Sometimes during a meeting our board talks on and on without anyone making a motion. Is it appropriate for the chair to ask the board if there is a motion?

Robert's Rules of Order says the board or committee should not discuss any action items without a motion on the floor. If you follow this recommendation you can be certain at least one person supports the action and a second person wants to discuss it. The motion itself more narrowly defines what will be discussed. The chair keeps the conversation focused on the pros and cons of the motion itself, not everything under the sun related to the topic.

Most school boards and committees are much more informal and it stresses them greatly to not be able to discuss a topic without a motion on the floor.

Consequently I recommend the following: For non-action items, where the administration is presenting something for the board’s information, the board members should listen to the presentation and then ask ‘clarifying questions’. If the conversation moves into more of a discussion of the pros and cons of “doing” something with the topic, the chair calls them out of order and asks if they want an action item on the topic added to a future agenda. If so, that is what happens and discussion is ended for that meeting. If they do not want to add an action item the chair declares the discussion over. If the board members truly want to keep the discussion going they can vote to over-rule the chair.

For ACTION items, the chair has the action item information or recommendation presented by the administration or person responsible for bringing the action item forward (could be a board/committee member). Clarifying questions are allowed, but not a discussion of the pros and cons of the action. When clarifying questions appear to be completed the chair asks for a motion. Once a motion and second are completed the chair allows discussion on the motion itself only.

Following this process helps to focus the discussion, move it along more smoothly and avoid the ‘on and on’ discussion without progress. It also shortens the discussion for the situation where NO ONE supports the action suggested and under your old system they still might spend a period of time all talking about why they don’t support it...which is a total waste of time.

As chair you can also watch for the situation where they are going on and on about a motion and it is quite clear a majority supports the motion (or doesn’t support it). You can state: “It appears we have a clear majority in support (or in opposition). I am going to close debate and call for a vote.” Then you call for a vote. Now, if they really want to keep talking about it one of them says ‘motion to overrule the chair’. You must take the motion, and if it is seconded and they vote to overrule you, then debate continues. Some chairs, in order to avoid being overruled will just say “It appears we have a clear majority in support (opposition) and further debate will not be productive. Will the board support closing debate and moving to a vote?” If all (or a majority) of heads nod yes, THEN you say, "I declare debate closed and we will now take a vote on the motion." 

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