What follows are the City of Riverdale’s Official Rules of Order for conducting business meetings, whether open or closed to the public. These rules were adopted by the City Council of Riverdale on March 27, 2018 and remain in effect until rescinded or modified by the City Council.
A hard copy of these rules can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here.
Riverdale’s Rules of Order
The intent here is to establish a streamlined set of procedural rules rather than vaguely following the
rules set forth in Robert’s Rules of Order which go largely un-read and, as a result, unfollowed.
The goal of this document is to establish rules of procedure for public meetings that are simple enough
for most people to understand and follow. The rules are intended to accomplish the following:
1. Establish a framework for the orderly conduct of meetings;
2. Encourage a wider understanding of how City meetings are structured and, as a result,
encourage orderly participation in those meetings by both elected officials and the residents
3. Spell out often misunderstood procedural concepts in language that any citizen can
4. Provide a framework for thorough discussion and deliberation of issues so a clear decision can
be reached by the governing body.
Establishing a Quorum
A quorum is defined as the minimum number of members of the body who must be present at a meeting for business to be legally transacted. The default rule is that a quorum is one more than half the body.
For our purposes, quorums for the following meetings shall be:
a) City Council Meetings: 3 Members
b) Planning and Zoning Commission Meetings: 3 Members
c) Zoning Board of Adjustments Meetings: 3 Members
d) All other City boards, commissions and committees: 1 more than half the members
If the body has less than a quorum of members present, it cannot legally transact business.
Even if the body has a quorum to begin the meeting, the body can lose the quorum during the meeting when a member departs. When that occurs the body loses its ability to transact business until and unless a quorum is reestablished.
The Role of the Chair
It is the responsibility of the chair of the body who applies the Rules of Order (the Rules) to the conduct of the meeting. The chair should have read and understand the Rules in advance of the first meeting of the body which it will oversee.
The chair of the body makes the final ruling of the application of the Rules and all rulings are final unless overruled by the body itself.
Since the chair runs the conduct of the meeting, it is usual courtesy for the chair to play a less active role in the debate and discussion than the other members of the body. This does not mean the chair should not participate in the debate or discussion – in fact, as a member of the body, the chair has the full right to participate in the debate, discussion and decision-making of the body.
What the chair should do, however, is strive to be the last to speak at the discussion and debate stage. The chair should not make or second a motion unless the chair is convinced that no other member of the body will do so at that point of time.
In some circumstances, the chair is a fully-participating/voting member of the body. In Riverdale, however, the Mayor serves as the chair of City Council meetings but is not allowed to vote on motions that come before it.
Meeting Notices, Agendas and Formats
All meetings of city bodies are to be held in public unless special conditions exist that require or allow for a closed meeting (as per Iowa Code). Requirements for public posting vary from meeting type to meeting type, but the City’s staff personnel will be able to assist the chair of a body with posting and publishing an appropriate meeting notice within the mandatory timeframes dictated by State of Iowa law.
Postings of meeting notices are typically made on the City’s bulletin boards outside City Hall as well as other designated areas. Some meeting notices also need to appear in the newspaper.
It is a best practice, however, to also post the meeting notice on the City’s website and social media accounts. A special notice can also be delivered by mail or email, although those notices are not to be considered replacements for state-approved, public notices.
A meeting notice usually includes the agenda for the meeting. The agenda constitutes the body’s agreed-upon roadmap for the meeting. It’s often helpful – but not mandatory – for the agenda items to be numbered for easy reference by both the chair and members of the body during the meeting.
At the beginning of a City meeting – often following a welcome from the chair, a roll call of the members of the body and the Pledge of Allegiance – the chair is expected to ask members of the body if there are any items on the agenda that should be removed. Members can only remove agenda items they initially requested be put on the agenda.
The chair may also ask if any of the agenda items should be re-ordered in order to streamline the flow of information and discussion during the meeting. This may include moving items off a consent agenda and placing them elsewhere in the regular agenda for further discussion before those items are put to a vote.
