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Do All Agenda Topics Must Be Motions or Resolutions?


Shawn
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I am on a small board that serves as a booster for a school music program. Prior to Board meetings the Secretary sends an email asking if there are any agenda topics which we would like to include. Many times the Agenda topics submitted are more of brainstorming/discussion items that may or may not result in a motion being put before the board. For example, lets say I want to add Robert Rules of Order as an agenda item just so I can educate my fellow board members on what I've learned from the 11th edition. Can I have that as an agenda item and when Chair recognizes me just speak to clarify some things that we may not have been following? I would not be presenting a motion. Or perhaps someone wants to bring up an event that is coming up and wants to just have board discuss all the things we need to have prepared for the event to make sure we are not missing anything. How do we handle these type of issues on a Board.

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31 minutes ago, Shawn said:

I am on a small board

I will assume, for the purposes of this answer, that you are using small board rules.

32 minutes ago, Shawn said:

Prior to Board meetings the Secretary sends an email asking if there are any agenda topics which we would like to include.

It may not answer your question, but an organization meeting quarterly or more frequently does not need an agenda. Furthermore, whatever is distributed is (unless there are applicable rules or statutes) a proposed agenda, not an agenda. It needs to be adopted by the body to be an agenda.

33 minutes ago, Shawn said:

Many times the Agenda topics submitted are more of brainstorming/discussion items that may or may not result in a motion being put before the board.

This is permissible under small board rules. Well, to be more precise, discussion without a motion is in order under small board rules. That is, it's a rule about meetings, not agendas, but the point remains. Whether it is a good idea is, according to most on this forum, dependent on the particular assembly. In my personal opinion, it is always a bad idea because a motion focuses the debate on a binary question or series of such.

34 minutes ago, Shawn said:

For example, lets say I want to add Robert Rules of Order as an agenda item just so I can educate my fellow board members on what I've learned from the 11th edition.

This is not an appropriate meeting topic, even under small board rules, in my opinion. It has nothing to do with the business of the assembly. In fact, General Robert spoke precisely to this point, noting that a meeting is not a lesson in parliamentary procedure. A better way to do this is to move to establish a parliamentary seminar outside of a meeting. If you have long meetings, you could propose doing it over, say, a working lunch or dinner. 

 

36 minutes ago, Shawn said:

Or perhaps someone wants to bring up an event that is coming up and wants to just have board discuss all the things we need to have prepared for the event to make sure we are not missing anything.

Under small board rules, that would be in order, despite my personal opinion that it is an excellent way to waste time. I would suggest, if you are going down this path and conversation is turning circular and time-wasting, that you jump in and make a motion on the topic, or else move to close debate (or adjourn). This might actually be a reasonable use for an agenda, or a motion to limit debate on a particular item.

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I'm going to disagree with my friend Joshua a bit and say that if what you have been doing works for you, I see no need to change anything.  Just keep in mind that you aren't really following the rules in RONR.  However, if you or others believe you are wasting too much time in your meetings, then tightening up your procedure a bit will probably be a good thing. The advice Joshua gave you is all technically correct, but RONR does say at one point that there is no need to be more technical than is necessary for the organization to function.  Well, it doesn't say it in just those words, but I think that's the gist of it.

Here is the quote I was thinking of, from page 456 of RONR:

The president should never be technical or more strict than is necessary for the good of the meeting. Good judgment is essential; the assembly may be of such a nature, through its unfamiliarity with parliamentary usage and its peaceable disposition, that strict enforcement of the rules, instead of assisting, would greatly hinder business. But in large assemblies where there is much work to be done, and especially where there is likelihood of trouble, the only safe course is to require a strict observance of the rules.

 

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Thank you all for your response. One of the reasons I wanted to bring up Robert Rules of Order is because our meetings are getting way too long. There are constant interruptions. If I add an agenda item and am speaking it is not uncommon for constant interruptions with questions, etc.

As far as agenda items, we have yet to officially adopt an agenda once it has been passed out but typically follow Reading of Minutes, Reports of Officers, Old Business, New Business and specific topics Board members asked to be added.

