What are Robert’s Rules of Order?
Most people have heard of “Robert’s Rules of Order.” Robert’s Rules is a set of parliamentary procedures for the effective administration of meetings. Many association governing documents stipulate that meetings must be conducted in accordance with Robert’s Rules.
Who was Robert anyway?
Henry Martyn Robert was born in 1837 and was an engineering officer in the U.S. Army. Without warning, he was asked to preside over a public meeting in a community church regarding the abolitionist movement, and he realized that he did not know how. The meeting erupted in conflict and resulted in chaos. Sound familiar? Robert resolved that he would learn about the parliamentary procedure before attending another meeting and wrote Robert’s Rules of Order. It was first published in 1876 and was loosely based on the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives at that time. The current edition is the 11th edition.
Why are Robert’s Rules useful?
Robert’s Rules regulates the conduct of meetings. By utilizing one set of “rules,” members have the same understanding of the meeting process and are using the same terms and language allowing for everyone to be heard and make decisions without confusion. It is a process for bringing discussion to closure, for making formal decisions, and for resolving any parliamentary disputes which might arise. This process can be used by both boards and the association membership (each referred to in this article as the “body”).
A motion is presented by someone “obtaining the floor,” which means waiting for the last speaker to finish. The person will then address the chair by saying “Mr./Madame Chair” and then wait for the chair to recognize the person. The person will then make his or her motion. Motions should always be stated affirmatively, such as “I move that the board/association …” rather than, “I move that the board/association does not….”
A member of the body needs to second the motion. The chair will call for a second. If there is no second, then the motion is lost. If there is a second, the motion is then put before the body for consideration. The chair will say, “it has been moved and seconded that we ….” This places the motion before the body. The body then either debates the motion or may move directly to a vote.
A person can second a motion that he or she does not agree with. This a procedural tactic to have a motion voted on and fail so the decision will be of record.
The proper way to make a motion to amend another person’s motion is to request the chair to restate the motion. Once the question is on the floor, it belongs to the body; it cannot be amended by asking the maker of the motion to accept a modification. It must then be amended with a motion to add language, strike language, etc. and then be seconded.
Only one amendment can be considered at a time. An amendment must be germane to the motion it seeks to amend. An amendment that does nothing but make the motion a rejection of the original motion is not proper.
The person who seconded the motion does not have the right to require consent to the proposed amendment to the motion. It is that person’s responsibility to withdraw their second if they do not agree with the amendment.
The time for the motion maker to speak in favor of his or her motion is after the motion has been made and seconded, not at the time it is presented. The motion maker is always allowed to speak first. The chair should establish time limits for debate. General discussion at association membership meetings should be restricted to an “open forum” section; otherwise, members should not be given the floor unless a member makes a relevant motion, which then receives a second. At board meetings, informal discussion among Board members without a motion is permitted, but it is up to the chair to make sure that the discussion remains focused.
General discussion at association membership meetings should be restricted to an “open forum” section; otherwise, members should not be given the floor unless a member makes a relevant motion, which then receives a second. At board meetings, informal discussion among Board members without a motion is permitted, but it is up to the chair to make sure that the discussion remains focused.
The chair may make an initial determination as to whether anyone has any objections to the motion. If there are none, the chair can utilize the “Unanimous Consent” process whenever there seems to be no opposition. The chair says, “If there is no objection, the … action will be taken.” Or ask, “Is there any objection to….?” Wait for a member to call out “I object…” or, pause and if no one objects state, “Since there is no objection to…the action is…” A good time to use “Unanimous Consent” is to approve the minutes.
Calling the Question
This is the colloquial form of a motion for a request to “Close Debate.” When someone says “Call the Question,” it is not appropriate to just proceed to vote on the main motion. Everyone may not be done discussing the motion. The chair can handle this situation in two ways: Ask the person who has said “Call the Question” if he/she is making a motion to Close Debate and if so, is there a second to the motion? The other and best alternative is to try to handle it by “Unanimous Consent.” When someone says, “Call the Question,” the chair can state “If there is no objection, we will vote on the motion”, [pause] then state, “Hearing none, all in favor of the motion to [the action to be taken] signify by saying ‘Aye,’ [pause] Those opposed ‘No.’”
After the chair states the motion and the body discuss it, if the maker of the motion wants to withdraw the motion, the maker should ask the chair for permission to withdraw the motion. The chair does not need to ask permission of the person who seconded the motion. The chair should first treat it as a “Unanimous Consent” request, “Unless there is any objection, the motion is withdrawn.” Anyone can also ask the maker to withdraw the motion, but only for that brief period before the chair restates the motion. At that point, the motion cannot be withdrawn.
Point of Order
The use of “Point of Order” is available when a person wishes to object to a breach of the rules, such as when two people are talking at the same time at a meeting. The person raising a “Point of Order” must do so right after the breach. The chair must rule or put it to a vote. “Point of Order” should not be used simply because a person disagrees with the motion.
It is not appropriate to move to “table” another person’s motion simply because someone opposes the motion. Tabling a motion is to be used only when something else urgent comes up or, at the time, there is not enough information to vote on the question. A tabled motion can be taken up at any time with a simple majority vote. A motion to table must be seconded and is not debatable.
Voting on Motions
The method to vote on any motion depends on the situation and the requirements of the governing documents. The methods most commonly used in the community association context are as follows:• By Voice: The chair asks those in favor to say, “aye,” those opposed to say “no” or “opposed.” This method can be used at association membership meetings when elections are uncontested, and the Bylaws do not otherwise require a vote by ballot or in secret. This method is also used in board meetings.
1. By Voice: The chair asks those in favor to say, “aye,” those opposed to say “no” or “opposed.” This method can be used at association membership meetings when elections are uncontested, and the Bylaws do not otherwise require a vote by ballot or in secret. This method is also used in board meetings.
2. By General Consent: When a motion is not likely to be opposed, the chair says, “if there is no objection …” The body shows agreement by silence, however, if one member says, “I object,” the item must be put to a vote. This method is generally used to approve meeting minutes.
3. By Ballot: Members of the body write their vote on a slip of paper (or via electronic means if permitted). This method is used when written ballots or secrecy is required by the governing documents. This method is most applicable for the election of directors and other special actions.
If one truly understands Robert’s Rules, then one will appreciate that it is not a hypertechnical set of difficult regulations. They are merely a framework for boards and associations to conduct orderly meetings and effectively administer the business of the association.
By Juan R. Cardenas, ESQ. & Leslie Brown, ESQ.
Juan is a shareholder with the law firm Rees Broome, PC and is co-chair of the firm’s community associations practice group. He has over 25 years of experience representing community associations of all sizes in Virginia and is regularly rated as top community associations attorney in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Leslie is counsel with the law firm Rees Broome, PC, representing community associations and other nonprofit and business entities in the D.C. area. She was previously co-chair of the Quorum Magazine Editorial Committee.