Rules of Order- A Brief Overview

Following is a long and somewhat boring explanation of the City’s rules as they apply to meetings. There is no reference to the procedural aspects of a meeting in the Charter– it’s contained in the Code of Ordinances, specifically Chapter II, Article II, Division 2 which is entitled Parliamentary Procedure. Sections 2-81 through 2-90 cover different aspects of parliamentary procedure, and are in essence, a subset of Robert’s Rules of Order.

If there is a conflict between Rules in the Code of Ordinances and Robert’s Rules, the Code takes precedence. As for subjects not covered in the Code, Section 2-81 states, “Unless otherwise provided in this Code, procedures for meetings of the city council shall follow an edition of Robert’s Rules of Order prescribed by the mayor. The prescribed edition is the 11th, which is the latest.

Robert’s Rules of Order were developed to ensure fair meetings during which all participants are allowed to express their views and debate issues at hand. The typical procedure is for a member of a body to make a motion, and for another member to 2nd the motion. (In the case of a city council, each council person is considered a member.) If no motion is made, or no second is made, the motion dies. If a motion and a 2nd are made, the motion is then open for discussion, after which a vote is called.

Within most City Councils or County Commissions, business is typically conducted smoothly, in accordance with the accepted rules of order. Meetings aren’t always simple or straightforward and Robert’s rules have expanded over the years. The current edition is 669 pages long and includes remedies for a variety of violations. Not all violations are serious or particularly disruptive. The chair person of a meeting may forget or overlook an item. As an example, the chair may call for a vote immediately following a 2nd, not realizing that he/she forgot to call for discussion.

Before anyone can make a motion, he or she must be recognized by the chair; this requirement for recognition is not intended to allow the chair to prevent a motion from being made, it’s designed to prevent confusion or overlap—that is to ensure that no other motion is open, or that no other person currently has the floor. The chair must recognize any member who seeks the floor while entitled to it.

If a member asks to make a motion, the chair must recognize the member and address the request. One proper response would be to tell the member to proceed; another would be to tell the member that someone else has the floor and that the request will be addressed when the current matter is concluded.

If the chair or any member continually ignores proper protocol, Robert’s Rules outlines a variety of methods for dealing with the problem. One of these is to have the body vote on removing the chair or the disruptive member.

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