We Are Not Properly Following Robert's Rules Of OrderCommentary • Opinion • ISSUE 35•47 • Dec 22, 1999 By Kenneth Pitts Kenneth Pitts There is a plague of indolence across our land. Time is being wasted, bad decisions are being made. This would not be such a crime if the tools to prevent it were not available in any bookstore worth its salt. I speak, of course, of Robert's Rules Of Order, the definitive handbook of parliamentary procedure, which has guided deliberative bodies worldwide since 1876. Permit me to cite an example: Last week at work, the principal officers of the Arby's fast-food establishment at which I work called an all-staff meeting to discuss various matters of administration and policy. On numerous occasions, attendees of this meeting would speak out of turn, neglecting to stand and announce "point of order." Just as we we're set to discuss a change in punch-out policy, one attendee—not even the presiding officer of the meeting, I must note—stated out loud, "Could we crack open a window? It's getting real hot in here." Not making a motion that ordinary business be suspended so that window openage may be discussed and debated, mind you. He was simply calling for an open window! "Are we barbarians who chew raw meat with our mouths open?" I wondered to myself. And to make matters worse, the chair neglected to correct the offender by citing the proper point of order. He merely leaned over and opened the window! Is it any wonder that people abuse the system when we as a society reward them like that? I can think of dozens of other cases in which Robert's Rules have been flagrantly disregarded by these same co-workers. At the very same meeting, while a Fixin's Bar issue was under discussion, that rabble-rousing ne'er-do-well Donnie Mosebach took exception to a proposal I had made. I had barely finished calling for honey mustard to be added to the usual array of condiments at the Fixin's Bar when he bellowed out of turn, "Could we pick up the pace here a little? I gotta be at my other job at 5." He flagrantly ignored my motion as if he'd never even heard of the concept of the steps preliminary to debate, for God's sake! I wanted to interrupt him right then and there and say, "Hey, jerko, when no business is pending, a member shall rise and address the chair by his title, and be recognized by the chair as having obtained the floor; and that the member shall then make a motion which, after being seconded, shall be stated by the chair, who shall then ask, 'Are you ready for the question?,'" These rules are here for a reason, people! One time, I actually took my manager aside to try and impress upon him that time was being lost by our lack of adherence to proper protocol. Predictably, though, he responded, "Well, Ken, we're just a small fast-food operation, the third least-busy Arby's in the state. There's never more than four employees on a given shift, and our monthly staff meetings are rarely longer than 20 minutes." Right he was, and given the time we waste, is there any wonder we are so small? He seemed to think that the way to increase our restaurant's patronage is to let any employee vent off about trivialities with impunity! Not that other U.S. businesses have such a keen grasp of the rules, either. Just today at Safeway, the fresh-faced young boy working at the register asked whether I wished paper or plastic bags for my grocery purchases. Knowing little about the positive and negative ramifications of each, I moved—acting well within my rights—to postpone the decision until more information could be gathered. The youth became tart with me and demanded an immediate decision—a tacit admission that he has not been studying Robert's Rules as hard as a youngster should! I wanted to pull out my pocket-sized 1915 edition right then and there, turn to Article V, place it in front of his nose and make him read Entry 31 aloud: "To postpone to a certain time or definitely takes precedence of the motions to commit, to amend and to postpone indefinitely, and yields to all privileged and incidental motions, and to the motions to lay on the table, for the previous question, and to limit or to extend the limits of debate." Now, I don't want to get a lot of mail reminding me that IV-23 allows for objection to the consideration of a question. You're preaching to the choir. But this mullet-headed youth, who obviously could not have quoted the entry, could therefore not have known that he would have to object formally and obtain a second followed by a two-thirds vote to defeat my postponement! I have said it throughout my life, and I say it now: Robert's Rules Of Order are the tissue between us and anarchy. Ignore them at your peril!