How Not to Conduct Local Government Meetings

Twice this month duly elected members of two local legislative bodies were denied their right to fully participate in a deliberative process.

Last week, at Ruston’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Jim Pierce (Ward 4), moved to amend an ordinance that was duly moved, seconded, and was open for discussion. The original ordinance as moved extended alcohol sales in Ruston to 2 AM, from Midnight, among other provisions. Pierce wanted to amend it and delete only the extended hours.

Mayor Ronny Walker, who was chairing the meeting, deferred to City Attorney Bill Carter, who ruled that since Pierce’s amendment wasn’t “friendly,” that it was out of order. A friendly amendment is defined as one that the original mover has no objection to.

Last Tuesday, Lincoln Parish Police Juror Randy Roberson’s (District 4) duly seconded amendment to a motion was ignored by Jury President Jody Backus (District 7). During the discussion, there was again talk about whether it was a “friendly amendment.”

In both these cases, the proposed amendments could have had profound effects upon pending legislation, and consequently upon taxpayers and citizens.

The issue of “friendly” is discussed in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition) thus:

Question 8: How do you deal with a “friendly amendment”?

Answer: On occasion, while a motion is being debated, someone will get up and offer what he or she terms a “friendly amendment” to the motion, the maker of the original motion will “accept” the amendment, and the chair will treat the motion as amended. This is wrong. 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.

If it appears to the chair that an amendment (or any other motion) is uncontroversial, it is proper for the chair to ask if there is “any objection” to adopting the amendment. If no objection is made, the chair may declare the amendment adopted. If even one member objects, however, the amendment is subject to debate and vote like any other, regardless of whether its proposer calls it “friendly” and regardless of whether the maker of the original motion endorses its adoption.

This brings up another question. Under what parliamentary rules does the Ruston City Council and the Lincoln Parish Police Jury operate?

If the body wants it to be Robert’s, then it needs to be documented and put in writing. Many Louisiana parishes have done just that.

Otherwise, if there are no established rules, and the chair gets to make them up on the fly, then you get what happened in these two cases.

Edit 8/13/16 – Noon

We just found this pertinent ordinance for the City of Ruston

Sec. 2-123. – Rules of order.

The conduct of all board of aldermen meetings shall be governed by the most recent edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised to the extent such rules do not conflict with the provisions of R.S. 33:321—33:463 (the Lawrason Act).

(Ord. No. 1225, § 1, 4-15-1996; Ord. No. 1546, § 1, 12-3-2007)

10 Responses to “How Not to Conduct Local Government Meetings”

  1. Oldman Says:

    Thanks Walter for the good work.

  2. MrBig Says:

    Police jury needs to formally adopt Robert’s Rules and appoint a parlimentarian or else it’s a mob.

  3. ShowMeResults Says:

    Yes, definitely good work. It brings me to question the “legal ruling” that the Mayor received. Since Ronny deferred to the attorney, I presume his role is the parliamentarian at the City Council meetings. I’m wondering when was the last time our city attorney actually read and studied the latest version of Robert’s Rules? I have no idea whether Robert’s Rules conflict with the Lawrason Act, however. My sense is there’s no conflict, but I could be wrong.
    And in regards to the Police Jury, I’m very surprised no official parliamentary rules are formally adopted to govern their meetings. Such a sloppy governmental operation we’ve got in Lincoln Parish! I plan to speak to my representative Juror and demand that the Police Jury should formally adopt Robert’s Rules and have a competent attorney as their parliamentarian present during all meetings. They need to clean up their act immediately! Other than bitch about it, does anyone know what can be done – now – about that duly seconded amendment to a motion that was apparently ignored and brushed aside? Again, thanks Walter for the good work putting all this together.

    • Angry Taxpayer Says:

      Perhaps Jody Backus could stop at the library and check out a copy of Robert’s Rules if they have one. At least the library would be serving one useful function.

  4. mjmbradley Says:

    Robert’s guarantees that minority views shall be heard. Ronny, Bill & Jim need some education. Unless they’re parliamentarians, almost no lawyers know Robert’s. Once a motion has been seconded (“Yes! I agree that’s Business we need to address!” – not: “Oh yeah, I want that too.”) then the motion belongs to the assembly to deal with any way they want. Seconding removes the motion from the mover’s ownership and gives it to the assembly. If Ronny is to chair the meeting, he should acquaint himself with RONR. If Bill is to consult, then RONR must be his source for rulings to cite form. Jim can protect himself by preparing to be stonewalled like this, and cite his Right to challenge Ronny’s/Bill’s “ruling” as well as the rule that fosters his dissent. Jim has the right to APPEAL the ruling, (which must be seconded), is debatable by the assembly, and would be sustained by a majority or tie vote. There is no loss of face, because RONR supports delays of meetings when procedures ensure propriety. Essentials:

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