At the end of the last Town Council meeting, Council member Anita Cereceda made a comment about Robert’s Rules of Order, saying that – per Council’s Policies and Procedures manual (last updated on May 18, 2015) these are the rules that Council is bound to follow during their meetings. Just so our readers are clear, we decided to explain a little bit about exactly what these rules are and where they came from.
First – the Council Policies and Procedures Manual: Article 4.12 of the Town’s Charter states that council ‘will maintain a policies and procedures manual that provides guidelines for how it will operate’. According to the last version passed by Council, these are guidelines set up for the purpose of helping council members conduct their business. The manual includes the Council’s mission, job description, code of conduct, code of ethics, Sunshine Law issues, email policies, meeting preparation, attendance policy, order of agenda items, conduct of Council meetings, rules for public participation, communications with potential zoning applicants and more. The entire manual can be found on the Town’s website – www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov.
It is in the section entitled ‘Conduct of Council meetings’ that Robert’s Rules of Order are mentioned: “Robert’s Rules of Order shall be the reference for parliamentary procedure governing the conduct of Town Council meetings when not in conflict with the Town Charter, Town Ordinances or Florida Statutes.” Since they are not mentioned again, it can be assumed that the reader of this manual will already know and understand Robert’s Rules.
So what are Rules and where did they come from? As it turns out, they were in fact written by a man named Robert. “Robert’s Rules of Order” is the short title of a book – originally published in 1876 – written by U.S. Army Major Henry Martyn Robert – that is intended to be a guide for conducting meetings and for making decisions as a group. The book has been revised regularly through the years by Robert and his successors based on feedback from users. The current edition was revised in 2011, and includes guidelines for making motions, points of order, voting, discussion by the group’s members and more. For an overview, visit www.rulesonline.org.
According to Wikipedia, Major Robert wrote the original based loosely on the rules used in the United States House of Representatives, adapting them as proper parliamentary rules for ordinary organizations. It has since become the most common parliamentary authority in the United States, and the Town of Fort Myers Beach began using them as a guideline upon incorporation in 1995. All Council and Advisory Committee meetings follow Robert’s Rules.
Former Council member Jo List told us that she learned Roberts’ Rule of Order in a high school civics class.
“When I was elected to Council, our mayor at the time – Larry Kiker – understood them and told us that’s how Council had agreed to operate,” she said. “Shortly after I took office, I attended classes for newly elected officials sponsored by the Florida League of Cities and they were covered during those classes – as well as an entire day on the Sunshine Law.”
We checked with Town Hall, and Town Clerk Michelle Mayher told us that while incoming council members are not given any orientation on Roberts Rules, they might be covered at the Florida League of Cities’ Institute for Elected Municipal Officials (EMIO) mentioned by List. As far as the current Council, Vice-Mayor Summer Stockton and Council members Tracey Gore, Rexann Hosafros and Anita Cereceda have all attended EMIO classes. Town Hall was unsure whether or not Mayor Dennis Boback had ever participated in the training.
List said that – in her opinion after spending six years on Council – it is the person running the meeting who most needs to understand and follow Robert’s Rules.
“In any scenario with a group of people trying to accomplish something together, how that discussion and decision is made is greatly influenced by how the meeting is run,” she said. “Otherwise, it can become unmanageable.”
Keri Hendry Weeg