Volume 13, Issue 1, 2009
By Robert McConnell Productions
In the very first video that we produced, Parliamentary Procedure made Simple, The Basics, we said “Committees were the workhorse of the organization.” It is still true today. In most organizations, the work performed is done by the standing committees of the organization. A committee is the eyes, ears, hands and feet of the organization. Without committees, an organization would not accomplish much. Committees allow individual members to use their specific talents to benefit the organization. Isn’t this the reason why we join an organization—so that we can use our talents to help others?
HOW COMMITTEES OPERATE
As an organization grows, so does the need for committees to carry out its purposes. Committees should be listed in the bylaws under an article entitled “Committees.” (For more information about committees in bylaws, see Parliamentary Newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1996) These committees are called standing committees because they are essential for the organization to function. A standing committee’s activity continues from year to year, but its members are appointed when the new officers begin their terms. Usually each new administration, whether it is the President or Board, appoints new committee members and chairmen to the standing committees. Some bylaws put term limits on chairmen and members of committees. So when committee appointments are made, the bylaws should be consulted to see if such a provision exits and appoint committees accordingly.
AD HOC COMMITTEES
When an organization doesn’t have a standing committee to refer business to, or the members want to have a committee to oversee a certain project where no standing committee exists, they can create a committee by adopting an incidental motion to create a committee to carry out a specific assignment. This creates what is called an “ad hoc,” “special” or “select committee.” This committee’s purpose is to investigate or carry out the specific project for which it was created; it ceases to exist after the work is completed and it “rises to report,” which means to give its final report. An ad hoc committee cannot be appointed to perform the functions of an existing standing committee. An ad hoc committee can become a standing committee if the members vote to change its status by adding its name and duties to the bylaws.
APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
In the function and operation of committees, the chairman is the most important person on the committee. The attitude of the chairman usually determines how successfully the committee operates. If a chairman is one who likes to work solo and run the show, the rest of the members will no doubt lose interest and stop attending meetings. Or this person may not call committee meetings at all and just do the work by himself. If a chairman is one who is not well organized and doesn’t know how to facilitate meetings, this too brings frustration and the work may not get accomplished.
So who is the ideal committee chairman? He is a person who has knowledge of the purpose and function of the committee. He wants to work with others and wants to use the talents of all its members for the benefit of the organization. He delegates responsibility. He knows how to conduct meetings and keeps the members focused and on track with the work to be done.
Those appointing committee chairmen should know the abilities of those whom they are appointing and especially how they will work with others. They should also consider how the rest of the committee members will work with each other. It is important not to have a committee of “yes men” because that might ultimately harm the organization if no one challenges improper decisions or does not allow all the facts to come before the committee. What is important is that the members be diverse, but respectful of each others points of view and of the democratic process in making decisions. Where there is disagreement, the issue is settled by taking a vote.
The only time a committee should include people who all agree is when a committee is appointed to carry out something that the assembly has adopted. If members are appointed who oppose the assembly’s wishes on the committee, the motion that was adopted may not be carried out.
CONDUCTING BUSINESS IN A COMMITTEE
One of the biggest complaints we hear is that people spend too much time in meetings without accomplishing much. This is where knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order and basic parliamentary procedure can help committees expedite their deliberations. When a committee chairman knows how to conduct a meeting, the committee will get things done efficiently, and this knowledge will prevent another member from “hijacking” the meeting and taking control.
When a chairman calls a meeting, he states the purpose for the meeting and sets the time and place of the meeting. If a committee is appointed and the chairman does not set a meeting time for the committee to begin its work, and any further delay would cause problems, two members of the committee can call the members to a meeting. If this happens, no doubt the wrong person has been appointed chairman, and the people who appointed this person should be told of the problem.
After the committee has been notified of the meeting and its purpose, the chairman should prepare an agenda for the meeting, according to the standard order of business as found in Robert’s Rules of Order. The agenda should have the most important items of business at the beginning and the least important at the end. That way if the members run out of time and want to go home, the most important items will be taken up before the meeting adjourns.
A committee meeting is called to order just like any other meeting. The chairman, if the committee is small, acts also as the secretary, but he can appoint another committee member to take minutes of the meeting. This keeps a record of the decisions of the committee and will help them stay on course. It is also a history of the committee’s work which is useful for both the organization and future committee members.
