Wednesday, March 25, 2009
One of the primary principles of parliamentary law is regard for the rights of the minority... The means of protecting these rights in appropriate measure forms much of the substance of parliamentary law... Ultimately, it is the majority taking part in the assembly who decide the general will, but only following upon the opportunity for a deliberative process of full and free discussion. Only two thirds or more of those present and voting may deny a minority or any member the right of such discussion. (See Robert's Rules of Order 10th Edition XLVII)
That's what Robert's Rules of Order lays out as parliamentary law. But at the March 24, 2009, MCCPTA (Montgomery County Council of PTAs) meeting parliamentary law took a vacation. Delegates were silenced by invoking a motion to Limit Debate that was passed at a November meeting. The minority was not afforded an opportunity to speak.
Robert's Rules of Order would not permit a Limit Debate motion to be passed at one meeting and apply to all future meetings unless it has been voted on as a Special Rule of Order (See page 17 of RRO). A motion to Limit Debate is a subsidiary motion. In order to be passed as a Special Rule of Order the Limit Debate motion would have had to have been passed by either (a) previous notice and a two-thirds vote or (b) a vote of a majority of the entire membership. There is no evidence in the MCCPTA minutes of either of these things happening.
The motion that was used to silence debate at the March 24th meeting was not in keeping with Robert's Rules of Order. Robert's Rules of Order sets the time limit on debate at 10 minutes PER PERSON. One of the basic principles of Robert's Rules of Order is that all members are afforded an opportunity to speak once before any member can speak a second time. (RRO Page 375-377) The Chair is not to call on a member for a second time until all other members have had an opportunity to speak.
As written, the 10 minute time limit guarantees that one person can take up the entire debate on any issue, to the exclusion of all others, if it is applied to the total time for debate. In the alternative, the 10 minute time limit simply restates what is already in Robert's Rules of Order as the per person time limit. On March 24th the time limit was applied to the entire time for debate, and was used to end debate before all those that wished to speak could be heard.
To the MCCPTA members that attended the March 24th meeting, here's hoping that at a future meeting you get to see parliamentary law, as stated in Robert's Rules of Order, in action.