Tips 1-10

Meeting Tip 1 -- Unanimous Consentstrong>
 
When the chair expects no opposition to a motion, time can often be saved by the procedure of unanimous consent.  Also called general consent, the procedure is as follows.  The chair states, "If there is no objection..." or "Without objection..." and the action that is proposed.  After pausing, if no member says, "I object," the chair continues with, "Since there is no objection..." and states the action that will be taken.  If any member objects, the motion must be formally processed (see note below). -- See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, pages 51-52.
 
(Note: The standard steps in processing a motion are: a member makes a motion, another member seconds it, the chair states the motion, the members debate the motion, the chair puts the motion to a vote, the chair announces the vote result. -- See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, pages 40-48.)
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth:  A motion adopted by the required vote but which lacked a second is null and void.
 
Fact:  "After debate has begun or, if there is no debate, after any member has voted, the lack of a second has become immaterial and it is too late to make a point of order that the motion has not been seconded." -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, page 35.
 
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Meeting Tip 2 Agendas

The president or secretary should prepare a detailed agenda in advance of each meeting.  The standard order of business (minutes read and approved; reports of officers and standing committees; reports of special committees; special orders; unfinished business and general orders; new business) can be expanded to list specific officers and committee chairmen who are prepared to give a report, and individual items of business under special orders and unfinished business / general orders.  Some presiding officers prefer to have the detailed agenda expanded further into a script, with the wording they need to use to open a meeting, introduce each category and item of business, to process uncontroversial business, and to adjourn the meeting. -- See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, pages 340-363 (order of business; agenda), and Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised in Brief, pages 16-17 (agenda) and 193 (script).
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth:  The chair should always ask for unfinished business.
 
Fact:  "The chair should not announce the heading of Unfinished Business and General Orders unless the minutes show that there is some business to come up under it.  In the latter case, he should have all such subjects listed in correct sequence in a memorandum prepared in advance of the meeting.  He should not ask, ‘Is there any unfinished business?’ but should state the question on the first item of business that is due to come up under this heading; and when it has been disposed of, he should proceed through the remaining subjects in proper order." -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, p. 347-348.
 
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Meeting Tip 3 -- Bending Bylaws
 
Ever find yourself at a meeting, wanting to do something that you discover the bylaws don’t allow?  There are four ways around constraining bylaws.  First, amend them.  Check the bylaw article on amendments.  Some organizations have, in addition to a “normal” requirement with notice (e.g., a two-thirds vote with previous notice), an “emergency” provision for amendments without notice (e.g., a four-fifths or nine-tenths vote).  Such emergency provisions are especially helpful for groups that meet infrequently, such as annually.
 
Second, if the bylaw roadblock is “in the nature of a rule of order” and Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR) is your parliamentary authority, you can suspend the rule in the bylaw (RONR p.12).  Suspending the rules requires a two-thirds vote (p.253).  Rules of order “relate to the orderly transaction of business in meetings and to the duties of officers in that connection” (p.15).
 
Third, a bylaw provision may provide for its own suspension (RONR p.12).
 
Fourth, urgent matters may sometimes be acted on when not done according to the rules, and then ratified later when the rules can be fully complied with (RONR p.119).  (But there is always a gamble that the ratification will fail.)
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth:  You can “suspend the rules” for a quorum, or for meeting notice requirements.
 
Fact:  "Rules protecting absentees or a basic right of the individual member cannot be suspended, even by unanimous consent or an actual unanimous vote. For example, the rules requiring the presence of a quorum and previous notice of a proposed amendment to the bylaws protect absentees, and suspension of these rules would violate their rights." -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, page 255.
 
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Meeting Tip 4 -- Handling Urgent Business
 
When a situation arises needing a decision before the next regular meeting, a special meeting could be called, an executive board might decide, or an officer might take unauthorized action and seek ratification of it at the next meeting.
 
A special meeting can be called only if and as the bylaws provide (Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.89). When a special meeting would be impractical, the bylaws may provide for an executive board (p.464) or an executive committee (p.468) to act for the full organization. An officer may take emergency unauthorized action, but risks personal liability if the action is not ratified (p.119).
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth:  An executive board can never change a decision of the full assembly.
 
Fact:  Even though "no action of the board can conflict with any action taken by the assembly of the society," if the assembly selected a hotel for a convention, for example, and later the site became unavailable (e.g., fire), the original decision is circumstantially null and void, so a board selection of a new site would not be in conflict.  See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, page 466.
 