The chairman should announce each topic of the agenda as it is taken up so the members know where they are on the agenda at all times. Any discussion should be kept to that agenda topic. If members stray from the agenda the chairman should remind them what they are discussing and remind them to keep their remarks relevant to the subject.
The chairman needs to know when to cut off discussion and go on to the next item on the agenda. In parliamentary procedure, the motion to close or limit debate is not allowed because the entire purpose of the committee is to have the freedom to discuss so that all the facts will come out during the discussion. Often members deliberate too long on subjects. If they keep repeating themselves, the chairman should ask, “Does anyone have something new to say about this topic?” If not, then let’s take a vote on the issue.
Are motions necessary in committee? No, and yes. If the chairman has a way of summing up discussion and taking a vote, then a motion is not necessary and here is an example of that:
Let’s say a committee has been discussing several speakers for the annual banquet. As discussion continues, the members are leaning towards having the Governor speak. The chair can assume a motion by asking, “All those in favor of having the Governor speak at the annual banquet, say ‘aye’. Those opposed say ‘no.’ The ayes have it and the motion is carried. We will invite the Governor to speak.”
If the chairman prefers to let the members propose the speaker, he can ask, “Would someone make a motion about which speaker we should invite to speak at the annual banquet?” That leaves it up to a member to make a motion.
The reason that it is important to make a motion and take a vote is because everyone then knows exactly to what they are agreeing. Often in committees members are discussing an issue and the chairman states, “Then we are in agreement about having the Mayor speak.” But at the next meeting members may state, “We didn’t agree to that. I thought we agreed to have the Governor speak.” When a vote is taken and recorded in the minutes, then there can be no confusion what was done.
When the meeting is about to end, the chairmanshould sum up what was accomplished at the meeting and review any assignments given to members and when they are to have them accomplished. This should be recorded in the minutes so that the chairman can check on how the work is progressing, and so there is a permanent record of what the committee decided.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONSENSUS AND UNANIMOUS CONSENT
There is a different way of deciding issues than by Robert’s Rules that is becoming fashionable in the decision making process today. It is called “consensus.” Many people are using this word without understanding what it means, or that it is really different from the democratic process as found in most parliamentary authorities used in most organizations.
In this process, the purpose is to get everyone to agree. The thought behind consensus is that disagreements and majority rule are unhealthy, and they can even be destructive to organizations because they cause divisions in the organization. When an idea is presented for the group to consider, the purpose is to get everyone to go along with it. If a member objects, the committee chairman, or group leader, tries to find out what the objection is and how the proposal can be changed for that person to accept it. This is done until all are in accord, or there are just a few that still aren’t happy with the outcome.
Another technique that is used in consensus is that the chairman restates what he thinks a member is saying about the proposal. Some members appreciate the fact that someone is really listening to them because the chairman restates their points. However, this procedure lends itself to misquoting the member, or subtly changing the meaning or intent of what the member said to support the proposal being discussed. When this occurs, those who do not agree may feel manipulated, that their questions and objections are not taken seriously, or that they are being undermined by the chairman.
In consensus, just like in committee meetings conducted under Robert’s Rules, the committee chairman sums up the discussion at the end. However, unlike Robert’s Rules, in consensus, no vote is taken. The chairman does not ask for the “aye” and “no” votes. He states, “By consensus we all agree that we will do such and such.”
Under Robert’s Rules, since the majority rules, the minority always gets to be heard and their objections are taken seriously. The basic principle of majority rule is that the minority has a full hearing, but when the minority loses, it co-operates with carrying out what the majority has decided until it can get the action rescinded, if that is possible.
In consensus the entire purpose is to get a proposal accepted. There is no consideration that it could or should be rejected. In general parliamentary practice, which has come over from England, it is never assumed that a motion made will be accepted. It is the purpose of the maker of the motion, through discussion, to persuade the members that his motion is a good idea. In this process those opposed are not seen as divisive, but as having a right to bring forth another viewpoint that is just as valid as that of the person who makes the motion.
Robert’s Rules of Order provides a technique that may be confused with consensus because it is called “unanimous consent” or “general consent.” However, this is not like consensus at all because it is still taking a vote.
