Who Doesn’t Love Parliamentary Procedure?

One of our guiding UU Principles is belief in, and use of, the democratic process. Roberts’ Rules of Order is a way to orderly proceed through a meeting using the democratic process. A better understanding of Roberts’ Rules will make our formal meetings, such as congregational meetings, more efficient and perhaps also more fair.

One problem (and I have seen this also in other organizations) is that we tend not to make a formal motion on something until discussion is ended and it is time to vote. But such a process leaves a lot to be desired because the meeting participants (the voters) may not have a clear idea what the proposal is. Even if a task force starts things off by giving a presentation on the business at hand, say, repairing the MacKinnon ceiling, it is useful next to have a definite motion on the floor for participants to consider. Once a motion has been made and seconded, you then proceed to discussion. A best practice is to alternate between PRO and CON discussion points, and to not let someone speak a second time until everyone who wants to speak has had a chance to speak once.

Another advantage of having the discussion AFTER the motion has been made is that it can focus the discussion–make it more relevant to the issue being debated.

Once discussion is concluded, the item of business is concluded with a vote, which carries with a simple majority. A tie counts as a loss.

The person running the meeting, the “chair”, may desire a certain outcome to an item of business. Of course, this cannot be guaranteed in a democracy. But the chair of the meeting can at least design or engineer the wording of the motion ahead of time, as long as someone else actually states the motion, “I move…(whatever).” But isn’t this unfair to the other meeting participants? Answer: The rank-and-file can vote the motion down, and during discussion, they also have an opportunity to amend the motion, or to table it, or refer it to a committee for further consideration. So, they have the final say on the matter.

In future months, I will discuss other aspects of Parliamentary Procedure, such as amending motions, and “Calling the Question”.

Jeff Ramberg
chair, Leadership Development Committee