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Graham Parks

Can committee chairs and VCs be deprived of their vote by implication?

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I sit on the state rules committee of a major political party. Like many such organizations, our governing instrument reflects several generations worth of hard-fought and often artless political compromise which have left it a bit ragged or disjointed here and there.

Recently we have been beset by a controversy over whether the following bylaws language implicitly deprives the chairs and vice chairs of our state standing committees of any right to cast votes in their committees:

At its organizational meeting or in its next official meeting, each Congressional District Committee [of which there are five, the membership of which is elected by the county central committees in population-adjusted blocks allocated among the counties that compose the district] and the [State Central Committee (SCC)] delegates and alternates acting as delegates [each elected by and representing their respective county central committees to the state-level organization] living in that district, elects representatives to serve on the standing committees of the SCC.

* * *

Each Congressional District Committee, along with the SCC delegates and alternates acting as delegates living in that district, elects committee delegates and alternates to the standing committees in the following numbers: Budget Committee: Two delegates, one alternate; Credentials Committee: Two delegates, one alternate; [etc.]

* * *

The Chair of the SCC appoints the chair, vice chair and one voting member of each standing committee. The chair of the standing committee may appoint one voting member of the standing committee, with approval of the Administration Committee.

The argument of the insurgent side of the dispute is tidily summed up by one of its proponents: "If the bylaws were meant to say all are voting members then they'd say one 'additional' voting member, but they don't."

We who find this interpretation surprising point to past practices, the basic assumptions about what committee chairs and vice chairs are and do, and the fundamental principle that basic rights of membership in the body cannot be deemed stripped from a class of members except by express provision in the bylaws that a specified right is so stripped.

What say you?

Edited by Graham Parks

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4 hours ago, Graham Parks said:

The argument of the insurgent side of the dispute is tidily summed up by one of its proponents: "If the bylaws were meant to say all are voting members then they'd say one 'additional' voting member, but they don't."

 We who find this interpretation surprising point to past practices, the basic assumptions about what committee chairs and vice chairs are and do, and the fundamental principle that basic rights of membership in the body cannot be deemed stripped from a class of members except by express provision in the bylaws that a specified right is so stripped.

Well, let's begin with the observation that this is a matter of bylaw interpretation, which only your organization can decide. Ultimately, what we think means nothing.

That said, I'd venture a personal opinion which, I emphasize, is simply that and nothing more. It is permissible for bodies, including committees, to have chairs who are not members. It seems to me that you have a few ways of becoming members of a committee: the election process first described, appointment by the chair of the SCC of one member, and appointment by the chair of the committee of one member, with approval of another committee. I see nothing indicating that the chair and vice chair, also appointed by the chair of the SCC, are members with the right to vote.

As to the second quoted paragraph, past practices may be persuasive, but custom falls to the ground in the face of a point of order. However, an understanding of your practices may help you interpret ambiguous provisions. I have no idea what the basic assumptions about what committee chairs and vice chairs are and do tells you - certainly nothing in RONR (which may or may not be your parliamentary authority) tells us that chairs of bodies must be members or assumes that chairs of bodies have voting rights. We find many references in RONR to non-member chairs, usually in the form of "The chair, if a member..." It seems to me that the most basic assumption about what chairs of committees do is that they preside over meetings. As for the final point, it seems to assume the conclusion. If someone is a member of a body, then stripping their rights requires clear authorization in the bylaws. But your discussion is about whether certain people are members. Suppose I claimed to be a member of the committee, and presented as my argument "well, nothing in the bylaws says I'm not." Would you buy it?

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I would buy it if I was told, "I am entitled to send x number of (delegates/chairs/vice chairs/"voting members") to represent my organizational interests on this committee, and there's nothing in the bylaws that says this guy can't be one of them (so long as he's registered to vote as a member of our party) or represent my interests on the committee I've sent him to with anything less than the full rights of membership," by one of the seven distinct appointing authorities (each of the five functionally independent, multi-county congressional district committees whose members are elected by the county central committees and answer to no authority higher than themselves; the Chair of the State Central Committee, which is composed of delegates elected by the county central committees and answers to no authority higher than itself; and the appointed chair of the particular committee, who serves at the pleasure of the SCC Chair and theoretically balances his or her statewide perspective against the assumed crass regionalism of the committee's hoi polloi).

