Parliamentary procedure provides the process for proposing,
amending, approving and defeating legislative motions. Although
following parliamentary procedure is not required, it can make
council meetings more efficient and reduces the chances of
council actions being declared illegal or challenged for
A city may adopt, by ordinance or resolution, its own set of
rules governing the conduct of council meetings, or it may adopt
by reference formalized rules such as Robert's Rules of
Order. Many Washington cities have adopted Robert's Rules,
supplementing those rules with additional rules on issues such as
voting abstentions and motions for reconsideration.
- Who May
Raise a Point of Order? Ann G. Macfarlane, Professional
Registered Parliamentarian, Jurassic Parliament, MRSC
Council/Commission Advisor, 10/2008
- Should Our
Council Adopt Robert's Rules of Order? Ann G. Macfarlane,
Professional Registered Parliamentarian, Jurassic Parliament,
MRSC Council/Commission Advisor, April 2011
Discussion: When Should You Interrupt a Speaker? Ann G.
Macfarlane, Professional Registered Parliamentarian, Jurassic
Parliament, MRSC Council/Commission Advisor, April
- How Much
Should a Mayor Talk at Meetings? Ann G. Macfarlane,
Professional Registered Parliamentarian, Jurassic Parliament,
MRSC Council/Commission Advisor, February 2008
History and Essentials of Parliamentary Procedure, Daniel
W. Fitzpatrick, ICMA Credentialed Manager, Englewood City (NJ),
New Jersey Municipalities, Vol. 86, No. 9, December 2009
Parliament - This is Ann McFarlane's Web site. Ann is a
Professional Registered Parliamentarian and one of MRSC's
Council/Commission Advisors. Check out their blog and free
- The Official
Robert's Rules of Order Web Site - This site includes a
short history of Robert's Rules, how an organization can adopt
it, the basics of parliamentary procedure, a question and
answer forum, and an "Ask the Authors" feature.
Association of Parliamentarians (NAP) - NAPs primary
objectives are teaching, promoting, and disseminating the
philosophy and principles underlying the rules of deliberative
Institute of Parliamentarians (AIP) - The mission of the
American Institute of Parliamentarians is to foster, promote
and teach the highest standards of parliamentary procedure, in
keeping with the principles of parliamentary law and the
adopted parliamentary authority.
The following summarizes important points from Robert's Rules
of Order. Other parliamentary rules or your own council rules of
procedure may contain different provisions.
- Only one subject may be before a group at one time. Each
item to be considered is proposed as a motion which usually
requires a "second" before being put to a vote. Once a motion
is made and seconded, the chair places the question before the
council by restating the motion.
- "Negative" motions are generally not permitted. To dispose
of a business item, the motion should be phrased as a positive
action to take, and then, if the group desires not to take this
action, the motion should be voted down. The exception to this
rule is when a governing body is asked to take action on a
request and wishes to create a record as to why the denial is
- Only one person may speak at any given time. When a motion
is on the floor, an order of speaking is prescribed by Robert's
Rules, allowing the mover of a motion to speak first, so that
the group understands the basic premise of the motion. The
mover is also the last to speak, so that the group has an
opportunity to consider rebuttals to any arguments opposing the
- All members have equal rights. Each speaker must be
recognized by the moderator prior to speaking. Each speaker
should make clear his or her intent by stating, "I wish to
speak for/against the motion" prior to stating
- Each item presented for consideration is entitled to a full
and free debate. Each person speaks once, until everyone else
has had an opportunity to speak.
- The rights of the minority must be protected, but the will
of the majority must prevail. Persons who don't share the point
of view of the majority have a right to have their ideas
presented for consideration, but ultimately the majority will
determine what the council will or will not do. Use
parliamentary procedure as a tool, not a bludgeon.
Business is brought before the council by motions, a formal
procedure for taking actions. To make a motion, a councilmember
must first be recognized by the mayor. After the councilmember
has made a motion (and after the motion is seconded if required),
the chair must then restate it or rule it out of order, then call
for discussion. Most motions require a
second, although there are a few exceptions.
Exact wording of motions and amendments is important for clarity
and recording in the minutes. If it's a complex motion, the
motion should be written down for the chair to read.
Robert's Rules of Order provides for four general types of
motions: main motions, subsidiary motions, incidental motions,
and renewal motions.
The most important are main motions, which bring before the
council, for its action, any particular subject. Main motions
cannot be made when any other motions are before the group.
Subsidiary motions are motions which direct or change how a
main motion is handled. These motions include:
Tabling. Used to postpone discussion until
the group decides by majority vote to resume discussion. By
adopting the motion to "lay on the table", a majority has the
power to halt consideration of the question immediately without
debate. Requires a second, non-debatable, not amendable.
