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Guest Joda Glossner

Hello, 

I'm a newer Secretary, still learning how to support our meetings with chairs who change every couple of years, as does their familiarity with Robert's Rules of Order, as well as their leadership/management style. Some are firm, others less so. As a result, the meetings reflect these strengths and weaknesses and are inconsistent year to year. Add to this, moving in-person meetings to virtual, and now we're dealing with Zoom polling and raising hands to capture votes, callers and online attendees, muting/unmuting participants, and time limits to speak.

We had a meeting on a polarizing topic -- some members were for it, others against. In the weeks leading up to this meeting, those in support lobbied the membership to vote yes; those against may have done the same. Emails and calls were made, and some members were happy to chat; others were offended at the biased, politicized call, feeling pressured instead of having a chance to discuss. A lot was happening behind closed doors and through private channels. 

Then, the actual meeting process was not spotless, and the parliamentarian had to step in quite a bit to try to suggest what they would do if they were chair (offering points of order, suggesting next steps in the process, reminding to allow for debate after a motion is seconded, etc.), and many present at the meeting did not have a solid grasp of Robert's Rules, myself included. As a result, the meeting got out of hand, ran long, and members yelled out motions where some were recognized and voted on and others ignored. 

We used Zoom polling and raised hands to vote, and a time limit was imposed for members to debate this hotly contested item. A certain amount of time was given for the entire debate period. Throughout the meeting, chat was disabled, and members were muted, so there was no free discussion, and only a limited number of people could be called on during this time period. Those who raised their hands went to the top of the participant panel to be called on by the chair to speak for their allotted time and then again muted.

It's within this context that I ask two specific questions about professional etiquette (I'm not sure that's the right word.): 

1. Is it proper to allow for such lobbying leading up to a meeting? The chair was not impartial and may have participated.

2. Is it proper for either side to contact their supporters during the actual debate time period to have them raise their hands all at once and essentially flood the participant panel so that there were many more from their side to be called on by the chair? I'd say 90% of the members who were unmuted and allowed to speak were from the same side of the debate. 

Maybe these questions don't apply to Robert's Rules, and if so, if anyone has another resource I might consult, I'd appreciate it. Business ethics, maybe? Not sure. Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts.

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1 hour ago, Guest Joda Glossner said:

1. Is it proper to allow for such lobbying leading up to a meeting? The chair was not impartial and may have participated.

It violates no rule in RONR. Robert's Rules does not govern the conduct of members outside of meetings.

I think the answer is somewhat more complex for the chair. Ultimately, it is still the case that no rule in RONR prohibits it. The rules require the chair to maintain the appearance of impartiality during meetings. There is no such limitation outside of meetings, however, I think it would be prudent for the chair to exercise caution in this regard, particularly in regards to "a polarizing topic." The chair should be careful not to take actions which may undermine the assembly's confidence in the chair's ability to impartially preside over an issue.

1 hour ago, Guest Joda Glossner said:

2. Is it proper for either side to contact their supporters during the actual debate time period to have them raise their hands all at once and essentially flood the participant panel so that there were many more from their side to be called on by the chair? I'd say 90% of the members who were unmuted and allowed to speak were from the same side of the debate. 

It violates no rule in RONR, although it should be noted that the rules in RONR pertaining to recognition involve a bit more than simply recognizing the first people who seek recognition. The main rules pertaining to preference in recognition in RONR are:

1) the maker of the motion has preference in recognition over others if the maker has not yet spoken.

2) a member who has not yet spoken has preference in recognition over members who have already spoken.

3) to the extent possible, the chair should attempt to alternate between speakers in favor of the motion and speakers against the motion.

If the rule pertaining to alternating speakers is followed, then the effectiveness of tactics such as the one you describe would be diminished.

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I agree with the comments by Josh Martin.  There is nothing wrong with members lobbying each other prior to the meeting. That’s called politicking. There’s also nothing wrong with it during a meeting as long as it does not disturb a meeting. I agree with Mr. Martin‘s suggestion that having the chair alternate speakers between those in favor of the motion and those opposed to it would probably help in solving your problem.

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