Robert's Rules simplified

The chair’s guide to running an effective meeting is Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules specify that only one person may speak at a time and only after being recognized by the chair. When a person raises a hand, the chair must recognize the person before he or she can speak. Unless the agenda allows otherwise, the recognized speaker may only discuss a specific item on the agenda. While large-group rules would require a motion to be made prior to any discussion, small groups sometimes need more flexibility. Most boards have adopted Robert’s Rules modified for small boards.

The agenda might include a presentation to the board by staff. After the presentation, it is appropriate for the chair to request a motion be made and seconded before further discussion takes place. The chair should always recognize the person making the second, as well. Only then should he or she recognize a speaker, to discuss only the motion on the floor. The makers of the motion and the second have the right to speak first. Some boards allow discussion as people ask to be recognized, others alternate between those speaking for and against a motion. The board’s policies should specify the board’s preferences. When there is no motion, or after a vote is taken, it is time to move on. One phrase that the board chair should use regularly is, “In the absence of a motion, we will move to the next item on our agenda.”

Motions follow two basic principles. Some motions affect the order of the meeting, while others generate the substance of the meeting. A number of motions are procedural; others help the board frame the decisions that necessitated a meeting in the first place.

There is a distinct hierarchy of motions, all designed to facilitate an orderly procession through the meeting. Motions can be debatable, allowing members of the board to ask questions or speak for or against the motion. In some cases, motions are not debatable. When a non-debatable motion is moved and seconded, the chair must call for an immediate vote.

Motions also follow an order of precedence. There is an order to which motions can be made, and in some cases, a motion would not be allowable because it is out of order. It is the chair’s responsibility to know the order of precedence, and to govern the meeting accordingly. It is up to the chair to ensure that all motions are clear and make sense.

Gaining a full understanding of Robert’s Rules can be a daunting task. Refer to OSBA’s Guide to Parliamentary Procedure booklet for more information, and familiarize yourself with it. You may also want to order OSBA’s Tips for Better Board Meetings placemats, which contain meeting procedures and calendars, for your board. Remember that you can call or send e-mail to OSBA if you have any questions related to running a meeting.

See “OSBA Publications” for more information or contact Board Development and Policy Services staff.

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