When there is no law,
but every man does what is right in his own eyes,
there is the least of real liberty.
–Henry M. Robert
In 1863, a man named Henry Robert, an engineering Captain in the United States Army, was asked to preside over a large church gathering. Captain Robert did not know how to preside over meetings, but trusting that the congregation would behave itself, he plunged right in. Moreover, with that plunge came the quick determination that he would NEVER preside over another meeting until he knew more about parliamentary procedure. Hence, the creation of Robert’s Rules of Order.
Before delving into specifics of Robert’s Rules or discussing their applicability to associations, it is important first to understand what the term “parliamentary procedure” means. This term essentially means rules of order that facilitate full participation of the membership and allow groups to maintain democratic rule, flexibility, and protect rights of both the minority and majority.
There are several key principles when it comes to parliamentary procedures, which include the following:
- Interests of the organization come before individual interests
- All members are equal
- Quorum must be present
- One thing at a time
- Full debate allowed
- Focus on the issue, not the person
- Majority Rules
Expounding on the above principles, Captain Robert published Robert’s Rules of Order in 1876, containing roughly 700 pages of formalized parliamentary procedures modeled after the U.S. House of Representatives procedures in use at that time.
The processes set forth in Robert’s Rules are intended to be used in large assemblies and are far too formal to be utilized in small meetings. In fact, strict use of Robert’s Rules in small meetings (such as board and membership meetings) may actually hinder the conduct of business. Robert’s Rules recognizes this and specifically provides that in board meetings some of the formality necessary in a large assembly may be relaxed.
If you are looking for examples of the types of processes in Robert’s Rules that may be counter-productive to the conduct of meetings in an association setting, read below:
- Point of order allowed any time attendee wish to challenge how meeting is being run;
- Attendees may “appeal” decisions of the chair and move decisions from the chair to the attendees;
- Objection to consideration of the question is allowed to “enable the assembly to avoid a particular original main motion”.
The above are only a small sampling of the types of processes you will find in the 700-page book entitled Robert’s Rules of Order.
It is important to realize that Robert’s Rules are not based on statutes, nor are they based on any laws or court decisions. In fact, Robert’s Rules are not legally required to be used by any entity and are not legally binding unless formally adopted by an entity.
Use of Robert’s Rules in Associations
In the case of HOAs, associations are not legally obligated to follow or adopt Robert’s Rules unless so required by their governing documents (which is extremely rare). So, if associations are not bound by or required to follow Robert’s Rules, what should they do?
As required by the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, associations are required to adopt a conduct of meetings policy. This is the document to be utilized by associations to set forth and formalize their individual procedures and processes for meetings. Such policy should set forth rules of conduct that are more relaxed and less formal than what is contained in Robert’s Rules, but still address situations that may come up in the context of an HOA meeting.
For example, it is appropriate to have a rule in your policy dictating that only one person speaks at a time and only when recognized by the chair. It is also appropriate to require attendees to be civil to one another and refrain from using profanity or personal insults. These are all examples of Robert’s Rules that have been extremely relaxed for the use in an HOA meeting.
Although Robert’s Rules are a great tool for large assemblies, they present more of a hindrance in smaller venues such association meetings. For this reason, associations should create their own rules of conduct that may follow general concepts set forth in Robert’s Rules, but in an extremely simplified manner.