[Adopted Sept. 19, 2013; amended July 26, 2014]
Source: These rules are based on a simplification of Robert’s Rules of Order developed by parliamentary procedure expert Dave Rosenberg.
Applicability: Any issues not addressed in these rules shall be decided by reference to the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order. These rules shall apply to congregational meetings and meetings of the Board of Trustees and committees and task forces appointed solely by the board (provided that board committees and task forces may choose to proceed informally, but if there is a dispute about how a decision is made, these rules shall control). Committees appointed jointly by the board and the minister also shall apply these rules if the minister concurs. The minister shall have discretion to determine whether these rules apply to ministry teams, committees and task forces.
A quorum is the minimum number of members of the body who must be present at a meeting for business to be legally transacted. The default rule is that a quorum is a majority, or one more than half, of the body. So, for example, in a nine-member body a quorum is five. If the body has less than a quorum of members present, it cannot legally transact business. The default quorum rule gives way to the following specific rules establishing a quorum which are specified in the Church Bylaws:
- Article IV, Congregational Meetings, Section 1: Quorum. Twenty percent of the voting membership with Columbia postal zip codes will constitute a quorum for all meetings except those involving selection or termination of a minister.
- Article V, Trustees, Section 5: Quorum: A majority of the full Board of Trustees will constitute a quorum for the transaction of business at any meeting of the Board. If less than a majority of the Trustees are present at a meeting, a majority of those present may adjourn the meeting.
- Article V, Trustees, Section 7: Vacancies: The Board of Trustees may appoint a member to fill any vacancy occurring in the Board by a majority vote of the remaining Trustees even if less than a quorum. A Trustee elected to fill a vacancy is elected to serve until the next congregational meeting at which members of the Board are elected.
- Article VIII, The Minister, Section 2.B: The quorum for a meeting to call or dismiss a Minister is forty percent (40%) of the voting membership with Columbia postal zip codes.
- Article VIII, The Minister, Section 4.B: The quorum for a meeting to dismiss the Minister is forty percent (40%) of the voting membership with Columbia postal zip codes.
Even if the body has a quorum to begin the meeting, the body can lose the quorum during the meeting when a member departs (or even when a member leaves the room temporarily), and when that occurs the body loses its ability to transact business until and unless a quorum is reestablished.
Role of the Chair
While all members of the body should know and understand these rules, the Chair of the body is charged with applying these rules in the conduct of the meeting. The Chair should be well versed in these rules. The Chair makes the final ruling on the rules every time the Chair states an action. All decisions by the Chair are final unless overruled by the body itself.
Because the Chair is responsible for conducting meetings, the Chair should play a less active role in the debate and discussion than other members of the body. This does not mean that the Chair should not participate in the debate or discussion. To the contrary, the Chair as a member of the body has the full right to participate in the debate, discussion and decision-making of the body. What the Chair should do, however, is strive to be the last to speak at the discussion and debate stage, and the Chair should not make or second a motion unless the Chair is convinced that no other member of the body will do so at that point in time.
Agenda Item Discussion
Formal meetings should have a written agenda. Informal meetings may have only an oral or understood agenda. In either case, the meeting is governed by the agenda, and the agenda constitutes the body’s agreed-upon roadmap for the meeting. Each agenda item should be handled by the Chair in the following basic format:
1. The Chair should clearly announce the agenda item and clearly state what the agenda item subject is.
2. The Chair should invite the appropriate person or persons to report on the item, including any recommendation that they might have. The appropriate person or persons may be the Chair, a member of the body, a staff person, or a committee chair or member charged with providing input on the agenda item.
3. The Chair should ask members of the body if they have any technical questions of clarification. At this point, members of the body may ask clarifying questions to the person or persons who reported on the item, and that person or persons should be given time to respond.
4. If non-members of the body are present at the meeting, the Chair should invite comments from them. If numerous non-members present indicate a desire to speak, the Chair may limit the time devoted to their comments.
5. The Chair should invite a motion.
6. The Chair should determine if any member of the body wishes to second the motion.
7. If the motion is made and seconded, the Chair should make sure everyone understands the motion. This can be done in one of three ways: (1) The Chair can ask the maker of the motion to repeat it. (2) The Chair can repeat the motion. (3) The Chair can ask the secretary or the clerk of the body to repeat the motion.
8. The Chair should invite discussion of the motion by the body. If there is no desired discussion, or after the discussion has ended, the Chair should announce that the body will vote on the motion. If there has been no discussion or very brief discussion, then the vote on the motion should proceed immediately and there is no need to repeat the motion. If there has been substantial discussion, then it is normally best to make sure everyone understands the motion by repeating it.
9. The Chair takes a vote. Normally, this should be done by simply asking for the “ayes,” then “nays,” then “abstentions.” Unless otherwise provided by the Church Bylaws or unless a super-majority is required as specified later in these rules, a simple majority (as defined below) determines whether the motion passes or is defeated.
