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Holding meetings without a quorum


Guest Evan
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I am a member of a municipal ad hoc committee and we had a continuous few months' worth of meetings without a quorum being present.  We still made and followed our agendas and kept minutes, but being unable to conduct business, those meetings consisted of discussion, public comment, and working on tasks that were previously adopted by a proper vote;  we tabled any motions that came up, including approval of prior minutes.

Recently, one of the members present for all of these quorum-less meetings stated (not in protest, just as a matter of fact) that, without a quorum, RONR claims that we didn't have authority to hold meetings at all and should have immediately adjourned.  I disagreed, noting with RONR that we could still meet, but with severely limited power: "[e]ven in the absence of a quorum, the assembly may fix the time to which to adjourn, adjourn, recess, or take measures to obtain a quorum" (347-348, 11th ed.).

Who is right?  What is the correct interpretation of Robert's Rules in this case?  It's irrelevant, because we now have quorum and ratified those past minutes, but I am legitimately curious.

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I suspect the authority to meet and do some types of business will not be found in RONR but in the rules for your municipality's committees.

The four motions in your quote from RONR are basically the only business that can be validly transacted. "In the absence of a quorum, any business transacted (except for the procedural actions noted in the next paragraph) is null and void." RONR 11th ed., p. 347 lines 22-24.

However, I have seen municipal and legislative rules that allow committees to do things like conduct hearings (aka public comment) even without a quorum. These rules would supersede the provisions of RONR.

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Thank you, Atul.  No, our city charter doesn't appear to have anything related to the quorum of appointed boards and commissions, but I'm not sure if there's any relevant state statute.  The closest thing our commission has to by-laws is the motion of the City Council that created us, and that only specifies the number of members we have.

If this were a real issue instead of just a member musing out loud, our chairman could always ask one of the city attorneys.

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8 hours ago, Guest Evan said:

If this were a real issue instead of just a member musing out loud, our chairman could always ask one of the city attorneys.

It might be worth doing sooner rather than later so that you don't add to a growing rats nest of things to untangle.  Make sure that when you do get a meeting with a quorum you are prepared to deal with things like old minutes that have piled up and things that may need to be ratified, especially if you're not sure where your next quorum is coming from.

It also may be time to consider how to convince your members to show up for meetings, or get some new members who will.

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Well, it's been a topic of some debate on this forum, but my opinion would be that there's no reason you can't do things at an inquorate meeting you could do without a meeting, such as having discussion. I would note that holding hearings is not in that category (even though one can characterize it as "just hearing people talk") because, while you can, in my opinion, hear from people, you probably won't have fulfilled your obligation to hold such a hearing if it occurs without the ability to conduct business.

11 hours ago, Guest Evan said:

I am a member of a municipal ad hoc committee and we had a continuous few months' worth of meetings without a quorum being present.  We still made and followed our agendas and kept minutes, but being unable to conduct business, those meetings consisted of discussion, public comment, and working on tasks that were previously adopted by a proper vote;  we tabled any motions that came up, including approval of prior minutes.

 

In my opinion, discussion is fine. Public comment is probably fine, but does not fulfill an obligation to receive it. I have no idea what "working on tasks that were previously adopted by a proper vote" means, but my guess is either it requires a quorum, or it shouldn't be done at a meeting anyway. Nothing should be "tabled" (as is mostly the case even with a quorum), as any motion should, instead, be ruled out of order in the first place. 

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1 hour ago, Guest Evan said:

Thank you, Gary.  We had a few members resign and a few members never attend a single meeting, so we ultimately had the City Council eliminate those empty seats, downsizing us and reducing our quorum to something manageable.

For future reference, seats which are actually empty, rather than "filled" by chronic absentees, may not count against your quorum.  If, say your quorum is "a majority of the members", and you have had a few resignations, then you have fewer members. Vacant seats are not members. Members, at a minimum, have a pulse. 

But sometimes the language prevents this interpretation if, instead of members, it refers to the total lnumber of positions, or is stated as a fixed number.

Edited by Gary Novosielski
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