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Guest Allison

Can censure be rescinded

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Guest Allison

Recently a member brought a motion to censure our chapter's chair for a post on their personal Facebook page that was tagged for friends only. This post was directed at one of his close personal friends and was a rhetorical question that was quoted from someone recently in the news. The discussion had become heated on his particular post, but it was not our groups FB page .

Our group has a code of conduct as part of our bylaws, pertaining to the organizations events and meetings and online spaces. However, there are no disciplinary actions given in the bylaws. This motion to censure was brought at a meeting in new business and no prior notice to members, who had none of the details nor context yet a majority voted based on what was presented. This censure caused a very big rift in our organization- the chair resigned and several officers resigned as well. Members requested to put on the agenda for the next meeting a rescinsion of the censure (and many indicated that they felt blindsided and would not vote to censure if  a proper process had been followed), but that meeting was then cancelled by the newly appointed chair and we were told that the censure could not be rescinded as it is a "disapproval" and that was an action that cannot be undone. 

My first question is whether it was in fact proper to use RRO to censure the member for a comment that was considered inappropriate by many members, however was done outside of our meetings and spaces and not available to the public; when in fact we have a code of conduct pertinent to only organizational spaces, events, and meetings. 

My second question is because censure is specifically defined in RRO as a reprimand and the first step in a disciplinary action, and there is nothing in RRO stating that censure cannot be rescinded, is it in fact an action that cannot be undone? 

 

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From the facts presented, it sounds like your group acted quite properly.  It appears to have felt that the Facebook post by the presiding officer, however limited the circulation, reflected badly on the organization and might reasonably bring the organization into bad odor for those who read or saw it. The organization has every right to protect its good name, and the motion to censure was one way to do that.

A motion to censure does not require a full disciplinary proceeding. It is merely an attempt to express the sense of the assembly. It does not require previous notice. It sounds like the facts were presented and an opportunity for debate was available.  I doubt anyone has the real right to object for having been "blindsided", and it is well worth remembering that the motion could have been postponed had the assembly felt it needed more time to gather itself and think things through more thoroughly.

It is true that a motion to Rescind is in order. With previous notice, the motion requires only a majority vote.  However, as you note, what has happened as a consequence of the censure has happened. The offender has ressigned and been replaced.  In this sense, I suppose, it makes little difference whether the censure is rescinded or not. However, it would act to restore the good name of the offender and remove the blight on his reputation that might hinder him from holding office in the future.

So, yes, by all means, the assembly can rescind the censure.  Hopefully, it will do so in a way that is thoughtful and fair to all involved..

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10 hours ago, Guest Allison said:

My first question is whether it was in fact proper to use RRO to censure the member for a comment that was considered inappropriate by many members, however was done outside of our meetings and spaces and not available to the public; when in fact we have a code of conduct pertinent to only organizational spaces, events, and meetings. 

Yes, it is entirely proper "to use RRO to censure the member for a comment that was considered inappropriate by many members." A motion to censure may be adopted separately from disciplinary procedures, in which event the motion to censure may be adopted for the same reasons as any other main motion - that is, for any reason(s) the assembly deems appropriate. Even if the member were to be censured as a part of formal disciplinary procedures, RONR notes that a member may be formally disciplined for conduct "tending to injure the good name of the organization, disturb its well-being, or hamper it in its work," and further notes that "In any society, behavior of this nature is a serious offense properly subject to disciplinary action, whether the bylaws make mention of it or not." (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 644) It seems to me that "a comment that was considered inappropriate by many members" could reasonably be considered to be conduct of this nature.

So unless the organization's rules explicitly state that members may be disciplined (or censured) only due to violations of the code of conduct, I believe the organization may indeed censure a member for comments made outside of a meeting and in spaces not available to the public, notwithstanding the fact that the organization has "a code of conduct pertinent to only organizational spaces, events, and meetings."

10 hours ago, Guest Allison said:

My second question is because censure is specifically defined in RRO as a reprimand and the first step in a disciplinary action, and there is nothing in RRO stating that censure cannot be rescinded, is it in fact an action that cannot be undone? 

I don't agree with the idea that censure is defined in RONR as "the first step in a disciplinary action." If formal disciplinary action is taken, then the penalty (whether it is censure or something more severe) is the last step in the disciplinary process. In addition, RONR is clear that censure may also be adopted separate from disciplinary procedures.

"It is also possible to adopt a motion of censure without formal disciplinary procedures." (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 643, footnote)

In any event, however, a motion to censure an individual may certainly be rescinded. RONR notes that the motion to Rescind "Can be applied to anything (e.g., bylaw, rule, policy, decision, or choice) which has continuing force and effect and which was made or created at any time or times as the result of the adoption of one or more main motions." (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 305) RONR also further clarifies that while it is not possible to rescind something "When something has been done, as a result of the vote on the main motion, that is impossible to undo." it is also the case that "(The unexecuted part of an order, however, can be rescinded or amended.)" (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 308)

A censure is not simply the act of reprimanding the individual. It is also an officially adopted position of the assembly, with continuing force and effect, expressing the opinion of the assembly that the individual's actions are deserving of the assembly's censure. While the assembly certainly cannot change the fact that this individual was reprimanded by the assembly in the past (or change the subsequent resignations and elections to fill the resulting vacancies), it can rescind the motion for the purpose of making clear that the assembly no longer believes the individual's actions are deserving of the assembly's censure.

In addition to this, I would note that in any event, the chair acted improperly by canceling the special meeting. Even if the chair was correct that the motion cannot be rescinded (and I do not believe that he is correct), the correct course of action would be to still hold the meeting and to rule the motion out of order at the time it is made (and such a ruling is subject to appeal). Nothing in RONR gives the chair the authority to cancel a special meeting on the basis that the chair believes the motion the meeting is called for is out of order. The chair has no authority to make parliamentary rulings outside of meetings, and indeed, is not even serving in the capacity of presiding officer outside of the context of a meeting.

Edited by Josh Martin

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I agree with Mr. Martin's excellent answer, though I would note these things.

1.  Unless it is a punishing given out as a result of a disciplinary process, it is nothing more, nor nothing less, that the formal expression of the opinion of the assembly; it does not express guilt as a result of a trial.  The assembly, unless prohibited by its rules, may express its opinion.  RONR gives the good example of a motion "to commend Officer George" being amended by striking out the word "commend" and inserting "censure."  This is permitted because both motions express an opinion of Office George (p. 137, ll. 20-25).

I would add that claim that censure is the "first step" in disciplinary action, does not exist in either the current or two previous editions of RONR.  I have seen something similar referenced in a parliamentary authority that is not part of the Robert canon (and quite old).

2.  I would note that there is historical precedent for this, in that the Senate censured sitting president Andrew Jackson.  After the next election, the Senate rescinded and expunged the censure.

3.  While the presiding officer has no inherent authority to cancel a meeting, the bylaws could give him that authority.  It is possible that your bylaws grant the presiding officer this ability in your case.  Nobody here could say for certain without looking at your bylaws.

 

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