“Unanimous” or “general consent” is used to handle noncontroversial motions efficiently. It is also a procedure for committees to come to an agreement without the chairmen taking the “aye” or “no” vote, but by asking, “Is there any objection to doing...?” If no one objects, then the chairman states, “Hearing no objection, we will do...” It doesn’t mean that everyone is in favor of the proposal; they may not be. It may mean that the opposition doesn’t believe it is worth it to object and just decides to go along with it. This is not consensus because a vote was taken; it’s just another way of asking for the vote. In the minutes of a meeting, the secretary would record, “By general consent the members agreed to do …” When taking a vote by general consent, if one member objects, then the chairman puts it to a formal vote by asking for both the "aye" and "no" votes.
If an organization has adopted a parliamentary authority (such as Robert’s Rules, Demeter’s Rules, Sturgis’s Rules, or any other authority similar to these where a motion is made, discussed and vote taken), consensus should not be used because these parliamentary authorities do not provide for its use and it is in conflict with them. Organizations must understand that consensus is a very different way of conducting business. There are books that show the procedures for using consensus. If that is what an organization wants to do, then it should adopt a consensus book as its authority. If an organization uses both consensus and Robert’s Rules, depending on the situation, members become confused.
And finally, there really is no need to use consensus in a committee because committees under twelve members conduct their meetings according to informal rules: Members can bring up ideas without a motion being made first; they can talk and reason with each other about a topic without formally amending it. It is when the committee members can’t come to an agreement that a motion should be made and the members solve the disagreement by a majority vote.
PROCEDURES IN COMMITTEES
Committees operate under parliamentary procedures just as an assembly does. Members can make motions, discuss and vote. Because the committee’s purpose is to find all the pertinent information concerning the subject at hand, procedures are less formal than an assembly meeting.
· The chairman is allowed to take anactive roll in the discussion, make motions and vote.
· There is no limit to debate.
· Members can discuss an issue without a motion being made.
· The motion to reconsider can be taken up at any time regardless of when the motion was made and there is no limit to the number of times it can be reconsidered. Anyone who hasn’t voted with the losing side can make the motion to reconsider which includes someone who did not vote or was absent. The vote needed to adopt “reconsider” is a majority, if all who voted with the prevailing side have been notified before the meeting that the motion will be made. If no notice has been given, it takes a two-thirds vote to adopt.
· Other motions that are helpful in committee are amend and postpone to a later time.
· The committee should always work from an agenda.
Although these meetings are informal, the democratic process should always be upheld. That means that the chairman should be impartial and ensure that everyone, especially those who disagree with the majority, has a right to express his viewpoint and a vote is taken to resolve the issue.
WORKING TOGETHER FOR GOOD
My young grandson loves to watch a cartoon called “Wonder Pets.” The story line is three baby animals--a duckling, hamster, and turtle-- save other animals in trouble. The theme is with “team work” much more can be accomplished than what one person can do. “Team work” is essential in the harmonious functioning of the committee. Of course the individual is still important. Without individuals nothing would get accomplished. But the individuals must work together in harmony to accomplish the most good.
The chairman should make good use of talents of all the members and give both important and menial assignments to all. When a member agrees to serve on the committee, he has agreed to work for the entire time, not to just do his favorite work and then walk away. A friend told me of an experience where she was appointed chairman of a committee that brought in a yearly speaker for this organization. It was a major event and a lot of work for the committee members. Each member was needed to help with many things: choosing the speaker, setting up the advertising, renting a hall, arranging lodging, etc. One of the members of this committee only wanted to choose the speaker and do nothing else. Because it was a small committee, it put a burden on the rest of the members, but especially on the committee chairman. However, a month before the event another member of the organization volunteered to work. This proved to be a great help. This new committee member knew about the place the talk was to be given and the problems with that facility. His help was invaluable in making the event successful. As a committee chairman, it is helpful to remember that things can work out even if some members do less than expected.
REPORTING TO MEMBERS OR BOARDS
A committee does not work in isolation or under cover. It needs to keep others informed. The best way is by giving regular reports of its work to boards and the assembly. When writing a report, all committee members who agree must sign the report. Usually the chairman writes the report and the members have the right to edit it, and vote that this is the report that will be presented to the board or assembly. It is not correct for a chairman to the write the report and not let the other members know what is in it until it is given. Other members may not agree to what has been written. Only those reports that have been approved by a majority of the committee should be presented to the board or assembly. If a committee is going to present a motion with the report, it is stated at the end. The chairman states, “By direction of the Committee, I move that…” Because this motion comes from a committee of more than one, (and a majority of the members have agreed to present it) it does not need a second, and the presiding officer immediately states the motion and asks for discussion.
