Robert’s Rules of Order, the standard book of parliamentary procedure across the United States, has in its origins a connection to South Carolina. Its creator, Henry Martyn Robert, was born in 1837 in Robertville, an unincorporated community in Jasper County.
By profession, Robert was a military engineer, serving the United States Army before, during and after the Civil War, eventually rising to the rank of brigadier general. The incident that led to Robert’s Rules occurred during the Civil War, at a time when he was 25 years old and chairing a church meeting — and he lost control of the meeting.
Embarrassed and determined to improve his abilities, Robert sought existing manuals of parliamentary procedure. Concluding that they were of no use, he crafted his own, and published the original Pocket Manual for Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies in 1876. Its popularity spread quickly, and he continued to revise it for most of his life.
The undeniable value of Robert’s Rules for making city and town council meetings productive and professional have put it on the curriculum of the Municipal Association’s Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute, presented at the most recent session by Field Services Manager Jeff Shacker.
That training covers the underlying principles of the rules — discuss only one pertinent thing at a time, only one person speaks at a time — as well as best practices in agenda management and the process of making, debating and adopting a motion. The training also discusses common pitfalls in running a meeting — the chair dominating the body; forgetting to manage the pace of the meeting, also known as letting the meeting drag on unbearably; councilmembers trying to discuss multiple issues at the time or a chair allowing discussion to unfold without a pending motion.
There are also local rules of procedure designed to address processes specific to city and town council meetings, as required by local or state law, as well as issues unique to the municipality’s form of government. To deal with specific applications such as motions, debate, votes or appeals, councils often adopt by reference Robert’s Rules of Order to supplement local rules. The order of application should always be state law, then local rules followed by Robert’s Rules.
Learn more about the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute at www.masc.sc. (keyword: MCTI).