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Going Through the Motions

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Lisa J. Hamameh
Foster Swift Municipal Law News
April 24, 2018

Whether to postpone, table or reconsider, there is a protocol to making motions at your Township Board Meetings. Here are a few tips to help guide you.

As a township official, public meetings are where your municipal role is watched closely by your constituents, particularly in today’s day and age where meetings are regularly recorded live.

This is why knowing the law, your charter and the principles of parliamentary procedure are essential. This article addresses Robert’s Rules of Order because it is the most commonly adopted local rule of procedure. According to Robert’s Rules, there are five classes of motions: main, subsidiary, privileged, incidental motions, and motions to reopen a previously completed matter. What follows is a brief summary of the most commonly used motions.

Main motions
In a main motion, one member presents a motion after being recognized by the presiding officer of the meeting. That motion is then seconded by another member, after which the presider repeats the motion and opens the floor for deliberation. The assembly then votes.

Subsidiary motions
Subsidiary motions are raised in order to affect the main motion and its consideration. The three most common yet confusing subsidiary motions are:

  • Motion to table: This motion is used to temporarily delay the discussion on the main motion until the board decides to bring the motion back for consideration. A motion to table must be seconded, is not debatable or amendable, and requires a majority vote. If a motion to bring up the tabled motion is not made at the next regular meeting of the board, then the motion dies.
  • Motion to postpone: This motion is used to delay consideration on the main motion until later in the current meeting or in a future meeting. It must be seconded, is debatable, and requires a majority vote.
    • There are two subsets to this motion: 1) a motion to postpone indefinitely, which would kill the motion without taking a vote on it; and 2) a motion to postpone to a date certain which would allow action on a pending motion to be put off to a specific date or until a certain event takes place.
  • Motion to amend: This motion is intended to change or modify a main motion before a vote is taken. Once an amendment has been made, seconded, and restated by the presider of the meeting, it is open for discussion and voted upon. If it is adopted, then discussion returns to the main motion, as amended.

    Privileged motions
    Privileged motions are unrelated to the main motion and can be made and considered immediately. The most common privileged motions include:
  • Motion to adjourn: A call to end the meeting.
  • Motion to recess: A call for a short intermission.
  • Call for orders of the day: A call to require that the adopted agenda or order of business be followed.

Incidental motions
Incidental motions are considered housekeeping motions in that they are related to the main motion but would not modify it directly. What follows are examples of incidental motions:

  • Request to withdraw motion: A board member can request to withdraw his or her motion from consideration prior to voting, even after the motion has been restated by the presider of the meeting.
  • Request for division of motion: This is used to separate one motion into a set of motions.

Motions that can reopen a previously completed matter
A board member can introduce a motion that would permit the board to change its mind on a vote, such as:

  • Motion to reconsider: This motion is useful when 1) a member believes the board or council might have made a decision without proper debate; or 2) if new information is presented. This motion must be made by a member who voted on the prevailing side (i.e. a member who voted yes on a motion that passed or a member who voted no on a motion that failed), and must be made at the same meeting during which the original vote was taken.
    • A vote is first taken on whether to reconsider. If the motion to reconsider passes by a majority vote, then the main motion may be reconsidered, debated and voted on.
  • Motion to rescind: This motion can be made by any member, regardless of how he/she voted on the original matter.
    • If proper notice of the intent to present such a motion is provided to the members before the meeting, only a majority vote is required; otherwise, the vote required to rescind is two-thirds of those present and voting or a majority of the entire board or council (not just those present).

If you have further questions regarding the motions of parliamentary procedures, contact Lisa Hamameh at 248.539.9906 or at lhamameh@fosterswift.com.