RONR (edition not specified, but universally assumed to be the latest and greatest) is our bylaws-designated parliamentary backstop.

Edited by Graham Parks

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Guest Zev

The difference between this sentence:
"The Chair of the SCC appoints the chair, vice chair and one voting member of each standing committee."
and this sentence:
"The Chair of the SCC appoints the chair, vice chair and one additional voting member of each standing committee."
is being used as an argument that the chair and vice-chair do not have voting rights in their respective committee meetings. In my opinion this is pure sophistry and the argument is being made because the chair and the vice-chair have well-known views that run contrary to the so-called "insurgent" faction's goals, and by depriving the chair and vice-chair of the right to vote the faction hopes to prevail. Unless the bylaws state explicitly that the chair and vice-chair do not have the right to vote then no argument is sufficient for me. And yes, the "insurgent" interpretation is beyond surprising to the point of absurdity.

 

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1 hour ago, Graham Parks said:

"I am entitled to send x number of (delegates/chairs/vice chairs/"voting members") to represent my organizational interests on this committee, and there's nothing in the bylaws that says this guy can't be one of them (so long as he's registered to vote as a member of our party) or represent my interests on the committee I've sent him to with anything less than the full rights of membership,"

Agreed. But the language here says:

14 hours ago, Graham Parks said:

The Chair of the SCC appoints the chair, vice chair and one voting member of each standing committee.

The question is precisely whether the chair and vice chair represent the chair's organizational interests on this committee.

In any event, it seems so far one of us has given an opinion agreeing with the insurgents, and one finding that interpretation outrageous, so I'm not sure so far if we've been very helpful. Maybe others will weigh in.

 

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14 hours ago, Graham Parks said:

I sit on the state rules committee of a major political party. Like many such organizations, our governing instrument reflects several generations worth of hard-fought and often artless political compromise which have left it a bit ragged or disjointed here and there.

Recently we have been beset by a controversy over whether the following bylaws language implicitly deprives the chairs and vice chairs of our state standing committees of any right to cast votes in their committees:

At its organizational meeting or in its next official meeting, each Congressional District Committee [of which there are five, the membership of which is elected by the county central committees in population-adjusted blocks allocated among the counties that compose the district] and the [State Central Committee (SCC)] delegates and alternates acting as delegates [each elected by and representing their respective county central committees to the state-level organization] living in that district, elects representatives to serve on the standing committees of the SCC.

* * *

Each Congressional District Committee, along with the SCC delegates and alternates acting as delegates living in that district, elects committee delegates and alternates to the standing committees in the following numbers: Budget Committee: Two delegates, one alternate; Credentials Committee: Two delegates, one alternate; [etc.]

* * *

The Chair of the SCC appoints the chair, vice chair and one voting member of each standing committee. The chair of the standing committee may appoint one voting member of the standing committee, with approval of the Administration Committee.

The argument of the insurgent side of the dispute is tidily summed up by one of its proponents: "If the bylaws were meant to say all are voting members then they'd say one 'additional' voting member, but they don't."

We who find this interpretation surprising point to past practices, the basic assumptions about what committee chairs and vice chairs are and do, and the fundamental principle that basic rights of membership in the body cannot be deemed stripped from a class of members except by express provision in the bylaws that a specified right is so stripped.

What say you?

Based on the very limited facts provided, I am personally inclined to think the chair and vice chair are voting members of the committees, but I do not think the other interpretation is unreasonable. This will ultimately be up to the society to decide for itself.

I would note that since (as you correctly note), it is generally assumed that members are voting members unless otherwise stated, it is therefore not clear why the word “voting” is used in the quoted passages at all. Those who suggest that the chair and vice chair are not voting members have noted one possible reason for its inclusion - to suggest, by implication, that other persons on the committee are not voting members.

In the long term, I suggest the following wording to clarify this matter: “The Chair of the SCC appoints three members of each standing committee, including the chair and vice chair. The chair of the standing committee may appoint one additional member of the standing committee, with approval of the Administration Committee.”

