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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

Rules and Order

Something has been bothering me about our village board meetings, basically since I've been attending. Back in July I mentioned that our board needs a parliamentarian, but was rudely dismissed as that being unnecessary. Sadly, given the situation of the last few Zoom board meetings, I think it's important to mention this need again.

Let me back up. One of my biggest complaints is that nothing is discussed in a public forum with this board. In fact -- whether reality or not -- from the outside, it appears that the majority board literally crawls over themselves to approve whatever Phil puts on the agenda. That's actually not how this is supposed to work. In fact, one of the hallmarks of a transparent government is the openness of debate and discussion -- thus, the lack would make it seem that this is the least transparent government this village has ever seen.

Additionally, when a Trustee does ask questions those in the majority who are pushing to push the agenda through as fast as possible often don't allow her to even fully ask her question -- which unfortunately has the effect that she looks unprepared -- yet, she's the only one asking tough who really is unprepared?

Our Village Code outlines the agenda that should be followed in every meeting. It also calls for the use of Robert's Rules of Order as the guiding principle of running the meeting. Now, in my life, I've attended many meetings that claim to use Robert's Rules with varying degrees of attention to detail -- so I took a moment to research what exactly is the purpose of using these set rules:

Just reading through that makes me think the board meetings we've been attending lately are nothing like what Robert's Rules are. Let's take one simple thing -- any vote on any agenda items:

In the most recent meetings, we often hear Phil read the agenda item and say either "I'm going to ask for a first and a second." OR maybe "If there's no discussion, can I have a first on this item." Both of those statements violate the core of Robert's Rules -- it literally prevents there to be a discussion. Recently, one Trustee has been trying to get questions answered and while even her timing is off -- she's at least asking --- mind you, some of the men on the board are also openly mocking her -- so that's equally problematic.

Here's the way a basic agenda item should go according to Robert's Rules"

  1. President should read the item and possibly comment on it.

  2. President should ASK if anyone on the board has a question or discussion

  3. President should wait for at least a moment before asking for a 1st on the motion.

  4. If any Trustee has a question, they should ask for the floor to ask their question.

    1. During this time, ONE person at a time should speak; it should be polite and respectful.

    2. This would also be the right time to ask for a motion or discussion to be tabled should that be required. If a request to table is moved & seconded (the original item ceases to be discussed and the next thing to vote on is the move to table.

    3. This would also be the time to move to amend any agenda item -- again, the move to amend would require a motion and a second -- then discussion on the amendment followed by a vote on the amendment (not a vote on the amended motion)

  5. Once discussion is finished, one Trustee should state "I'd like to bring the motion to a vote." Or "I make a motion to ...."

  6. Another Trustee should then say, "I second this motion."

  7. Then a vote can take place. During the roll call vote is NOT the place to discuss or amend a motion.

You see where our board (namely Phil who is charged with running these meetings) goes wrong? He refuses to actually allow discussion. He never asks for discussion. He allows Trustees to talk over anyone asking a question.

Now, the consent agenda items bring a touch more complexity to the process -- and since Trustee Odom did in fact try to pull an item out of the consent agenda.

So, first -- remember silence is consent in Robert's Rules. This is fundamental to the consent agenda -- because there is no requirement that the use of the consent agenda be approved every meeting. However, if any Trustee wished, the first thing they could do is state that they are opposed to the use of the consent agenda and all the items would need to go through the above process independently.

So -- if this board took it's time to follow the basics of Robert's Rules -- the Consent Agenda would have gone like this:

  1. Does anyone have any items from the agenda they want pulled to discuss?

    1. Trustee Odom should have said, "Yes, I'd like this and this pulled for discussion."

  2. Would anyone like to make a motion to pass the Consent Agenda without the two items?

    1. A First.

    2. A Second.

  3. Roll Call Vote for all the remaining items in the agenda.

  4. Now, let's review the first item removed from the consent agenda. Trustee Odom, I saw you had questions, what do you need?

    1. Trustee Odom would have asked her questions. Gotten answers.

    2. Anyone else have questions? No?

  5. Do we have a first? Do we have a second? Roll Call.

You see how simple that is? How orderly? Failure to follow these principles gives rise to the accusations of lack of transparency and frankly, the accusations of bullying a trustee by other trustees.

By the way, there were 6 agenda items on the agenda that were all related (the sale of 3 pieces of property). It is actually acceptable that had Phil been at all versed in Robert's Rules, he could have simply said as we got to those: "The next 6 items are all related to the sale of 3 parcels of land. As they are similar in nature, I would like to entertain a motion to consider these next 6 as one motion. Would anyone like to make that motion?" Then they could be discussed as a whole (unlike the consent agenda where they are considered as one without discussion). See -- the Rules of Order can work in the favor of expediency too.

I know it may seem like it's trivial -- but it's the rules. Simple rules that are honestly there to make sure every is heard and gets their chance to be heard. It's a process that when followed actually makes the meetings go smoother and facilitate discussion and improved decision making. Today we have a board President who is ramming his agenda down the throats of the village and this 'do-nothing' majority is not only allowing it -- they are crawling all over themselves to first and second so fast that no one can actually ask a question. It honestly feels like I'm watching a fraternity meeting from a movie instead of a Village Board meeting -- and the majority of this board takes it just as seriously.

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