Previous question or close debate. Used to
bring the body to an immediate vote. It closes debate and stops
further amendment. Contrary to some misconceptions, the
majority decides when enough discussion has occurred, not the
moderator. The formal motion is to "call for the question" or
"call for the previous question," or simply, "I move to close
debate." The motion requires a second, is not debatable and
requires a two-thirds majority.
Limit/extend debate. May be desired if the
group has adopted a rule limiting the amount of time that will
be spent on a topic, or if the group desires to impose a time
Postpone to a definite time. Similar to
tabling, except that the motion directs that the matter will be
taken up again at some specific date and time.
Refer to committee. Directs that some other
body will study the matter and report back.
Amendment. Used to "fine tune" a motion to
make it more acceptable to the group. The amendment must be
related to the main motion's intent and cannot be phrased in a
way that would defeat the main motion. Two amendments may be on
the floor at one time: the first amendment modifies the main
motion, and the second amendment must relate to the first
amendment. When an amendment is on the floor, only the
amendment may be debated. The amendments are voted on in the
reverse order in which they were made, as each amendment
changes to some degree the intent of the main motion. As each
amendment is voted on, an additional primary or secondary
amendment may be introduced. Requires a second, debatable,
Postpone indefinitely. This motion effectively
kills a motion, because, if adopted, a two-thirds vote is
subsequently required to take the matter up again.
Incidental motions are housekeeping motions which
are in order at any time, taking precedence over main motions and
subsidiary motions. These motions include:
Point of order. To bring to the
group's attention that the rules are being violated. You don't
need not to be recognized prior to making a point of order.
This is not really a motion, but requires the moderator to make
a ruling as to whether or not immediate consideration is
Appeal from the decision of the chair. The
group can overrule the chair on any decision. While the motion
must be seconded, it cannot be amended. When this motion is
moved and seconded, the moderator immediately states the
question, "Shall the decision of the chair stand as the
judgment of the council?" If there is a tie vote, the chair's
decision is upheld. The motion is not debatable when it applies
to a matter of improper use of authority or when it is made
while there is a pending motion to close debate. However, the
motion can be debated at other times. Each person may speak
once, and the moderator may also state the basis for the
Parliamentary inquiry. Not a motion, but a
question as to whether an action would be in order.
Point of information. A person may rise to
offer information that is considered necessary for the group.
This provision is not used to offer debate.
Division of assembly. To require a more
precise method of counting votes than by a voice vote, such as
having persons raise hands, or stand. No second, not debatable,
no vote required.
Request to withdraw a motion. Contrary to
popular misconception, a motion cannot be withdrawn by its
mover. This request requires majority approval.
Suspension of the rules. When matters are to
be taken out of order, or a particular task can be better
handled without formal rules in place, this motion can be
approved by a two-thirds vote of the group. However, until the
rules are restored, only discussion can occur; no decisions can
be made. Second required, not debatable, not amendable.
Object to consideration of a question. When a
motion is so outrageous, intended to distract the group from
resolving legitimate business. The motion can be objected to
and ruled out of order without debate. However, if the chair
does not rule the motion out of order, a two-thirds vote of the
group can block further consideration.
Once the group has taken action, renewal motions
require the group to further discuss or dispose of a motion. The
Reconsider. When the group needs
to discuss further a motion that has already been defeated at
the same meeting. A majority of the council must approve taking
additional time to debate the motion again. The motion can be
made only by a person who voted on the prevailing side earlier
on the question. Contrary to another popular misconception, the
motion may be brought up again at a subsequent meeting. If the
moderator believes that there is no indication that the group's
wishes have changed, however, the motion can be ruled out of
order, subject to an appeal from the decision of the chair.
Take from the table. Unless the original
motion to table directed that the motion be brought back at a
specific date and time, a majority of the group must pass a
motion to take from the table. Such a motion is
Rescind. When the group wishes to annul some
action, a motion to rescind is in order at any time. If prior
notice has been given to the group that this action will be
considered, the motion to rescind can pass with a simple
majority vote; however, if no prior notice has been given, the
vote requires a two-thirds majority.
Finally, there are a few questions of privilege that
are in order at any time and must be disposed of prior to
resuming discussion on the matter at hand:
Fix the time for next meeting.
This is in order at any time, including when a motion to
adjourn is pending. Second required, not debatable,
Adjourn. To bring the meeting to
a halt. Second required, not debatable, not amendable.
Alternatively, instead of a motion, the chair can ask if there
is any further business. If no response, the chair can say,
"since there is no further business, the meeting is
Recess. A temporary break in the meeting;
should state a time at which the meeting will resume. Second
required, not debatable, not amendable.
Point of privilege. A matter that concerns the
welfare of the group. Can be raised even when another person is
speaking. No second, not debatable, no vote required. Call for
the orders of the day. A demand that the group return to the
agenda. Can be taken when another person is speaking, no second
required, not debatable, no vote required.