Corey’s rules of order

My first official South Dakota Humanities Council board meeting occurred this past Saturday in Pierre.

It came and went without incident, actually – we talked about by-laws, approved some grants, etc. But I found myself a fish out of water, as maybe many of my fellow new board members did as well. I’m not extremely well versed in board decorum. I wasn’t sure how to dress – casual, nice or formal? I didn’t know if I needed to comment on everything or just what I felt moved to.

And I certainly didn’t know what I was doing in regards to Robert’s Rules of Order.

You know. Robert’s Rules of Order. Or, more accurately, Parliamentary Procedure. Yeas and Nays and Motions and Carries – enough familiar yet foreign words that it seems as though I’m talking about a football cheerleading troupe.

These Rules of Order, oh how they seem unnecessary. Yet, I understand their purpose as a backbone to a successfully organized meeting. Of course, they seem so constricting when conducting business in polite company.

When do kids learn parliamentary procedure? If I hadn’t been a resident adviser at St. Cloud State – where the hall counsel meetings are required to be conducted using parliamentary procedure – I’d have no clue about it. I’d be discussing when I was supposed to be motioning and all of that.

The funny thing is that I’m not alone. It seems as though several board members wanted to forge ahead, bristling against the grain of parliamentary procedure, attempting to change a motion or go back and revote when that time had already passed. It’s not a confusing set of rules, but it’s filled with rules I’ve never laid eyes on. And it’s filled with even more rules that no one follows.

I’m not sure if Robert’s Rules are an offshoot of parliamentary procedure or simply a more complex way to handle disputes in a meeting format. Regardless, I looked up some of the rules and found that, along with being exclamation point happy, they were incredibly anal and sometimes downright dictatorial; nearly ironic in its vehement language, using biting words to stop biting words.

• Obtain the floor (the right to speak) by being the first to stand when the person speaking has finished; state Mr./Madam Chairman. Raising your hand means nothing, and standing while another has the floor is out of order! Must be recognized by the Chair before speaking!
• Debate can not begin until the Chair has stated the motion or resolution and asked “are you ready for the question?” If no one rises, the chair calls for the vote!
• Before the motion is stated by the Chair (the question) members may suggest modification of the motion; the mover can modify as he pleases, or even withdraw the motion without consent of the seconder; if mover modifies, the seconder can withdraw the second.
• The “immediately pending question” is the last question stated by the Chair! Motion/Resolution – Amendment – Motion to Postpone
• The member moving the “immediately pending question” is entitled to preference to the floor!
• No member can speak twice to the same issue until everyone else wishing to speak has spoken to it once!
• All remarks must be directed to the Chair. Remarks must be courteous in language and deportment – avoid all personalities, never allude to others by name or to motives!
• The agenda and all committee reports are merely recommendations! When presented to the assembly and the question is stated, debate begins and changes occur!

Raising your hand? IT MEANS NOTHING, YOU FOOL!

I found myself wondering, is all this parliamentary procedure necessary all the time? And is there any way around it if it’s not? The answers: Yes – it’s necessary. No – there’s no way around it. Meetings need order, and even though the order might be as chaotic as a lack thereof. So even though you’ve probably never learned it, just go with the flow. You’ll pick it up soon enough. Or, you can pretend.

And, as a friend and former co-worker told me, if you venture out with a “second,” your name gets listed in the minutes, which you can then show to everyone you’d like as proof you were there and helping to make decisions. Which is why we’re on boards in the first place, right? To be seen?

What if the conversations in your head were conducted using parliamentary procedure?

Corey: The next item is voting on a color for our website.
Corey Two: I motion that we use maroon for the website color.
Corey Three: Second.
Corey: Any discussion?
Corey Four: Why maroon? Lame!
Corey Two: Because maroon is a universally accepted color of intelligence.
Corey Four: You’re making that up!
Corey Two: So I am. So what?
Corey: Any further discussion?
Corey: All in favor?
Corey Two and Corey Three: Aye.
Corey: Opposed
Corey Four: Nay.
Corey: Motion passes, two to one. Next item…

And that would be my brain. Repeating. Over and over again. Frightening.

This was lovingly handwritten on October 15th, 2007