Organizing, Reorganizing, and Renewal Questions

Answers to questions submitted to Cagle's Parliamentary Procedure webpage.

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Link to Cagle's Parliamentary Procedure page.

how to run meetings without getting anyone upset.....

I am a graduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo, in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences. I have recently been elected to an executive position in our department's Graduate Student Association (GSA). While investigating parliamentary procedure on the internet, I happened upon your page. I found the information most helpful, but I still have a couple of questions.

This is more within the realm of advice, but can you point me to some resources (internet or otherwise) to help design protocols for running an organization?

The best thing is to do is get a copy of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised and read it carefully. There are other good authorities, such as Sturgis' Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, which was recently revised by the American Institute of Parliamentarians. As you read these, remember that the parliamentary ideas need to be adapted to the kind of organization and members you have. Robert's can run the Democratic National Convention, but can also help guide a small organization of people who like to talk about books.

The reason I ask is because for the past few years, our GSA has been run rather inefficiently and in a very relaxed manner. I suppose that's fine for those classes, but our situation is a bit different.

There is nothing wrong with inefficiency and a relaxed manner if it serves the nature of the group. Beyond task considerations, many organizations have a predominantly social purpose, and in serving the social purpose sometimes task efficacy goes out the window.

Our GSA president has managed to swirl up a bit of controversy, and now several members of the class refuse to participate in anything we sponsor at all. Including the professional conference in the fall.

You may need a book on interpersonal communication or group discussion more than a book on parliamentary procedure. Maybe you need a chaplain.

All I want is to be sure we do everything correctly and by the book, except we don't have a book. Nobody knows where our procedures are. I am taking it upon myself to either find them or write new ones. Can you suggest any place I can go for help in writing these?

Maybe you could find a congenial professor in your department to help you through this period of reorganization and renewal. I was my department's chair for 12 years, and I did that sort of thing a lot.

Questions about Setting Up an Organization

I want to know the preferred way of setting up an organization. Can and/or does the Chairperson have a vote as the other members?

Normally the answer is yes. There are two broad classes of meetings: (1) plenary or assembly meetings and (2) boards and committees. In (1) the rules pertaining to a chair's impartiality apply, including not voting except to make or break a tie vote. In (2) the chair does have the right to vote on all questions and usually does so. If your organization has five members, it is probably best handled as a board or committee.

Or is the Chair usually the tie-breaker?

In boards and committees, the chair can vote on all questions and usually does.

Also, if the agency has a total of five (5) members including the Chair, does two (2) members and the chairperson constitute a quorum?

A quorum is more than half of the voting members necessary for the group to transact business. Since the chair votes and the group has a total of five members, then three would be the quorum. If the chair could only vote in case of a tie or to make a tie (e.g., if it so provided in the bylaws), the quorum would still be three.

Can these be stated in the by-laws if it is to be different than the normal procedures?

Whatever the bylaws says rules. Be careful in writing them. The hierarchy is parliamentary authority (e.g., Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised) at the bottom, bylaws, city laws, county, state, and federal. If there are conflicts, the higher rules prevail.

Lastly, do you mind if I e-mail you with a lot of these silly questions?

I don't mind answering questions. It would be a good idea to obtain a copy of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised and carefully read the whole book, especially the parts about setting up an organization. If the group handles money, especially, it is a good idea to consult an attorney in your state to be sure your organization conforms to relevant laws, including those pertaining to non-profit tax status.

Setting Up a Community Services Board

Hi. I am on a Community Services Board (policy-making for mental health; developmental disorders; substance abuse) in Seneca County, New York State. I am looking for info concerning general Board functions and operations; e.g. nominations of officers, subcommittee complexion, meeting procedures, bylaws review and needs, and the like.

You should first check with the "charter" for your organization, as it may contain state or area laws and regulations you must adhere to. If the Community Services Board is part of a state or federal governmental structure, then you only certainly have a "place" in the state's laws. If the board was created by an Executive Order (say, from the Governor's Office), then the order itself should answer many of your questions. It may require, among other things, a specific parliamentary authority. In general, I would recommend Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (1990 edition is current). You should obtain that authority and read it, especially the chapters dealing with "Boards" and "Committees." Many of the questions you posed would be answered.

I have been assigned to research how officers of (a, or this) Board may be nominated (even if unwilling?) to serve as chair; vice chair; and any other position as required by the bylaws. I believe I need the responsibilites, and authority, of any *required* committes outlined for our information.

In general, unless bylaws describe some other procedure, elections would follow the procedures in Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised. Often officers and staff for a governmental or quasi-governmental board are appointed by the higher authority which creates the board, as the members of the board would be probably appointed by somebody. (Again, to answer a question in this area, you have to know the legal environment in which the board is operating.)

In a private business, someone may be "ordered" (more or less) to perform a bona fide job function, including serve in some particular office on a board. If a person under these conditions is not willing to serve, I think it would be grounds for termination or some other job action. However, in a voluntary organization, you cannot compel someone to accept a position, such as chair or vice-chair. If you nominated and elected someone not present at a meeting, until the person accepts the position it is not official, as the person may decline.

There is a good general framework for bylaws in Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised. The bylaws should clearly answer questions about the creation and nature of standing committees for the organization. There is no mandatory set of committees; each organization decides on which committees (if any) it needs for its particular special nature.

In terms of your general description of your board, in these matters it would be good advice for you to consult an attorney knowledgeable in these areas. An attorney would be able to assure you that your operating structures are within the state's legal requirements, a particularly good idea in a litigious society. After your board is rolling, so to speak, depending on the complexity of the issues and the character of your meetings, it may be good advice for you to secure the services of a parliamentarian from your town to assist you before and during meetings.

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