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Alex Meed

Cowboy committees

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If I recall correctly, committee instructions are binding, but it didn't immediately jump out at me how those instructions are enforced.

If a committee violates its instructions, are its actions invalid? In other words, could someone raise a point of order that the content of a committee's report does not conform with its instructions? Or that the report is invalid because the committee did something earlier in its existence that its instructions forbade? Or that a committee has not reported by the time at which it was instructed to report? What would happen if the point of order were sustained?

If the answer to the first question is yes, I presume the committee's improvident actions could be ratified. Otherwise, is there a way for the assembly to signal its disapproval of the acts of the committee, other than by voting down its report or discharging it?

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2 hours ago, Alex M. said:

If a committee violates its instructions, are its actions invalid?

Ultimately, this will depend on the specific facts - that is, what were the instructions and in what manner were they violated?

2 hours ago, Alex M. said:

In other words, could someone raise a point of order that the content of a committee's report does not conform with its instructions?

No, I don't think so. A violation of the committee's instructions concerning the content of its report does not seem to be in the nature of a rule of order, and therefore a Point of Order does not seem to be the appropriate tool for enforcement of such instructions.

2 hours ago, Alex M. said:

Or that the report is invalid because the committee did something earlier in its existence that its instructions forbade?

Maybe. I think I would need more details concerning what exactly the instructions were and what exactly the committee did. Generally, I am inclined to think that the answer is "no," for two reasons.

1.) Generally, a Point of Order must be raised at the time of the breach (with some exceptions).

2.) Generally, a Point of Order is not the appropriate tool to address a breach of a rule which occurred during a meeting of a different body.

I think it is possible, however, that in some particularly egregious cases the breach of the committee's instructions may be of such a nature that it causes the report itself to no longer be a valid report of the committee. In such an event, I think a Point of Order could be raised at the time that the committee submits the report.

2 hours ago, Alex M. said:

Or that a committee has not reported by the time at which it was instructed to report?

No. A Point of Order is not the appropriate tool for this. There is a separate motion for exactly this purpose, which is the motion to Discharge a Committee. In instances where the committee has not reported at the instructed time, only a majority vote is required for adoption of this motion.

2 hours ago, Alex M. said:

What would happen if the point of order were sustained?

Again, I think this depends on the particular circumstances of what exactly the instructions were, what exactly the committee did in violation of its instructions, what exactly is stated in the Point of Order and the chair's ruling, and what the parliamentary situation is at the time.

This is sort of like asking "If the assembly violates the rules, what happens if a Point of Order is sustained?" I have no idea how to begin to answer that question without additional facts. :)

2 hours ago, Alex M. said:

If the answer to the first question is yes, I presume the committee's improvident actions could be ratified.

The first question involved a situation in which the content of the committee's report did not comply with the assembly's instructions. A report, in and of itself, is not an "action" that can be (or needs to be) ratified. What exactly the appropriate next steps are will depend on the nature of the report (such as whether it is a report for information only, a report containing recommendations, or a report which is to be published in the society's name).

If instead, the situation was that the committee was appointed with power to carry out certain tasks, and the committee exceeded the authority granted to it by the instructions, that would certainly be a situation where the committee's unauthorized actions would be invalid, however, such actions certainly could be ratified.

"The motion to ratify (also called approve or confirm) is an incidental main motion that is used to confirm or make valid an action already taken that cannot become valid until approved by the assembly. Cases where the procedure of ratification is applicable include: 
...
• action taken by officers, committees, delegates, or subordinate bodies in excess of their instructions or authority;" (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 124)

2 hours ago, Alex M. said:

Otherwise, is there a way for the assembly to signal its disapproval of the acts of the committee, other than by voting down its report or discharging it?

What do you mean by "voting down its report?" Generally speaking, the report itself is not voted on. You generally seem to be well-informed on parliamentary procedure. Is this just poor phrasing or do we need to review proper handling of committee reports?

That issue aside, yes, the assembly has a great many ways to signal its disapproval, aside from discharging the committee and taking action to amend or defeat motions made to implement recommendations contained within the report. A few are listed below, which vary depending on exactly how displeased the assembly is. :)

  • The assembly could refer the motion back to the committee, with much stronger and clearer instructions. (This might serve as a "warning shot" to get the committee in line before adopting harsher measures.)
  • The assembly could adopt a motion to censure the committee.
  • Assuming the assembly has the power to appoint the committee's members, the assembly could fire some or all of the members of the committee and replace them with people who know how to follow instructions.
  • If the assembly in question has this power (generally reserved for the general membership), it could initiate formal disciplinary procedures against the members of the committee (or former members, if they have already been fired), which could ultimately result in suspending or even expelling them from membership in the society.
Edited by Josh Martin

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54 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

Maybe. I think I would need more details concerning what exactly the instructions were and what exactly the committee did. Generally, I am inclined to think that the answer is "no," for two reasons.

1.) Generally, a Point of Order must be raised at the time of the breach (with some exceptions).

2.) Generally, a Point of Order is not the appropriate tool to address a breach of a rule which occurred during a meeting of a different body.

I think it is possible, however, that in some particularly egregious cases the breach of the committee's instructions may be of such a nature that it causes the report itself to no longer be a valid report of the committee. In such an event, I think a Point of Order could be raised at the time that the committee submits the report.

As a hypothetical example, the committee was charged with conducting an investigation and instructed to interview a particular person, and did not actually interview that person. (I don't even know if that's a valid instruction.) But it sounds from your response like that would not be subject to a point of order in the assembly.

54 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

What do you mean by "voting down its report?" Generally speaking, the report itself is not voted on. You generally seem to be well-informed on parliamentary procedure. Is this just poor phrasing or do we need to review proper handling of committee reports?

Ah, imprecise language. I meant that the assembly could refuse to adopt any recommendations embodied in the report, if the report comes with recommendations for action by the society. I'm glad I give the impression of being well-informed, though, since I feel like a relative novice myself...

 

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1 hour ago, Alex M. said:

As a hypothetical example, the committee was charged with conducting an investigation and instructed to interview a particular person, and did not actually interview that person. (I don't even know if that's a valid instruction.) But it sounds from your response like that would not be subject to a point of order in the assembly.

I think it is a valid instruction. I agree, however, that this would not be subject to a Point of Order in the assembly.

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