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Meeting Tip 5 -- Perfecting Proposals
 
Once a motion (proposed action) has been made and seconded, it is stated by the chair, and then it is open to debate and amendment (perfecting).  You can amend by striking, inserting, or both (Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), p.129). E.g., a motion "to buy two oak desks" could be amended (a) by striking "oak"; (b) by inserting "used" before "oak"; or (c) by striking "two" and inserting "three." (If strike-and-insert involves a paragraph or more (e.g., the entire motion), you move to "substitute" the new text for the original.) RONR uses "strike out" but accepts the use of "strike"; "delete" is not preferred (p.129 footnote).
 
You may even want to amend a motion you dislike and will vote against, so that if it is adopted it won't be as bad as originally proposed.
 
Amendments are adopted by a majority vote, even if the main motion requires two-thirds.
 
See RONR p.125-160, or Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised in Brief, p.38-51.
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth: If an amendment is "friendly," you need only to have the maker of the original motion agree to it.
 
Fact: "Once a motion has been stated by the chair, it is no longer the property of the mover, but of the assembly. Any amendment, 'friendly' or otherwise, must be adopted by the full body, either by a vote or by unanimous consent." -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised in Brief, p.116.
 
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Meeting Tip 6 -- Undoing Done Deals
 
Once a motion has been adopted, it may still be possible to change the decision.  At the same meeting where the motion was adopted, a member who voted for the motion can move to "reconsider" it; any member can second the motion to reconsider; and a majority vote can adopt it.  This brings the original motion back to its debate stage, where it is open to amendment and a new vote. 
 
To undo or change a decision at the same or a later meeting, anyone can move to "rescind" the motion (to totally annul it), or to "amend the motion previously adopted"; it takes the lesser of a two-thirds vote or a majority of the entire membership (or if at a later meeting and notice of intent to make the rescind/amend motion is given at the previous meeting or in the call to the meeting, it takes only a majority vote).  Vote requirements differ from the above for bylaws, procedural rules, and in committees. -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), p.304f, 293f.
 
(See RONR for the timing rules for "reconsider" for multiple meetings per day and for a series of meetings on different days with a single order of business, such as at a convention.)
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth: You can only reconsider an adopted motion.
 
Fact: At the same meeting, a member who voted against a motion that failed adoption can move that it be reconsidered. At a later meeting (session), anyone can move the originally defeated motion as if it had never been moved. -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.304, 86.
 
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Meeting Tip 7 -- Minutes Matter
 
Minutes are the official record of decisions made by an organization, and may be needed in court, or to change signatories on a bank account.  Minutes should record what was done, rather than what was said.  The heading and/or first paragraph should contain the name of the organization, the date, time, type (regular, special, annual), and place of the meeting.  It should also include who presided and who served as secretary, and what minutes were approved.
 
A separate paragraph is needed for each main motion, including the maker's name, the exact wording of the motion as adopted or voted on, and its disposition (e.g., adopted, lost, referred to a committee, tabled).  If more than a majority vote was required, the minutes should reflect this (e.g., "adopted by two-thirds" or "motion lost, not obtaining two-thirds").  Counts for counted and ballot votes are recorded, as are the names for and against when there is a roll call vote. The name of the member seconding a motion is not normally recorded.
 
Notices for business to come up at the next meeting, and the president's announced committee appointees are included in the minutes.  Officer and committee reports are mentioned as given but not summarized; but a motion made on a report's recommendation is recorded.  The time of adjournment is recorded, and the secretary signs the minutes.
 
See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.451f.
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth: Secondary motions (e.g., amend) are recorded in minutes.
 
Fact: Secondary motions are not generally recorded in minutes; only the main motion as finally adopted or lost (after possible amendment) is recorded.  However, a motion with a pending amendment might be postponed to the next meeting or referred to a committee, and in such cases the minutes need to record the adhering secondary motion(s) for clarity. -- See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.453.
 
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Meeting Tip 8 -- Resolving Ambiguous or Conflicting Rules
 
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR, 10th edition) gives these useful principles of interpretation for rules ("rules" include bylaws) on pages 570-573:
 
Each organization decides for itself the meaning of its ambiguous rules.
When a rule could have two meanings, only one of which conflicts with or makes absurd another rule, then the alternate meaning is the true one.
Specific rules supersede general rules.
When specific things are authorized by rule, other things of the same class are thereby prohibited.
A rule granting a privilege implicitly also grants a part of the privilege, but disallows a greater privilege.
Rules establishing limits preclude things beyond the limits and permit things less than the limits.
A rule giving a definite penalty for a specific offense prohibits a greater or lesser penalty.
A rule using a general term applies also to a specific class that is wholly included in the general class.
 