1 hour ago, Guest Zev said:

In my opinion this is pure sophistry and the argument is being made because the chair and the vice-chair have well-known views that run contrary to the so-called "insurgent" faction's goals, and by depriving the chair and vice-chair of the right to vote the faction hopes to prevail. Unless the bylaws state explicitly that the chair and vice-chair do not have the right to vote then no argument is sufficient for me. And yes, the "insurgent" interpretation is beyond surprising to the point of absurdity.

While I agree that the limited facts provided support the view that the chair and vice chair are voting members, I disagree that the alternate interpretation is absurd or “pure sophistry,” and I disagree with the suggestion that anything less than an explicit statement that the chair and vice chair do not have the right to vote is sufficient.

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Guest Zev

 

1 hour ago, Josh Martin said:

While I agree that the limited facts provided support the view that the chair and vice chair are voting members, I disagree that the alternate interpretation is absurd or “pure sophistry,”...

If the "insurgent" claims were true then every single chair and vice-chair to all the committees appointed by the SCC have no votes. The rule states that the chair (who supposedly has no vote) can appoint another member that does have a vote. Any chairman with a single cell in his brain as a consequence of such an interpretation would instantaneously appoint himself as the member and therefore gain the right to vote, a right that the "insurgent" faction claims he does not have. Guest Graham Parks expressed surprise at such a claim and I think he is correct. As General Anthony Clement McAuliffe once said, "Nuts!" (Not you, but the "insurgent" claim.)

1 hour ago, Josh Martin said:

...and I disagree with the suggestion that anything less than an explicit statement that the chair and vice chair do not have the right to vote is sufficient.

I am at a loss to understand how the chair, that even by the gentleman's own admission have the right to vote, could be denied that right via something that is not an express and explicit statement. Perhaps a clarification would be helpful.

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1 hour ago, Guest Zev said:

Any chairman with a single cell in his brain as a consequence of such an interpretation would instantaneously appoint himself as the member and therefore gain the right to vote, a right that the "insurgent" faction claims he does not have.

Never mind my last comment, I misread the situation. Let me think some more.

Edited by Joshua Katz

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1 hour ago, Guest Zev said:

If the "insurgent" claims were true then every single chair and vice-chair to all the committees appointed by the SCC have no votes. The rule states that the chair (who supposedly has no vote) can appoint another member that does have a vote. Any chairman with a single cell in his brain as a consequence of such an interpretation would instantaneously appoint himself as the member and therefore gain the right to vote, a right that the "insurgent" faction claims he does not have. Guest Graham Parks expressed surprise at such a claim and I think he is correct. As General Anthony Clement McAuliffe once said, "Nuts!" (Not you, but the "insurgent" claim.)

I am at a loss to understand how the chair, that even by the gentleman's own admission have the right to vote, could be denied that right via something that is not an express and explicit statement. Perhaps a clarification would be helpful.

One of the questions raised by the OP was whether it is possible, as a general matter, to deny certain members the right to vote by implication. I think it is indeed possible to do so.

I admit the idea of the committee chairman appointing himself as the remaining committee member was not a possibility I had considered, and I agree that this lends further support to the interpretation that the committee chairman and vice chairman are voting members.

7 minutes ago, Joshua Katz said:

I don't follow this. The chairman who is doing the appointing, as I understand it, is the SCC chair, while the chair and vice chair being appointed are committee chair and vice chairs. There's no claim that the SCC chair, who does the appointing, can't vote on SCC, nor is anyone saying that the SCC chair can vote on the committee.

The OP states that his bylaws provide that “The Chair of the SCC appoints the chair, vice chair and one voting member of each standing committee. The chair of the standing committee may appoint one voting member of the standing committee, with approval of the Administration Committee.” As the second sentence notes, the committee chairman appoints a voting member of the committee (subject to the approval of the Administration Committee). Therefore, if it is in fact correct that the committee chair is not a voting member, he may rectify this matter simply by appointing himself as a voting member. This is an unusual and presumably unintended result, and would seem to lend support to the idea that the committee chairman is a voting member.

Edited by Josh Martin

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Guest Zev
20 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

One of the questions raised by the OP was whether it is possible, as a general matter, to deny certain members the right to vote by implication. I think it is indeed possible to do so.

