that respect, custom is a rule.

I would also not that p. 19, custom is contrasted with "written rules."  To me, that indicates custom is an unwritten rule.  It is also under the general heading of "Rules of an Assembly or Organization."   In other words, if I were to give a list of the types of rules of an assembly, custom would be on the list, though at the bottom.

It is more of a semantic distinction, and does not change how the rules work.  

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13 hours ago, AFS1970 said:

Thank you, I agree that we need to adopt a parliamentary authority. I suspect that this will be an uphill battle. So far this year there have been 4 or 5 attempts to amend the bylaws and all have failed. With the exception of one they were all fairly short and pretty straight forward, and all had a surprising number of members speak against them. For whatever reason the membership does not seem to like making changes.

An alternative in the interim would be to adopt RONR by the same vote as a special rule of order. This requires a 2/3 vote with notice or a vote of a majority of the entire membership without notice. Perhaps that will be more palatable to the assembly

13 hours ago, AFS1970 said:

Seeing that a custom does not ever become a rule, can one appeal to such a custom in a meeting? Without the parliamentary authority I would think that the custom might hold at least as much weight as rules that we are not actually bound to. Although I expect that the debate would be between which custom do we appeal to.

You can appeal to a custom, but it doesn’t hold as much weight as a written rule adopted by the organization. As you say, there may be debate on what exactly the custom is, and even if the assembly agrees on what the custom is, the assembly may nonetheless choose not to follow the custom in a particular case.

I suppose the “specific vs. general rule” used for interpretation of written rules might also apply in interpreting custom. So I’d say that the assembly should generally follow RONR... however, self-nominations are prohibited (unless the assembly decides otherwise).

“In some organizations, a particular practice may sometimes come to be followed as a matter of established custom so that it is treated practically as if it were prescribed by a rule. If there is no contrary provision in the parliamentary authority or written rules of the organization, the established custom should be adhered to unless the assembly, by a majority vote, agrees in a particular instance to do otherwise.” (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 19)

”Although it is unwise for an assembly or a society to attempt to function without formally adopted rules of order, a recognized parliamentary manual may be cited under such conditions as persuasive. Or, by being followed through long-established custom in an organization, a particular manual may acquire a status within the body similar to that of an adopted parliamentary authority.” (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 17)

”A deliberative assembly that has not adopted any rules is commonly understood to hold itself bound by the rules and customs of the general parliamentary law—or common parliamentary law (as discussed in the Introduction)—to the extent that there is agreement in the meeting body as to what these rules and practices are. Most assemblies operate subject to one or more classes of written rules, however, that the particular body—or, sometimes, a higher authority under which it is constituted—has formally adopted.” (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 3)

Edited by Josh Martin
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I know a second is not required for a nomination in RONR, although most associations I have experience with do seem to require them. I suspect this is more out of ignorance than any organizational need. Personally I have more of a problem with self nomination, than not requiring a second, as I think it is somewhat unseemly to nominate oneself. 

This year the Executive board proved they are completely clueless about the active membership in a number of their nominations. I think getting rid of their slate may be what is needed, although this year I am a member at large of the Executive Board. Maybe I can have some positive impact.

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7 minutes ago, AFS1970 said:

I know a second is not required for a nomination in RONR, although most associations I have experience with do seem to require them. I suspect this is more out of ignorance than any organizational need. Personally I have more of a problem with self nomination, than not requiring a second, as I think it is somewhat unseemly to nominate oneself. 

 

Well, I don't think organizations require them, in the sense of having rules about it, they just have chairs who ask "is there a second?" (Or, my personal favorite, members who shout "second" and chairs who then say, every time "Mr. Smith is nominated, also, seconds are not required for nominations, are there any further nominations?)

On self-nomination - why? Clubs and organizations, by their nature, have less involved "campaign" processes than, say, politics. We don't think it unseemly when a politician decides to run for an office rather than someone else asking him to, and I think the formal nomination at a meeting is somewhat analogous. Or, to be more direct - if I think I am the best person for the job, why shouldn't I nominate myself? 

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9 hours ago, Atul Kapur, PRP "Student" said:

By the way, if you adopt RONR, please note that it says that nominations do not require a second, which would be another deviation from your custom.

Quite so, and the custom would then fall to the ground if a point of order was raised noting the conflict.

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