Higher ranking rules supersede conflicting lower ranking rules.  From highest to lowest rank, rules may be in national, state or local law, or in a parent organization's rules, corporate charter (e.g. articles of incorporation), constitution, bylaws, special rules of order, parliamentary authority (e.g., RONR), standing rules, and established custom (RONR p. 10-18).
 
A new rule conflicting with an old rule of the same rank supersedes the old rule if the new rule is adopted by the vote required to rescind or amend the old rule (RONR p. 332, l.19-24). 
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth: An organization should have both a constitution and bylaws.
 
Fact: "Unless the constitution is made more difficult to amend than the bylaws, however, no purpose is served by separating these two sets of rules" (Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p. 13).  "...[T]here are decided advantages in keeping all of the provisions relating to each subject under one heading within a single instrument--which results in fewer problems of duplication or inconsistency, and gives a more understandable and workable body of rules" (RONR, p. 14).
 
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Meeting Tip 9 -- Medicine for Meandering Meetings
 
Many meetings meander with irrelevant debate on motions, discussion before motions are pending, or a presiding officer not knowing what business will come up next.  The chair can interrupt a member speaking in debate if the speech is not germane (relevant), or, after the speech, can remind members to keep their debate germane.  If the chair does not do this, any member can say, "Point of order. Is this germane to the pending motion?"  -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.371-372.
 
Sometimes members discuss an issue before a motion has been made, often in response to an officer's or committee's report.  The chair can remind the assembly that a motion needs to be made before debate occurs (p.373), or a member could move to refer the issue to a committee to consider it and report back with a recommendation (p.161).
 
To properly prepare for a meeting the chair or secretary should ask each officer and committee chairman if they have a report to make and what recommendations or motions they will make.  The chair should prepare a detailed agenda at least for personal use, listing each item of business known in advance (p.342).  The chair only calls for reports from those who have them to give (p.344), and does not announce classes of business such as unfinished business if there is none (but "new business" is always announced).  Use "MRS SUN" to recall the standard order of business: Minutes read and approved; Reports of officers and standing committees; Special committees' reports; Special orders; Unfinished business and general orders; New business (p.342).
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth: Discussion is never allowed on an issue before a motion is pending.
 
Fact: In general, "Until a matter has been brought before the assembly in the form of a motion proposing a specific action, it cannot be debated" (Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.373).  But, in a board or committee meeting where there are not more than about a dozen members present, "informal discussion of a subject is permitted while no motion is pending" (p.470), and even larger assemblies may specifically authorize "that a particular subject be discussed while no motion is pending" (p.33).  This practice also "may assist a member in framing a proper motion" (p.383).
 
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Meeting Tip 10 -- Voting Vexations
 
Vexed over voting requirements? Normally a majority vote suffices to adopt a motion or elect an officer [1], but some motions (e.g., "previous question" to end debate) need two-thirds of those voting [2].  A two-thirds vote and previous notice is often required for amending bylaws [3].  Also, nonprofit corporation law may require a majority vote of those present [4].  And for more flexibility, Rescinding or Amending Something Previously Adopted takes two-thirds, or a majority of the membership, or a majority with previous notice, whichever is easiest to obtain (previous notice is given at the previous meeting or in the call to the present meeting) [5]. 
 
Avoid two common erroneous definitions of "majority," illustrated by computing a majority of 51: "more than half" is 26 (a majority); "50% plus one" is 25.5 + 1 = 26.5, which requires 27; "51%" is 26.01, which requires 27.  A majority is more than half of some amount, such as, of those voting, or of those present, or of the membership. Unless otherwise stated, it is of those voting; blank ballots and abstentions are excluded [6]. 
 
Notes: [1] Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th ed. (RONR), p. 387.  [2] RONR tinted p. 46.  [3] RONR p. 573.  [4] RONR p. 390.  [5] RONR p. 295.  [6] RONR p. 387.
 
Meeting Myth
 
Myth:  The chair votes only in case of a tie.
 
Fact:  The chair of a small board or committee can always vote (those with about a dozen or fewer in attendance).  The chair of larger assemblies can vote on any ballot vote, and whenever his vote would affect the outcome.  This latter condition includes voting to make a tie to defeat a motion, voting to break a tie to adopt a motion, and voting to raise a vote to two-thirds or lower it below two-thirds when two-thirds is required.  See RONR p. 51, 392, 393.
 
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