Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Letter to the Editor

Professional Parliamentarian, C. Alan Jennings, Weighs in on The County 5's Bloodless Coup

Commissioner Williams opined that Board members don't have to vote. He said that Robert's Rules (of Order) considers a non vote as a ‘yes’ vote.

Dear Mr. Liker,

Mr. Jennings' website, The Parliamentarian Online, can be found here. He is the author of, Robert's Rules for Dummies.

Your article indicates that you have more knowledge of Robert’s Rules than members of the County 5. And, you’ve paid attention to the charter. That may make you the only person involved that has a clue as to how the rules actually apply to this assembly. 

I’m a professional parliamentarian, and I read stories about local public governing body antics almost every day. This one inspired me to write with hopes that the County 5 will consider getting some education in parliamentary procedure, and maybe even adopting Robert as their parliamentary authority for situations not specifically addressed in their charter or any special rules of order they might work under. 

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed., 2011) (RONR) considers an abstention (a non-vote) as just that. It is not a yes, and it is not a no.

What Robert says about such is that abstentions have “the effect” of a vote, depending on the bases for determining a voting result.

From page 403 of RONR:

“Voting requirements based on the number of members present—a majority of those present, two thirds of those present, etc.—while possible, are generally undesirable. Since an abstention in such cases has the same effect as a negative vote, these bases deny members the right to maintain a neutral position by abstaining. For the same reason, members present who fail to vote through indifference rather than through deliberate neutrality may affect the result negatively.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, though not expressed in Robert's, a voting requirement based on the number of votes cast (e.g., the number of members present and voting) (the default under Robert, but not for the county commission), an abstention has the effect of a vote for the prevailing side.

Perhaps this logic has crept into the mind and heart of Chairman Williams from the operation of the logic in other organizations to which he might belong, but commission business is not decided by the majority of the members present and voting. It is decided by the majority of the members present.

The County 5 might be doing themselves and the community they serve [a service] by arranging for their education in parliamentary procedure generally.

They could do so easily by contacting a professional parliamentarian (Florida has many, many professional parliamentarians) and arranging for a workshop or two to learn how Robert's would be useful in resolving conflicts among the members on their procedures. They can get a referral from the National Association of Parliamentarians by contacting them at (888) 627-2929 or online at www.parliamentarians.org


C. Alan Jennings
Professional Registered Parliamentarian
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

P.S. The rule preventing members from abstaining is one seldom seen, because even under such a rule, the member usually cannot be compelled to vote. Under such a rule, however, when a member then abstains, he violates the charter and a point of order can be raised. But under Robert, that point of order must be raised timely. We parliamentarians say that in cases where a point of order is not timely raised over the conduct of a vote, the breach does not continue, and essentially the assembly has suspended the rule by unanimous consent. But that is not why I wrote. I just wanted to comment on that.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.