Four Debate Abusers – The Parliamentary Peacock

Four Debate Abusers

Poor debate protocol leads to poor attendance at meetings, failed meetings, difficulty in recruiting new officers, members losing confidence in the officers, and early loss of quorum at meetings. Members learn to hate meetings and even blame parliamentary procedure. These consequences are critical reasons to obligate addressing poor debate protocol. A little training of the chair on how to minimize the detrimental impact of the following four debate abusers can shorten a meeting significantly and double its productivity:

The Parliamentary Peacock

This member constantly seeks an opportunity to claim to be citing obscure sections of Robert's Rules of Order, or the association bylaws, or federal statutes. They often wave their personal copy of Robert's, brandishing it as if it were the irrefutable proof of their boundless knowledge.

Solution: The chair must ask the Parliamentary Peacock for the exact page in question. If the Peacock cannot produce the page number, the presiding officer must insist on the information and resort to statements such as the following:

"The Speaker will please find the page number and get back to us, meanwhile the assembly will continue with the business at hand"

"Our professional parliamentarian will please comment on the rule as cited by the speaker"

Remember that the purpose of using Robert's Rules of Order is to provide a fair process and ensure the orderly and swift conduct of business (even when it seems otherwise). There is a stark difference in a member raising a point of order intended to protect the rights of the members, or intended to ensure the meeting is not bogged down, and a point of order that is made to gum up the works. This is why our chairs must be knowledgeable in both the words on the pages of their bylaws/rules/parliamentary authority and the intent behind those rules.

Understanding the reasons for the rules helps chairs determine the orderliness of a particular parliamentary objection. In addition, many members, and many Parliamentary Peacocks have only passing knowledge of the true rules and their intent. Many operate off of knowledge of how things "have always been done" or they note particular motions that have been used successfully in the past and parrot those when circumstances arise that they wish to attain the same effect.

By asking for the exact page number, you place the burden of proof upon the Parliamentary Peacock and lift if from both your parliamentarian and the body. Remember, if you rule against a point of order and the maker appeals the decision of the chair, both yourself and the maker of the point of order must make a case and the body may choose to debate as well. Before subjecting the body to a debate on incomplete information (in this case the rule itself), it is wise for all parties to know what they are debating. This can often prevent embarrassment for both yourself as chair and the member making the point of order if the rule is clear.

What if the point of order is in the middle of debate on a particular motion that cannot proceed before it is addressed?

This is the EXACT circumstance to properly use the Motion to Table. A Motion to Table (as will be discussed in a future article) is meant only to be used to temporarily set aside a motion in progress with the intent to resume at the same session. You can table the motion and move on to the next piece of business while the member and your parliamentarian (if you have one) are looking up the relevant references. Once they are finished, as soon as the floor is open, you can have the tabled motion brought back to life and continue where you left off.

If there is no more business left to consider, a short recess can be called to give the same time necessary to research the point in question.

Stay tuned for future parts where we confront The Spiraling Statesperson, The Pompous Historian, and The Monopolizing Loudmouth.

About the Author

Micah Rowland

Micah Rowland is the former Chair of the Washington State Democratic Chairs Organization, Chair of the 21st Legislative District Democrats, and Vice Chair of the Snohomish County Democrats. He is a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians where he has attended training events at both the 2016 NTC and the 2017 Leadership Conference & Biennial Convention.