Edited by Shawn
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59 minutes ago, Richard Brown said:

I'm going to disagree with my friend Joshua a bit and say that if what you have been doing works for you, I see no need to change anything.  Just keep in mind that you aren't really following the rules in RONR.  However, if you or others believe you are wasting too much time in your meetings, then tightening up your procedure a bit will probably be a good thing. The advice Joshua gave you is all technically correct, but RONR does say at one point that there is no need to be more technical than is necessary for the organization to function.  Well, it doesn't say it in just those words, but I think that's the gist of it.

 

I don't know exactly what we're disagreeing about. I agree with what you wrote, except that I'm not quite sure what the point about formality, with which I completely agree, responds to. Do you mean my advice that discussions about RONR are out of order during meetings?

 

45 minutes ago, Shawn said:

Thank you all for your response. One of the reasons I wanted to bring up Robert Rules of Order is because our meetings are getting way too long. There are constant interruptions. If I add an agenda item and am speaking it is not uncommon for constant interruptions with questions, etc.

 

Rather than an agenda item to discuss RONR, why not just respond to interruptions by saying "Mr. Chairman, do I have the floor?" If the meetings are running long, the board could adopt a special rule of order to prohibit debate without a motion. As noted, most here think debate without a motion works just fine for small boards, but acknowledge that in some organizations, it becomes a problem. Personally, I think it's always a bad idea.

 

46 minutes ago, Shawn said:

 As far as agenda items, we have yet to officially adopt an agenda once it has been passed out but typically follow Reading of Minutes, Reports of Officers, Old Business, New Business and specific topics Board members asked to be added.

In that case, it does not bind you. If no one is bothered, you're free to act as if it did, until someone tries to deviate and an effort is made to adhere to it. What you've described, though, is mostly the standard order of business, with the addition of some, seemingly, general orders. I think your organization may be misusing the word "agenda." But it doesn't really matter, as Mr. Brown discussed.

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45 minutes ago, Shawn said:

Thank you all for your response. One of the reasons I wanted to bring up Robert Rules of Order is because our meetings are getting way too long. There are constant interruptions. If I add an agenda item and am speaking it is not uncommon for constant interruptions with questions, etc.

Based on that statement, I woud agree with Mr. Katz that your board should probably tighten things up a bit.  If you don't have RONR, which is almost 800 pages and costs about $12 or $13 on Amazon, I would encourage you to get a copy of RONR in Brief.  It's about $7.50 on Amazon and in bookstores.  It is by the same authorship team as RONR, but gives you the bare bones basics of how to properly conduct a meeting, make motions, etc.  It may be perfect for members of your board.  http://www.robertsrules.com/inbrief.html

If you want something a little more advanced but easier to understand than RONR, I would suggest Robert's Rules For Dummies by C. Alan Jennings.  It is not intended to be adopted as a parliamentary authority, but is rather a book about RONR and can be a great help in understanding it.  

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One more thought: saying you want to discuss Robert's Rules, in an assembly not used to using it, is probably a great way to scare, intimidate, and anger people. I think it's easier to just bring up the specific issue, maybe one at a time, and frame it as useful, not "do it because it's a rule." For instance, when I was fire department parliamentarian, I framed my seminars as "how to get home before 10PM." Tell people why following a rule is good.

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1 minute ago, Richard Brown said:

Based on that statement, I woud agree with Mr. Katz that your board should probably tighten things up a bit.  If you don't have RONR, which is almost 800 pages and costs about $12 or $13 on Amazon, I would encourage you to get a copy of RONR in Brief.  It's about $7.50 on Amazon and in bookstores.  It is by the same authorship team as RONR, but gives you the bare bones basics of how to properly conduct a meeting, make motions, etc.  It may be perfect for members of your board.  http://www.robertsrules.com/inbrief.html

If you want something a little more advanced but easier to understand than RONR, I would suggest Robert's Rules For Dummies by C. Alan Jennings.  It is not intended to be adopted as a parliamentary authority, but is rather a book about RONR and can be a great help in understanding it.  

Yes, I recently purchased the RONR 800 page copy. Some areas a little challenging to understand which is why I am reaching out on this forum. I really appreciate all this insight.

