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Carolyn

Can rules for the meeting of a democratic assembly be suspended before there is an approved agenda for the meeting?

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This is a very elementary question, and I think I know the answer, but I would be very grateful to hear the expert views of those on this forum.

Can rules for the meeting of a democratic assembly be suspended before there is an approved agenda for the meeting?

The situation: the use of "discussion" by a Chair, before an agenda has been approved, in order to convince members of the assembly that they ought not to vote in favour of adding a motion to the agenda.

This was highly successful: after over an hour of the meeting proceeding without an approved agenda, a motion for approval of the agenda was invited, and then any motion for amendment, at which point, as a result of the discussion that had occurred in the hour-long discussion of the matter the motion to add the agenda item was defeated.

In my view, the rules were abused in order to permit the defeat of an addition to the agenda.

Look forward to hearing whether I am right in believing that the conduct of the meeting was inappropriate — indeed, a breach of Robert's Rules.

 

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36 minutes ago, Carolyn said:

Can rules for the meeting of a democratic assembly be suspended before there is an approved agenda for the meeting?

Yes. It should first be noted that RONR does not require the use of an approved agenda at all, and notes that many assemblies would do just fine using the standard order of business. Even if the assembly is one which should use an agenda, or which does so due to its own rules or customs, the fact that the agenda has not yet been adopted does not make motions to Suspend the Rules out of order. It should be noted, however, that suspending the rules requires a 2/3 vote (or unanimous consent) and may not be done by the chair unilaterally.

36 minutes ago, Carolyn said:

The situation: the use of "discussion" by a Chair, before an agenda has been approved, in order to convince members of the assembly that they ought not to vote in favour of adding a motion to the agenda.

This was highly successful: after over an hour of the meeting proceeding without an approved agenda, a motion for approval of the agenda was invited, and then any motion for amendment, at which point, as a result of the discussion that had occurred in the hour-long discussion of the matter the motion to add the agenda item was defeated.

In my view, the rules were abused in order to permit the defeat of an addition to the agenda.

Look forward to hearing whether I am right in believing that the conduct of the meeting was inappropriate — indeed, a breach of Robert's Rules.

This procedure was not proper, but the same objective could have been accomplished through use of proper procedures. Discussion is not in order without a motion pending. The rules could have been suspended for this purpose, but there is little point in doing so, because the motion to adopt the agenda (and motions to amend it) are themselves debatable. The proper procedure would have been to make the motion to adopt the agenda first, members could have offered amendments, and debate on the amendments would be in order, such as attempting to convince members that the item should not be added to the agenda. With limits on debate being enforced, however, perhaps the debate would not have taken an hour.

Unless the assembly has its own rules on this matter, however, debating for an hour over whether to add an item to the agenda is likely a waste of everyone's time. No rule in RONR requires an item to be on the agenda in order to be considered. The purpose of an agenda under RONR is not to limit what items may be considered, but to ensure that the most important items are considered first. If the motion to add the item to the agenda is defeated, the member may simply make the motion under New Business, unless the assembly's rules provide otherwise. (I suppose another reason the placement of items on the agenda might be controversial is if the assembly has limited time, but in that event it's probably not wise to debate the agenda for an hour.)

Edited by Josh Martin

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Thank you so much, Josh.

You've just given me the answer to another question I was attempting to answer for myself, with Robert's Rules in hand:

whether a motion to amend the agenda is debatable.

Yesterday's Chair claimed that it was not (twice) so that we had to go straight from the hour's discussion of the issue without an approved agenda to my motion seeking to amend the agenda without members being allowed to debate the merits of adding my motion.

This was in addition to everything else an awkward first-time virtual meeting of this assembly in which we had no means of raising points of order or points of privilege so there was no way I could object to the proceedings.

As I could not get my audio to work for the opening of the meeting I am seeking to confirm with others whether there was in fact a formal suspension of the rules. (My guess is no).

Edited by Carolyn

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While I agree with Mr. Martin's analysis, I would add one caveat, which is that under the rules for small boards, discussion is allowed while no motion is pending. So it would be helpful to know whether or not the "democratic assembly" in question is in fact a board, or a membership meeting, and if so, what is its size?

 

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4 hours ago, Carolyn said:

This was in addition to everything else an awkward first-time virtual meeting of this assembly in which we had no means of raising points of order or points of privilege so there was no way I could object to the proceedings.

 

Do your rules allow for virtual meetings? If so, they should also provide a means for raising privileged motions. If not, well, you have a problem. 

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Thank you, Greg, and thank you, Joshua.

This is a large assembly of 159 members.

I have just carefully reread the "Meeting Procedural Rules". There is reference to the possibility of e-voting, which we do all the time, but no reference to a virtual meeting and no protocols for a virtual meeting. I was sending "chats" and emails to the "governance" team (four administrators) to ask how to raise a point of order or point of privilege, but they didn't respond.

 

 

Edited by Carolyn

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1 hour ago, Carolyn said:

I have just carefully reread the "Meeting Procedural Rules". There is reference to the possibility of e-voting, which we do all the time, but no reference to a virtual meeting and no protocols for a virtual meeting. I was sending "chats" and emails to the "governance" team (four administrators) to ask how to raise a point of order or point of privilege, but they didn't respond.

 

Then, per your rules, you shouldn't be having virtual meetings, and business conducted at them is void, absent some authorization in the bylaws.

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1 minute ago, Carolyn said:

No bylaws — this is a university, and a body created by legislation.

In the future, I think the body should probably still adopt bylaws.

In the interim, does the legislation, or other rules of the organization, authorize the assembly to hold electronic meetings?

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The body (General Faculties Council) has "Terms of Reference", and there is nothing there either about virtual meetings.

I think the administration has just assumed that because they could require us to go to online teaching in the face of COVID-19 that it can also hold virtual meetings of all committees and councils.

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Carolyn said:

The body (General Faculties Council) has "Terms of Reference", and there is nothing there either about virtual meetings.

I think the administration has just assumed that because they could require us to go to online teaching in the face of COVID-19 that it can also hold virtual meetings of all committees and councils.

So far as RONR is concerned, electronic meetings are only permitted if authorized in the bylaws.

So I would recommend one of the following, depending on what is feasible for your organization in the present circumstances:

  • Develop rules authorizing electronic meetings. Meet in-person one last time (ideally, with the bare minimum required for quorum) and swiftly adopt those rules. Then continue meeting electronically.
  • Continue meeting electronically notwithstanding the lack of authorization to do so. Try to limit business to only that which is absolutely necessary and try to get as much support as possible for anything which is adopted. When it is possible to meet again in person, adopt a motion ratifying the actions taken during this time. The reason I suggest limiting business as much as possible is because there are pretty serious risks if the actions are not ratified, since anything adopted in this manner is the actions of the individuals involved (not the organization) unless and until they are ratified.

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