10. The Chair should announce the result of the vote and should announce what action (if any) the body has taken.
Motions in General
Motions are the vehicles for decision-making by a body. A motion should be made before the body commences discussion to help the body focus. Motions are made in a simple two-step process:
1. The Chair should recognize a member of the body.
2. The member of the body makes a motion beginning with the words “I move that ….” followed by the substance of the motion.
The Chair usually initiates a motion by either:
1. Inviting the members of the body to make a motion. (E.g., “A motion at this time would be in order.”
2. Suggesting a motion to the members of the body. (E.g., “A motion would be in order that ….”)
3. Making the motion. The Chair has every right as a member of the body to make a motion, but normally should do so only if the Chair believes a motion is necessary and is convinced that no other member of the body is willing to make the motion.
The Three Basic Motions
There are three motions that are the most common and recur often at meetings:
The basic motion. The basic motion is the one that puts forward a proposal for the body’s decision. (Example: “I move that we create a 5-member task force to plan and put on our annual fundraiser.”)
The motion to amend. If a member wants to change a basic motion that is before the body, the member should move to amend the motion. A motion to amend starts with the basic motion which is before the body and seeks to change it in some way. (Example: “I move that we amend the motion to have a 10-member committee.”)
The substitute motion. If a member wants to completely do away with the basic motion that is before the body and put a new motion before the body, the member should move a substitute motion. (Example: “I make a substitute motion that we cancel the annual fundraiser this year.”)
Motions to amend and substitute motions are often confused, but they are quite different, and their effect is quite different. A motion to amend seeks to retain the basic motion on the floor, but modify it in some way. A substitute motion seeks to throw out the basic motion on the floor, and substitute a new and different motion for it. The decision as to whether a motion is really a “motion to amend” or a “substitute motion” is left to the Chair.
Multiple Motions Before the Body
There can be a maximum of three motions before the body at the same time. The Chair can reject a fourth motion as “out of order” until the body has dealt with the three pending motions. When there are two or three motions pending at the same time, voting should proceed first on the last motion made, as follows:
1. If there is a basic motion and a motion to amend, the first vote should be on the motion to amend. If the motion to amend is passed, the second vote would be on the basic motion as amended.
2. If there is a basic motion and a substitute motion, the first vote should be on the substitute motion. If the substitute motion is passed, the basic motion is defeated.
3. If there is a basic motion, a motion to amend, and substitute motion, the first vote should be on the substitute motion. If the substitute motion is passed, the basic motion and the motion to amend are defeated. If the substitute motion is defeated, the second vote should be on the motion to amend. If the motion to amend is passed, the third vote should be on the basic motion as amended.
Discussion and Debate
The basic rule of motions is that they are subject to discussion and debate. Accordingly, basic motions, motions to amend, and substitute motions are all eligible for full discussion and debate, in the same order in which they would be voted on as specified in the previous section. Discussion and debate can continue as long as members of the body wish, subject to the decision of the Chair that it is time to take action and further subject to the exceptions set out below. Exceptions to the general rule of free and open debate on motions apply when there is a desire of the body to move on. The following motions are not debatable; that is, when one of the following motions is made and seconded, the Chair must immediately call for a vote of the body without debate on the motion:
1. Motion to adjourn. This motion, if passed, requires the body to immediately adjourn to its next regularly scheduled meeting. It requires a simple majority vote.
2. Motion to recess. This motion, if passed, requires the body to immediately take a recess. Normally, the Chair determines the length of the recess which may be a few minutes or an hour. It requires a simple majority vote.
3. Motion to fix the time to adjourn. This motion, if passed, requires the body to adjourn the meeting at the specific time set in the motion. For example, the motion might be: “I move we adjourn this meeting at midnight.” It requires a simple majority vote.
4. Motion to table. This motion, if passed, requires discussion of the agenda item to be halted and the agenda item to be placed on “hold”. The motion can include a specific date/time when the item can come back to the body. Or the motion can contain no specific time for the return of the item, in which case a motion to take the item off the table and bring it back to the body can be made at a future meeting. A motion to table an item (or to bring it back to the body) requires a simple majority vote.
5. Motion to limit debate. The most common form of this motion is to say: “I move the previous question” or “I move the question” or “I call the question” or simply “Question.” As a practical matter, when a member calls for the “question,” the Chair can expedite procedure by simply asking the body if anyone wishes to continue discussing the issue. If no one wishes to discuss it further, the Chair can proceed to a vote on the issue without having to vote on “calling the question.” On the other hand, if even one member of the body wishes further discussion of the pending issue, then the Chair must treat the call for the “question” as a motion, ask for a second, and proceed with a vote if there is a second. A motion to limit debate requires a 2/3 vote of the body. A motion to limit debate may include a time limit. (Example: “I move we limit debate on this agenda item to 15 minutes.”) Even in this format, the motion to limit debate requires a 2/3 vote.
6. Motion to object to consideration of an item. This motion is not debatable, and if seconded and passed, precludes the body from even considering an item on the agenda. It requires a 2/3 vote.