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6 minutes ago, Joshua Katz said:

Rather than an agenda item to discuss RONR, why not just respond to interruptions by saying "Mr. Chairman, do I have the floor?" If the meetings are running long, the board could adopt a special rule of order to prohibit debate without a motion. As noted, most here think debate without a motion works just fine for small boards, but acknowledge that in some organizations, it becomes a problem. Personally, I think it's always a bad idea.

Unfortunately, the Chairman has never run a board before and has little knowledge of RONR as well as almost all the board members. I had some basic knowledge but decided to get the book to better educate and hopefully educate my fellow board members so we can make our meetings more productive. We spend more time arguing over what the board needs to vote on and does not need to vote on. Like the committee example I noted earlier. President thinks committees over an area have full control and my position is the Board provides the oversight. I should never be prohibited from bringing forth a motion unless it clearly goes against some by-law.

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2 minutes ago, Shawn said:

I should never be prohibited from bringing forth a motion unless it clearly goes against some by-law.

Well...not exactly true, but I'll allow it 😉 You know your organization better than I do. I just really have strong opinions about not turning meetings into lessons on parliamentary procedure.

Edited to add: If the problem is that the chair lacks knowledge, one helpful approach might be to approach the chair outside the meeting context. People tend to be more open to conversations if they're not feeling on the spot, and they are not embarrassed in front of others. During that private discussion, you could go over how to be more efficient, offer to preside at one meeting to demonstrate efficient procedure, whatever you find helpful.

Edited by Joshua Katz
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4 minutes ago, Joshua Katz said:

Well...not exactly true, but I'll allow it 😉 You know your organization better than I do. I just really have strong opinions about not turning meetings into lessons on parliamentary procedure.

Edited to add: If the problem is that the chair lacks knowledge, one helpful approach might be to approach the chair outside the meeting context. People tend to be more open to conversations if they're not feeling on the spot, and they are not embarrassed in front of others. During that private discussion, you could go over how to be more efficient, offer to preside at one meeting to demonstrate efficient procedure, whatever you find helpful.

I will definitely do so, thanks for the advice.

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6 hours ago, Shawn said:

One of the reasons I wanted to bring up Robert Rules of Order is because our meetings are getting way too long.

 

7 hours ago, Shawn said:

Many times the Agenda topics submitted are more of brainstorming/discussion items that may or may not result in a motion being put before the board.

My guess is that the second statement is the reason why these meetings are dragging out. Perhaps your board should adopt a special rule of order that any non-motion subject that is raised is automatically referred to the Committee Of The Whole and each member has two minutes of debate time until the chairman puts the question as to what recommendation will be made to the board. Getting some structure around these issues will go a long way to clarify things, otherwise this board will be in a similar situation as the ancient British Parliament endlessly discussing subjects without an end in sight. 

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23 minutes ago, Shawn said:

What would be Considered a Committee of the whole? Is that our Board?

A committee of the whole is one of three mechanisms in RONR for considering items in a less formal manner. I'm not sure how well it fits, as opposed to consider informally, in a small board. The idea is that the entire assembly agrees to appoint a committee consisting of itself. Someone other than the chair presides, and, because it is now proceeding as a committee, less formal rules apply, and debate cannot be cut off by the motion for the previous question. Before returning from committee of the whole, the committee decides upon a recommendation it will make to the assembly, which then reconvenes, with its ordinary chair, and considers the recommendation.

I'm not convinced it's the best fit here. So far as I can tell, the problem here seems to be a lack of time limits, not an excess of them. Also, it is generally for large bodies.

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How about referring every non-motion/subject item to an ad hoc committee, let them hash it out and report their recommendation to the next board meeting? If there are standing committees then perhaps one of them would be the appropriate committee to examine the subject and make the recommendation.

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6 minutes ago, Guest Zev said:

How about referring every non-motion/subject item to an ad hoc committee, let them hash it out and report their recommendation to the next board meeting? If there are standing committees then perhaps one of them would be the appropriate committee to examine the subject and make the recommendation.

A beautiful idea. I think this is how most new business should be dealt with, except on the rare occasion where someone brings a fully-baked idea to a meeting, having discussed it with others, counted votes, etc.

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