My answer, however, would have been based on the following:

Quote

A member of an assembly, in the parliamentary sense, as mentioned above, is a person entitled to full participation in its proceedings -- that is, as explained in 3 and 4, the right to attend meetings, to make motions, to speak in debate, and to vote. No member can be individually deprived of these basic rights of membership -- or of any basic rights concomitant to them, such as the right to make nominations or to give previous notice of a motion -- except through disciplinary proceedings.

RONR 11th edition page 3:1-9

Consequently, unless the member has been deprived of his right by way of a disciplinary proceeding or explicit language in the bylaws that deprives him of this right, either temporarily or permanently, then my answer is no. Implication or clever interpretation has gone too far. The rights mentioned on page 3 are just too important.

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13 minutes ago, Guest Zev said:

Consequently, unless the member has been deprived of his right by way of a disciplinary proceeding or explicit language in the bylaws that deprives him of this right, either temporarily or permanently, then my answer is no. Implication or clever interpretation has gone too far. The rights mentioned on page 3 are just too important.

I have no idea what to make of this argument. The question is whether or not the individuals in question are members. Can I cast a vote on this committee, since nothing in the bylaws says I'm not a member, and declaring me a non-member and not able to vote is going too far? In other words, your argument makes sense, if you first assume that they are, in fact, members, but it seems to me that's what is at issue.

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5 hours ago, Guest Zev said:

[T]he argument is being made because the chair and the vice-chair have well-known views that run contrary to the so-called "insurgent" faction's goals, and by depriving the chair and vice-chair of the right to vote the faction hopes to prevail.

Have you been attending our meetings in secret?

4 hours ago, Josh Martin said:

In the long term, I suggest the following wording to clarify this matter: “The Chair of the SCC appoints three members of each standing committee, including the chair and vice chair. The chair of the standing committee may appoint one additional member of the standing committee, with approval of the Administration Committee.”

That's an elegant fix if you resolve the purported ambiguity (it's sort of like one of those Magic Eye pictures, isn't it? you just can't unsee it once it pops out) in the same direction I do.

As I've said repeatedly through my two terms on the Rules Committee, the best way to fix this mandatory organizational awkwardness is by charming the SCC into passing a bylaws amendment (never an easy matter even in the fairest of weather), giving the standing committees the right to elect their own chairs from their own number (or maybe, hewing more to the representational-gymnastics theme of the bylaws generally, having all five standing committees meet jointly at the beginning of their session, and allow everybody with a seat on any standing committee to cast a vote for the chair of each and all of them).

And then maybe allow the SCC Chair to appoint "one voting member" without portfolio (or maybe even two!) to each of the standing committees too -- because what fun is it being Chair if your thumb is cut off so short that it can't even reach the scale?

 

4 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

In any event, it seems so far one of us has given an opinion agreeing with the insurgents, and one finding that interpretation outrageous, so I'm not sure so far if we've been very helpful. Maybe others will weigh in.

That was my hope.  We have also stalemated in informal discussions (i.e., in the course of arguing with each other on the Internet between meetings).  In mutual exasperation, the most energetic proponent of nonvotingchairism agreed with my notion that the root of our discord deserved to be thrown at the feet of finer minds (minds being amply supplied with feet in my metaphorical universe).

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Guest Zev
2 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

The question is whether or not the individuals in question are members

I believe they are members. The bylaws indicated that the SCC chairman could appoint a chairman, vice-chairman, and one member to each committee. The dispute as I understood it revolved around whether the chairman and vice-chairman could vote or not, not whether they were actual members of the committee. Mr. Martin agrees with this, and you know how I hate to disagree with him on two issues on the same day.

2 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

Can I cast a vote on this committee, since nothing in the bylaws says I'm not a member,...

Once you were appointed by the SCC then you were a member. I cannot see how this fact can be contradicted.

2 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

...and declaring me a non-member and not able to vote is going too far?

No exactly. The argument by the "insurgent" group was that you (if, and only if, you were either the chairman or the vice-chairman) had no vote because of the language that included the word "additional." Since I believe the chairman, the vice-chairman, and the additional (or "additional" if you please) are all members of the committee, trying to deprive any of them of the right to vote without disciplinary proceedings or a clear-cut statement in the bylaws was just too much to swallow.

