Parliamentary Procedures

Timi Tullis, AASB

In her presentation on Robert’s Rules survival tips, Timi Tullis covered a few basics of parliamentary procedure, as well as some mistakes commonly made when using it. Parliamentary Procedure is designed to facilitate business, she said, not complicate it.

Parliamentary rules were originally designed for governing the English Parliament, and were informally used in early American societies. In 1876, Henry M. Robert compiled the basic rules in a “pocket manual” that became known as Robert’s Rules.

The Role of the Chair

The board chair is responsible for facilitating the meeting and ensuring a fair and equitable process that is efficient and thorough. The chair can be thought of as the “conductor of the orchestra,” or the “classroom teacher,” leading the group thru the meeting. 

The chair’s responsibilities include:

  • Being the servant of the group, not the boss. They are simultaneously the most/least important person in the room.
  • Facilitate the meeting agenda
  • Recognize speakers and who has the floor. (should keep a checklist of who has spoken). No one gets to speak a second time on a topic until everyone has spoken at least once.
  • Facilitate debate and actions on motions
  • Maintain order and decorum
  • Rule on points of order (if discussion veers off topic)

For small boards (defined as 12 or fewer, which includes all Alaska school boards) Robert’s Rules allows the chair to make motions, debate, and vote (check your board policy to confirm).

Steps for Handling a Motion 

Ms. Tullis quizzed attendees on how to make a motion, who seconds the motion, and what actions can be taken. The proper steps for handling a motion she said, are:

  • A member makes the motion
  • Another seconds it
  • The chair restates the motion
  • The board debates it
  • A vote is taken

Possible actions on a main motion include amend, refer to committee, table, take from table, postpone, reconsider, and rescind. Amendments can be offered, but “amendments to the amendments” can get very complicated. When it appears that the board is in agreement, call the question use unanimous consent to dispense with the formal vote, ie “If there is no objection, so ordered.” If someone objects, they can simply say “I object.”

Common Procedural Mistakes

  • “So moved” is an incorrect motion. The motion needs to be restated by the maker to avoid confusion.
  • “Call for the Question” does not automatically end debate. A 2/3 vote and unanimous consent is required.
  • There is no such thing as making a “Friendly Amendment.” (All are equally friendly). Instead, use “If there is no objection…”
  • “Withdrawing a Motion.” Once consideration has begun, the motion belongs to the group, not the maker, however the maker may ask permission to withdraw the motion.
  • Table or Postpone? Table is for temporary delay for the same meeting. If the tabled item is not brought back before the close of the following meeting, technically it dies. Postpone is for delaying an item to a future meeting.
  • Reconsider or Rescind? Reconsider within 24 hours. Rescind anytime if no action has taken place.

Attendees were provided an opportunity to discuss specific procedural situations they have encountered during board meetings. It is important to remember that Robert’s Rules is a tool, not a weapon, Ms. Tullis said. In our polarized society, it is more important than ever to be civil, courteous, help each other, seek common ground, and work as a group.


To become more familiar with parliamentary procedure, Tullis suggested taking Ann Macfarlane’s Robert’s Rules class and subscribe to her blog to receive short posts on various parliamentary topics. Another good resource, she said, is the Introduction to Parliamentary Procedure: Dynamics of Leadership class from the University of Wisconsin.

Timi Tullis Slides | Robert’s Rules Cheat Sheet