June 2015 - Parliamentary Procedure

Parliamentary Procedure: A Few Fundamentals
By Daniel M. Olson, League Assistant Legal Counsel
I would guess that virtually all Wisconsin city councils, village boards and their subunits utilize Robert’s Rules of Order as the rules of procedure for their respective body. However, Robert’s Rules are set forth in a daunting, complex, 600-plus page book.
Given the difficulty of reading Robert’s from cover to cover, local officials, especially those newly elected, might be better served by a short and concise summary of how to make a motion, amend a motion, vote and protect a member’s rights to participate.
Making a Motion
Motions are made in a basic two-step process. First, the person seeking to make the motion is recognized by the chair, unless the chair is making the motion, which the chair is allowed to do. Second, the member, or chair, makes a motion beginning with “I move . . .” and followed by the substance of the motion. For example, a member, or the chair, of the planning commission might state, “I move that we grant a conditional use permit for 123 Main Street to operate a day care facility for 30 children.”
Once made, the motion may be seconded by another member of the body. After being seconded, the chair restates the motion and indicates that it is open for debate (“It is moved and seconded that ________. Is there any discussion?”) Then, the motion is debated subject to any debate limits set by rule.
Amending a Motion
During debate, a member may wish to amend the original motion. This is permissible under Robert’s Rules of Order.
If a member wishes to change a basic motion that is before the body, they would move to amend it. A motion to amend might be: “I move that we amend the motion to grant a conditional use permit for 123 Main Street to operate a day care facility for thirty children by striking out thirty and inserting twenty.” Thus, a motion to amend changes the motion before the body in some way by adding new words, deleting words or substituting new words for some of the original words.
Once debate is complete, the chair calls for a vote. Usually, this is done by voice vote in small bodies. However, a counted or roll call vote can be ordered by the chair or by a majority of the members. In Wisconsin, a ballot vote is not permissible except to elect an officer of the body.
The type of vote may vary. Usually, a simple majority is sufficient. However, state law, local ordinance or local rule may require a super-majority vote depending on the subject matter. For example, a budget amendment requires a vote of “two-thirds of the entire membership of the governing body of the municipality.” Wis. Stat. sec. 65.90(5)(a).
Other Procedures
There is frequently a need to address a matter immediately to protect a member’s right to participate. Although Robert’s Rules refers to them as “Incidental Motions” they are not ordinary motions: they do not require a second, they may interrupt other speakers, usually they must be addressed immediately. More importantly, they are very helpful in insuring the rights of each member to participate fully in the business taking place and to make decisions.
Point of Order
The most common of these is the point of order. If a member feels that the rules of the assembly are not being observed, (e.g., a member is speaking about a matter unrelated to the motion before the body) the member may “Raise a Point of Order.” This requires the chair to make a ruling as to whether the point is “well taken” or “not well taken.”
Then if the member disagrees with the decision of the chair, the member may appeal from the decision of the chair. If this is done, it will take a second to the appeal and a majority opposed to the decision of the chair to reverse it.
Point of Information
If a member wants to get information (to ask a question), the member raises a point of information. The chair then directs the appropriate person to answer the question.
Parliamentary Inquiry
If a member needs help with parliamentary procedure, the member raises a point of parliamentary inquiry. The chair attempts to assist the member to do what he/she wishes to do.
Question of Privilege
If a member feels that the comfort of the assembly or anything else is interfering with the decision making process, the member can raise a point of privilege and ask the chair to correct the situation.(e.g., too hot, can’t hear, belligerent member).
If local officials are able to make a motion, amend a motion, vote and know the key procedures for protecting member’s rights, they will be well on their way to understanding the basic process for conducting local government business. More importantly, the business may be handled in a manner that is orderly and efficient, respects minority interests, and enforces the will of the majority.
Governing Bodies 395