Parliamentary Procedure: Amending a Main Motion

September 24, 2014 | By:

Most community associations use Robert’s Rules of Order (“RRO”) to govern both board and owner meetings.  RRO is an effective tool which allows the chairperson to keep control of the meeting and at the same time ensure that members of the assembly are afforded the right to make motions, speak, and meaningfully participate in the meeting.

While the basics of RRO are simple (Motion, Second, Debate, Vote), there are nuances and technicalities which only the most devoted parliamentarians care to consider.  I’m going to share an interesting example I recently came across in a book by law professor Leo Katz.

First, let me set the stage.  Under RRO, business must be brought before the assembly in the form of a motion (“I motion that we have our financial records reviewed”).  Once that motion receives a second, the assembly begins debating the merits of the motion.  However, during the debate, the motion may be amended.  A member of the assembly could say: “I move that we amend the pending motion to have our financial records audited.”  The same procedure is used on the motion to amend (Motion, Second, Debate, Vote).

Assuming the motion to amend passes, the assembly resumes debate on the main motion, which has now been amended to “audit” instead of “review”.  Keep in mind, when the motion to amend passed, that merely means that the main motion has been amended—the assembly did NOT vote to actually have an audit performed.

Now, this leads me to the interesting example from Professor Katz.  A law school was having problems with professors turning in final grades late.  This presumably upset the law students and the faculty needed to address the issue.

On the agenda at the next faculty meeting was a proposal to fine professors $100 if they turned in late grades.  One professor (Professor K) thought the idea was ridiculous, but had learned that at least 2/3 of the faculty supported the proposal.

At the faculty meeting Professor K made a motion to amend the proposal to a $1000 fine.  The motion to amend passed with ease.  Once the debate of the now-amended motion ended, it was time for the faculty to vote.  The motion failed! Why?

Professor K knew that 1/3 of the faculty (Group A) completely supported the idea of fines, and the higher the fine, the better.  Another 1/3 of the faculty (Group B) supported the fines, but only if the fine wasn’t too punitive.  The final 1/3 of the faculty (Group C) opposed the fine proposal, but believed that if there was going to be a fine, it should be punitive.

Thus, Professor K was able to get enough votes (from Group A and C) to amend the main motion, yet when it came time to vote on the proposal he knew it would fail (Group B and C voted against it).  Brilliant, isn’t it?

While this is an unusual example of exploiting “kill amendments”, it illustrates the point that knowing a little bit about parliamentary procedure can go a long way in your advocacy of issues which are important to you as a board member or owner in a community association.