In the past it was customary for the chairman to end the report with “Respectfully submitted,” this is no longer necessary. The report should just end with “John Smith, Chairman.”
When giving the report to the assembly, the committee chairman should sit down at the end of the report and not ask “Are there any questions?” It is the presiding officer’s duty to ask, “Are there any questions?”
Sometimes there is a great disagreement within the committee about what should be presented as a motion or reported to the assembly. When this happens the minority can write its own report and request during the meeting that it will be allowed to report its views immediately after the Committee chairman gives the committee report. The assembly can refuse to hear the report. The president should ask if there is any objection to hearing the minority report. If there is none, the minority can give its report. If there is an objection, the president should put it to a vote, “All those in favor of hearing the minority report, say “aye”. Those opposed, say “no.” It takes a majority vote to hear the minority report.
The minority report can be for information or it can conclude with motions that: recommend the rejection of the committee’s proposal; recommend amendment of the committee’s proposal; or substitute another motion.
If the minority is not allowed to present its report at a meeting, any member of the minority of this committee can speak against whatever the committee proposes during the debate.
KEEPING PERMANENT RECORDS OF COMMITTEES
When a new chairman and committee members are appointed, the secretary requests that the previous chairman turn in all the committee’s work so that it can be given to the new committee chairman. This implies that each committee chairman keeps a record of what the committee has done over its term of office.
By taking minutes and keeping a detailed account of accomplishments, this helps the new members continue the important work of the committee and provides for continuity in the organization. No one wants to reinvent the wheel or redo work that was well done.
Committee minutes should be concise and only include important information. The motions that were made, the work carried out and by whom, and reasons why decisions were made. That way if the new members have questions, they can contact previous committee members to find answers.
If an organization has buildings and a committee that oversees this, that committee should have a maintenance schedule and the names and phone numbers of contractors that are called to do the work. If they have found a contractor who has not been satisfactory, that too should be included.
A fundraising committee should have the dates of the fundraising events, what the fundraising project was, the cost and what it took to execute it. The information should include a review of what was successful and what wasn’t, and why it was or wasn’t, and the man power needed to carry it out.
Committees should carefully think about the information they include in their minutes and permanent reports. The deciding factor should be what will be helpful for those that follow to understand the duties and work of the committee.
The secretary should keep a permanent record of committee reports. Those who want to go through these reports and clean out files should be very careful about what they decide to throw away. Some organizations have adopted rules concerning how long they keep documents, and if that is the case, this procedure should be followed. However, if an organization has a time limit on how long records are kept, it must be very careful it is not disposing of important information that may be needed later by the organization. One organization found itself in a property line dispute with a neighbor. Because accurate file has not been kept about this issue which had been a problem from the very beginning of the purchase of the property (a sixty year problem), the current members had a struggle finding information to substantial their case when it went to court.
When committee reports are given at the assembly meetings, the secretary should include a brief statement about the subject of the report in the minutes. That way, if a report is thrown away, disappears in the filing system, or there is a rule that they are discarded after a certain period of time, there will be a brief record in the minutes.
When a committee is to make substantial recommendations to the assembly, it is often wise to get other members of the organization to appear before it and present their views on the subject matter at a hearing. Since only members of the committee are allowed to attend meetings, a hearing gives other members the opportunity to attend and present their views.
This especially works well when an organization is revising its bylaws. It allows the committee to send out its ideas for changes and then ask members to come and give their responses. If this is done correctly the committee will discover where there is opposition to proposed changes. If there is much opposition, then hopefully the committee will make the members’ suggested changes and save time at the assembly’s meeting.
Another thing a hearing allows is for members to come and share their views in an informal session where there can be a free interchange of ideas. Often conflicts and misunderstandings can be worked out here instead of during an assembly meeting. If the committee can get the opposition to agree at this level, or get better information from members in a hearing, it saves time during assembly meetings and prevents misunderstandings and divisiveness that often occurs when a major change is proposed.