Parliamentary Procedure


​For the good of the order

​Making a Motion
Motions are an important vehicle for debating policy decisions, even for small or medium sized bodies like city councils, village boards and their committees. However, it is important to note that a motion is not required for discussion of an issue.  Read the complete article here or in the April 2018 edition of the Municipality.​

Motions:  Amendment
This article supplies a few guidelines for amending motions.  Read the complete article here or in the May issue of the Municipality.

Presiding Officers and Agendas
There must be someone responsible for administering group discussion for it to be consistently effective and fair; for it to be democratic. That responsibility belongs to the presiding officer and begins with the agenda.  Read the complete article here or in the June issue of the Municipality.

Discussion Rules for Chairpersons
One general statement that may surprise some members of municipal governing bodies and other subunits, is the right of the chair to participate just as any other member of the body. So, if a chairperson is a member of the body, s/he has all the rights of participation as any other member, including the right to make motions, second motions, participate in discussion, and vote. Read the complete article here or in the July issue of the Municipality.

Discussion Rules for Members
Discussion rules specific to the chairperson or presiding officer were highlighted here last month. This month the spotlight shifts to some of the key discussion rules for all members of a body operating under Robert’s Rules of Order. It must be noted first that the general purpose of discussion rules for meetings like Robert’s or others is not to limit or stifle discussion. Read the full article here or in the August 2018 issue of the Municipality.

"Ownership" of Motions
​The April “For the Good of the Order” column discussed the process of introducing a motion for the body’s deliberation. The motion is made by one member and seconded by another and then is presented to the body by the chairperson. This last step – (presenting the motion to the body) is important in that it determines that the control of the motion, i.e., whether to adopt it or change it or whether it ceases to be pending, belongs to the body and not to the maker or seconder. Read the full article here or in the September 2018 issue of the Municipality.

To Table or Postpone: What's the Difference?
This really happened: A local government body agreed to “table” an item until the next meeting. When the chair attempted to introduce the item at the next meeting, a member objected on the grounds that a tabled item required that the body agree to take it from the table before it could be considered. A lengthy discussion ensued. Why the confusion? Read the full article here or in the October 2018 issue of the Municipality.

On Second Thought
The practice of seconding motions with words such as “I second the motion” or “second!” has become so routine and so expected that we might think that it is an absolute necessity before the body can legitimately consider a motion. There are, however, some nuances. Read the full article here or in the November 2018 issue of the Municipality.

Moving the Previous Question (Closing Debate)
A recent questioner asked, “When an amendment is on the floor, does a motion for the previous question terminate debate on the amendment or terminate debate on the item, calling for a vote on the unamended matter?” The direct answer is that if the motion for the previous question passes, a vote would be taken first on the amendment and then on the main motion. However, an explanation of the answer invites a fuller discussion of the rules of precedence and their effect on voting as set forth in Robert’s Rules of Order. Read the full article here or in the December 2018 issue of the Municipality.

Limiting Debate
In a previous article we discussed closing debate – aka “calling the question.” We noted that such action is permissible only with the affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of those voting or with unanimous consent. What about not closing debate but limiting it in some way? One person involved with a local government asked, “In order to expedite deliberations on an issue, are we permitted to limit each member to three minutes speaking time without violating any free speech laws?” Read the full article here or in the January 2019 issue of the Municipality.

Why Robert's?
In discussing procedural issues that concern local governments, we have assumed that Robert’s Rules of Order is our guide for questions not covered by statutes. Why so? As one questioner put it, “Is Robert’s Rules of Order a necessary or even a good system for local governments?” Read the full article here or in the February 2019 issue of the Municipality.

Denying Requests and Applications: Do We Always Need a Motion?
The concern we are addressing here was expressed by a recent workshop participant who raised and – at the same time resolved – a concern. Here is a paraphrased summary of her remarks: “My board wrestles with making affirmative motions on requests they want denied. It’s counterintuitive to someone who does not want to grant a request to move to approve and then vote no. On the other hand, phrasing motions in the negative can create confusion – if the negatively phrased motion fails, does that mean we approve it? Do we need a motion at all? Can’t the chair just put the matter of approving a request to the body without a formal motion? S/he could say something like, “The question is to approve the application or not. Vote yes to approve and no to deny.” Would that be acceptable?  Read the full article here or in the March 2019 issue of the Municipality.

Conducting Debate: The Chair's Role
Concerns are often expressed about members’ conduct during deliberations – e.g., “They don’t stick to the topic…”; “Everyone talks at the same time and they interrupt each other.”; “One member is so overbearing that others just cave in to what he wants.” The presiding officer is often blamed for not maintaining order. As one person said, “… he just doesn’t seem to know how to run a meeting.” Although earlier articles in this column addressed discussion rules for members and chairs, it might be helpful to review the specific behaviors that contribute to an orderly and focused discussion.  Read the full article here or in the April 2019 issue of the Municipality.

Majority or Supermajority? Of What?
A recent question asked what was meant by saying that a measure passed by “a majority of those voting.” This provides an opportunity to discuss a variety of concerns about voting requirements. Read the full article here or in the May 2019 issue of the Municipality.

Rescind and Reconsider: When the Body Might Change its Mind
This column was prompted by the question, “If a member moves to reconsider a previous decision, does that mean that he or she wants to change it?” The short answer is “not necessarily,” but more explanation is called for. The motions to rescind and reconsider are often confused, but they differ in intent and in certain limitations.  Read the full article here or in the June 2019 issue of the Municipality.

Bad Meeting Behavior: Painting the Shed Red 

Municipal board members have no authority to act on their own. Only the board has authority to act. The board acts through participatory, collective decision-making – in other words, at meetings. So, if you want to see your ideas turned into policies, you need to understand the basic principles of deliberation in a public body. Read the full article by Dan Hill, UW-Extension Local Government Center here or in the June 2019 issue of the Municipality

Taking from the Table and Changing the Agenda

A clerk asked, “Is it allowed in a meeting to jump around in the agenda? For example, an item is tabled and then, after completing a few following items, the board wants to revisit it after learning new information.”  Read the complete article here or in the July 2019 edition of the Municipality.​