Majority and Super-Majority Votes
The default rules are:
1. A simple majority vote in favor of a motion means the motion is approved.
2. A tie vote means the motion is not approved.
While most motions require a simple majority vote for approval, there are a few exceptions in situations when the body is taking an action which effectively cuts off the ability of a minority of the body to take an action or discuss an item. The following extraordinary motions require a 2/3 majority (a super-majority) to pass:
1. Motion to limit debate: As stated in the previous section, a motion to “call the question” is non-debatable and requires a 2/3 vote to pass.
2. Motion to object to the consideration of a question: As stated in the previous section, a motion to object to the consideration of a question is non-debatable and requires a 2/3 vote to pass.
3. Motion to close nominations: When choosing officers of the body (like the Chair) nominations are in order either from a nominating committee and from members of the body. A “motion to close nominations” is non-debatable and requires a 2/3 vote to pass.
4. Motion to suspend the rules: A “motion to suspend rules” is debatable, but requires a 2/3 vote to pass. Such a motion would allow the body to suspend the application of these rules for a particular purpose.
If a two-thirds majority vote is needed to pass a motion, the Chair should count the “no” votes and double that count to determine how many “yes” votes are needed to pass the motion. If a majority vote is needed to pass a motion, a tie vote results in defeat of the motion. Abstentions shall not be counted as either “yes” or “no” votes.
Motion to Reconsider
A motion to reconsider is treated as a special motion because it is contrary to the principle of finality (the normal expectation that after vigorous discussion, debate and a vote, a final decision has been reached). While a motion to reconsider requires only a majority vote to pass, it is subject to two special rules:
1. A motion to reconsider must be made at the meeting at which the item was first voted upon. A motion to reconsider made at a later time is untimely. (The body, however, can vote by 2/3 majority to suspend the rules and allow a motion to reconsider to be made at a later meeting.)
2. A motion to reconsider may be made only by a member who voted in the majority on the original motion. The second may be made by any other member, regardless of how the seconding member voted on the original motion. If a member who voted in the minority seeks to make the motion to reconsider, it must be ruled out of order. (The purpose of this rule is finality. If a member of minority could make a motion to reconsider, then the item could be brought back to the body again and again, which would defeat the purpose of finality.)
If the motion to reconsider passes, then the original matter is back before the body, and a new original motion is in order. The matter may be discussed and debated as if it were on the floor for the first time.
Courtesy and Decorum
These rules of order are intended to create an atmosphere in which the members of the body and others present at meetings can attend to business efficiently, fairly and with full participation. At the same time, it is up to the Chair and the members of the body to maintain common courtesy and decorum. Unless the setting is very informal, it is always best for only one person at a time to have the floor, and it is always best for every speaker to be first recognized by the Chair before proceeding to speak.
The Chair should always ensure that debate and discussion of an agenda item focuses on the item and the policy in question, not the personalities of the members of the body. Debate on policy is healthy; debate on personalities is not. The Chair has the right to cut off discussion that is too personal, too loud, or too crude.
Debate and discussion should be focused, but free and open. In the interest of time, the Chair may, however, limit the time allotted to speakers, including members of the body. Members of the body may not interrupt a speaker except as follows:
1. Privilege. The proper interruption would be: “point of privilege.” The Chair would then ask the interrupter to “state your point.” Appropriate points of privilege relate to anything that would interfere with the normal comfort of the meeting. For example, the room may be too hot or too cold, or a blowing fan might interfere with a person’s ability to hear.
2. Order. The proper interruption would be: “point of order.” Again, the Chair would ask the interrupter to “state your point.” Appropriate points of order relate to anything that would not be considered appropriate conduct of the meeting. For example, if the Chair moved on to a vote on a motion that permits debate without allowing that discussion or debate.
3. Appeal. If the Chair makes a ruling that a member of the body disagrees with, that member may appeal the ruling of the Chair. If the motion is seconded, and after debate, if it passes by a simple majority vote, then the ruling of the Chair is deemed reversed.
4. Call for returning to the agenda. If a member believes that the body has drifted from the agreed-upon agenda, the member may call for a return to the agenda. This does not require a vote, and when the Chair discovers that the agenda has not been followed, the Chair simply reminds the body to return to the agenda item properly before them. If the Chair fails to do so, the Chair’s determination may be appealed.
5. Withdraw a motion. During debate and discussion of a motion, the maker of the motion on the floor, at any time, may interrupt a speaker to withdraw his or her motion from the floor. The motion is immediately deemed withdrawn without the necessity of the second also being withdrawn. Any other member may then make a motion the same as or similar to the withdrawn motion.
Input from Non-Members of the Body
The rules outlined above will help make meetings very friendly to non-members of the body. In addition, the following three special rules apply when non-members of the body are in attendance at a meeting:
1. Announce what the body will be doing.
2. Keep the non-members informed while the body is doing it.
3. When the body has acted, tell the non-members what the body did.