2 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

In other words, your argument makes sense, if you first assume that they are, in fact, members, but it seems to me that's what is at issue.

You obviously read it differently. And that's OK. I have done my fair share in this department. We discuss these things and hopefully clarity emerges.

1 hour ago, Graham Parks said:

Have you been attending our meetings in secret?

<to-the-voice-of-Austin-Powers>

Yeah, baby!

</to-the-voice-of-Austin-Powers>

:D

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7 hours ago, Guest Zev said:

You obviously read it differently. And that's OK. I have done my fair share in this department. We discuss these things and hopefully clarity emerges.

8 hours ago, Graham Parks said:

Certainly - which might, in my view, be a good reason to refrain from calling my position outrageous, absurd, pure sophistry, or the like. In any case, do we at least agree that it's ultimately a matter of bylaws interpretation? (Which is where I began and perhaps where I should have ended.)

 

7 hours ago, Guest Zev said:

The bylaws indicated that the SCC chairman could appoint a chairman, vice-chairman, and one member to each committee. The dispute as I understood it revolved around whether the chairman and vice-chairman could vote or not, not whether they were actual members of the committee.

It appears we're arguing different questions, because I don't see anything in the bylaw text we're given that says they're members, which is the reason I hold the opinion I do.

7 hours ago, Guest Zev said:

Once you were appointed by the SCC then you were a member. I cannot see how this fact can be contradicted.

9 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

But I wasn't appointed by the SCC. I'm just asking about myself, and the point I'm trying to make is that talking about the importance of the right to vote doesn't (if you see the question as I do, anyway) get you very far when the question is whether someone ever had it to begin with.

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Guest Zev
5 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

Certainly - which might, in my view, be a good reason to refrain from calling my position outrageous, absurd, pure sophistry, or the like. In any case, do we at least agree that it's ultimately a matter of bylaws interpretation? (Which is where I began and perhaps where I should have ended.)

I meant to say that the "insurgents" argument was sophistry not any argument you offered. If you thought the reference was to you then I assure you it was not. My deepest apology if you were offended. We are not at odds here. This entire enterprise is about getting the questions resolved and getting the societies to a better place in peace and harmony.

5 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

It appears we're arguing different questions, because I don't see anything in the bylaw text we're given that says they're members, which is the reason I hold the opinion I do.

I think that is a fair statement. We just saw different things.

6 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

But I wasn't appointed by the SCC.

That was the editorial "you" not you Mr. Katz. Perhaps my language was inaccurate and gave rise to some misunderstanding. My apology.

6 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

I'm just asking about myself, and the point I'm trying to make is that talking about the importance of the right to vote doesn't (if you see the question as I do, anyway) get you very far when the question is whether someone ever had it to begin with.

Absolutely. I agree completely. We were talking within two different perspectives and without realizing it I contributed to this being "bollixed up" a bit, to use an expression.

<extending-my-hand-in-friendship>

Are we good?

</extending-my-hand-in-friendship>

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1 hour ago, Guest Zev said:

I meant to say that the "insurgents" argument was sophistry not any argument you offered. If you thought the reference was to you then I assure you it was not. My deepest apology if you were offended. We are not at odds here. This entire enterprise is about getting the questions resolved and getting the societies to a better place in peace and harmony.

8 hours ago, Joshua Katz said:

No apology necessary. Thank you though.

1 hour ago, Guest Zev said:

Absolutely. I agree completely. We were talking within two different perspectives and without realizing it I contributed to this being "bollixed up" a bit, to use an expression.

<extending-my-hand-in-friendship>

Are we good?

</extending-my-hand-in-friendship>

We are certainly good. And yes, we seem to have come from different starting points in our analyses and reached, unsurprisingly, different conclusions. All is well. Well, except that the OP has two arguments to go on, but they lead in different directions. But, as I said in my first post, that just leaves us where we started - with the organization itself having to interpret its bylaws.

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Guest Zev
45 minutes ago, Joshua Katz said:

We are certainly good.

Thank you. I appreciate this very much.

46 minutes ago, Joshua Katz said:

Well, except that the OP has two arguments to go on, but they lead in different directions.

The society will have to decide for itself what exactly to do, if anything. A ruling on the interpretation might be enough or perhaps a bylaw amendment clarifying the situation.

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