Robert’s Rules of Order

PARKERSBURG – How public meetings should be conducted was the focus of an informational meeting Thursday evening.

A representative from the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office held a review of Robert’s Rules of Order, the set of rules that govern how public meetings should be conducted.

The meeting, held in city council chambers at the Parkersburg Municipal Building, was attended by city officials from Parkersburg, Vienna and North Hills, Wood County Commission, Parkersburg Utility Board, Parkersburg Board of Zoning Appeals, Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority and the general public.

John Sorrenti of the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office discussed parliamentary procedure, rules of order, order of business, procedures for large and small boards, what to include in the minutes of a meeting, making and approving motions, the abilities of a chairman to maintain order, points of order, recessing, point of privilege and amendments.

Henry Martyn Robert, who developed Robert’s Rules of Order, was a military engineer in the U.S. Army from Ohio. Without any warning, he was asked to preside over a public meeting at a church. He realized he had no way of doing that. He studied parliamentary law and became an expert and wrote the rules in 1876.

Sorrenti has experience as a city councilman for four years in Weirton, a county commissioner for 18 years in Hancock County and has served on other boards.

”I have managed meetings where there have been irate citizens and meetings where there have been irate councilmen,” he said.

Organizations need rules to be able to effectively conduct their business and accomplish their purposes, Sorrenti said.

”Parliamentary procedure is a set of rules for the conduct of meetings that allows everyone to be heard and to make decisions without confusion,” Sorrenti said. ”That is the whole reason for having a set of rules.

”Rules and procedures should assist a meeting, not inhibit a meeting.”

All members of a body have equal rights, privileges and obligations, with a chairman to ensure everyone attending a meeting is treated equally, Sorrenti said. Everyone has the right to be understood.

Sorrenti discussed how organizations can move meetings along more quickly when there is rarely objections to items like the approval of minutes. He discussed the need to put special speakers toward the beginning of a meeting rather than conduct business and then get to the speaker.

He talked about tabling action where they have to appear on the agenda of the next meeting under unfinished business and postponing motions indefinitely so they won’t appear again on upcoming agendas.

Sorrenti discussed how negative motions can create confusion where people think they are voting against something but technically are voting in favor of it without realizing. A board member may not want to do something but can still make a motion for something and then vote against it, he said.

”Always keep the motions in the positive,” he said.

Sorrenti said only two amendments should be presented to any action. Any more and it would require to withdraw the motion and make a new one with clearer language to clarify what was being said, he added.

”Two amendments is as far as it goes,” he said. ”You don’t go any further than that.”