Robert's Rules on Dilatory and Improper Motions - dummies

Robert’s Rules on Dilatory and Improper Motions

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP, PRP

The purpose of Robert’s Rules (and parliamentary procedure in general) is to facilitate the transaction of business and to achieve the deliberate will of the majority after giving the minority a full hearing of its position, with full consideration of the rights of all the members whether present or not. However, some people learn about a few different types of motions and think they can use them to force their will on the group or to thwart the process that rules of order are designed to protect.

Everybody has run into Joe Noe, the malcontent who stirs up trouble and tries to interrupt discussion and debate with points of order, appeals, and motions to table. All these motions have their rightful place in the big picture, but if they’re used to hinder business instead of help it, they’re properly termed dilatory and can be ruled out of order by the chair.

Dilatory motions include motions that are

  • Misused with the purpose of obstructing business (such as a series of points of order and appeals, motions to table, or motions to adjourn offered every time a little discussion has passed by a few members who don’t like the way things are going)

  • Absurd in substance

  • Frivolous, especially amendments

  • Unwarranted (such as calling “division” when the result is clear)

Just as disruptive are the motions Robert describes as improper. Improper motions are those that

  • Are inconsistent with the organization’s charter, bylaws, or procedural laws

  • Conflict with an adopted motion that hasn’t been rescinded

  • Present essentially the same question that has been defeated earlier in the same meeting

  • Present a question that the membership still has within its reach (as it has when something has been postponed or referred to a committee, or is the object of a motion to reconsider)

  • Are outside the scope of the purpose of the organization (unless the motion is agreed to be considered by a two-thirds vote)

A meeting’s success depends upon the good faith of the members and leaders to give everybody their say, but not at the expense of letting a troublemaker take over.

In his book Parliamentary Law (1923), General Robert says, “The greatest lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give to the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and to recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out until they can secure its repeal.” That about says it all!