Council Decides Rosenberg’s Now Rules

| City Council | January 24, 2019

Nowhere in the city council’s norms and procedures does it show a system of parliamentary procedure to be used. The city got away with that for 31 years before the acrimonious mayoral selection in December.

Now, the city council decided to adopt some rules. But how to select a mayor remains unresolved.

The council decided 3-2 to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules of Order in its entirety when considering any motion that has been seconded, with one exception: that the first seconded motion is decided first before moving on to any subsequent seconded motions. Rosenberg’s Rules allow for the last of a maximum three motions to be voted on first, then moving backward through the motions.

Councilmember Bob Kellar made the motion, seconded by Laurene Weste, and Mayor Pro-Tem Cameron Smyth joined them in approving. But before voting, Bill Miranda attempted to amend Kellar’s motion to remove the exception. When Kellar declined, Miranda made his own motion to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules as is, with Mayor Marsha McLean seconding.

That motion failed. Kellar’s then passed.


In December, McLean nominated herself for mayor after Kellar nominated Smyth. McLean’s nomination was voted on first, and she became mayor after Laurene Weste, who had previously seconded Kellar’s nomination of Smyth, voted for McLean. Smyth was annoyed that Kellar’s motion wasn’t voted on first (among other grievances) and requested discussion.

“I do believe it makes sense for the city to have a parliamentary procedure in place for any debate,” Smyth said Monday.
But the question of mayoral selection was tabled, and it’s not known if what the council adopted will cover future mayoral selections.

“We have not talked about nomination and selection of mayor yet,” City Attorney Joe Montes told the members at the Jan. 8 meeting. “We’re just talking about motions. You don’t have a rule separate for nominations and elections. You didn’t before. You still don’t, and we’re hoping we will get some direction.”

Rosenberg’s Rules of Order was created by Yolo County Superior Court Judge Dave Rosenberg and adopted by the League of California Cities, among others, as a way to simplify the 816-page Robert’s Rules of Order for the 21st century. It’s only seven pages long.

“Virtually no one I know has actually read this book (Robert’s Rules) cover to cover,” Rosenberg wrote in his introduction. “Worse yet, the book was written for another time and another purpose.”

Robert’s Rules was first published in 1876 by Army officer Henry Robert and has been revised several times, most recently in 2011.

“If one is chairing or running a parliament, then Robert’s Rules of Order is a dandy and quite useful handbook for procedure in that complex setting,” Rosenberg wrote. “On the other hand, if one is running a meeting of say, a five-member body with a few members of the public in attendance, a simplified version of the rules of parliamentary procedure is in order.”

Highlights include the following:

• Rosenberg’s Rules says nothing about a consent calendar; every agenda item should be clearly numbered, and the chair is required to follow a 10-step process for each agenda item, which includes discussion, public comments, staff presentations, motions, seconds, votes and announcing the outcomes.

• Rosenberg’s also does not specifically mention how an agenda item is placed, and how many votes it needs to be placed on an agenda. However, if a motion is made to place an item on a future agenda, it requires a majority, or three votes.

• When a motion passes to adjourn, recess, or fix the time to adjourn, that must happen immediately.

• “Calling the question,” is really a motion to limit debate. If someone does that, the chair can ask if there is any more discussion. If not, the vote happens; if so, the chair should stop debate and ask for a motion to limit debate, perhaps to a time limit. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass, which according to Rosenberg’s requires four of five members to approve.

• The council can prevent an agenda item from being heard by passing a motion to object to the consideration of a question. It requires a two-thirds vote.

• Rosenberg’s allows for a “motion to reconsider,” in which only a councilmember who voted in the majority can ask to revisit the item, but only during the same meeting the item was first discussed and passed. Any member can second such a motion, and it requires a majority vote. If it passes, debate and discussion begin anew as if the issue had not been previously discussed.

• There are ways to interrupt the speaker. A member could say, “point of privilege” or “point of order.” The chair then asks the interrupter to “state your point.” Appropriate points of privilege relate to anything that would interfere with the normal comfort of the meeting, such as room temperature. Appropriate points of order relate to anything that would not be considered appropriate meeting conduct, such as voting on a motion without allowing debate.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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