When taking up an item on the regular (i.e. non-consent) agenda, it’s recommended the chair follow this format:
a.) Announce the agenda item number and state what the agenda item is;
b.) Invite the appropriate person(s) to report on the item, including any recommendations they may have;
c.) Ask members of the body if they have any technical questions for the person making the recommendation or if there are any other clarifications required to fully understand the item and recommendations;
d.) If the person making the report is asked to respond, the chair should allow a reasonable time for a focused response;
e.) Next, the chair should ask the attending public if there are any further questions or comments – if there are a lot of people asking for time to speak, the chair has the right to limit time for each speaker;
f.) Once the public has provided its input, the chair should announce that public input has concluded;
g.) Invite a motion to act on the report or recommendation (it’s best practice for the chair to announce the name of the member of the body who makes the motion);
h.) Ask for a second to the motion (and announce the name of the member who seconds the motion) – remember that seconding a motion doesn’t mean support for that motion, just that the body can vote on it;
i.) Prior to voting, the chair should make sure everyone in the body understands the motion (either by repeating the motion verbatim, asking the maker of the motion to repeat it verbatim or asking the clerk of the body to repeat it verbatim);
j.) Once a motion has been moved and seconded THEN the body can discuss and deliberate it;
k.) In all cases where a motion is brought forward and seconded for consideration and action, the name of the members moving and seconding the motion shall be entered into the record;
l.) When two or more members request recognition to speak on the motion, the chair shall have the right to choose which member is allowed to speak first;
m.) The chair is authorized to ask any member to cease or limit discussion or to call the question before the body for a vote when it appears further discussion will not be meaningful;
n.) If there is little to no discussion or deliberation, the chair can hold a vote on the motion;
o.) If there is substantial discussion or deliberation, the body is best served by having the motion repeated prior to taking a vote;
p.) The chair takes the vote – it is the chair’s discretion as to whether that vote should be a simple acclimation (e.g. “all in favor, say ‘aye’) or a roll call vote;
q.) If the vote by acclimation of the members is not clear, the chair is required to take a roll call vote;
r.) Members of the body can vote in any of the following ways: a. Abstain – A statement that the member will not vote due to actual or potential conflict of interest; an abstention is not a vote and cannot be counted as an affirmative vote on any matter at issue
b. Aye/Yes – A vote in the affirmative
c. Nay/No – A vote in opposition
d. Pass – A request by the member to withhold his/her vote on the motion until the remaining members of the body have voted
e. Present – A statement by the member that they will not vote on the motion before them, but wishes it known that they were present at the meeting; a vote present is considered a vote in opposition to the motion.
s.) Following the vote, the chair is expected to announce the result of the vote; what action (if any) the body has taken and, for the record, the names of the members of the body who voted in the minority of the motion.
In the case of adopting, repealing or amending an ordinance of the City, all affirmative and opposing votes shall be taken and entered into the public record.
Motions are the vehicle for decision-making by a body. It’s best to have a written motion (complete with background/backing information) supplied with a meeting agenda (in what’s commonly referred to as a “packet”). This helps the body focus its discussion and keeps the meeting moving along.
Motions are made in a simple, two-step process:
a.) The chair recognizes the member of the body who will make the motion (its “sponsor”);
b.) The member makes the motion by saying: “I move …”
In the interest of expedience, it is considered appropriate for the chair to “entertain” a motion – usually as it is in the packet received by members of the body in advance. The sponsoring member can merely state: “I so move …” and the motion has been made.
There are three basic motions. These are:
a.) The basic motion – one that puts forward a decision for the body to consider and accept, modify or reject;
b.) The motion to amend – a motion to change or modify the basic motion currently being considered;
c.) The substitute motion – a motion intended to completely do away with the basic motion currently under consideration.
Motions to amend and substitute motions are often confused but the effects (if passed) are quite different. If there is any confusion, it is the discretion of the chair to determine whether a motion is really a “motion to amend” or a “substitute motion.”
There can be up to three motions on the floor at the same time. The chair should reject any additional motions (i.e. a fourth motion) until the three currently under consideration have been resolved.
When there are two or three motions on the floor at the same time, the vote should proceed first on the last motion that is made. Depending on the outcome of that discussion, debate and vote, the chair then can move on to consider the second (middle) motion depending on the decision reached concerning the third (last) motion.
Following discussion, debate and the vote on the second (middle) motion, the chair then moves to consider the first motion – accounting for the effect of the decision reached on the second (middle) motion. This first (original) motion is considered in its altered form (depending on the decisions reached about the second and third motions) when the body begins its discussions, debates and deliberations.
During this final debate, additional motions may be moved and considered again, requiring the chair to go through the process again.
Discussions, Debates and Deliberations
The basic rule of motions is that they are subject to discussions and debate. There are some exceptions to the general rule of free and open debate on motions. The exceptions apply when there is a desire of the body to move on. The following motions are not debatable – meaning when the following motions are made and seconded, the chair must immediately call for a vote of the body without debate on the motion:
a.) Motion to Adjourn – Requires the body to immediately adjourn to its next regularly-scheduled meeting; Requires a simple majority vote.
b.) Motion to Recess – Requires the body to take an immediate recess; normally, the chair determines the length of the recess. Requires a simple majority vote.
c.) Motion to Fix the Time to Adjourn – Requires the body to adjourn the meeting at a specific time set in the motion. It requires a simple majority vote.
d.) Motion to Table – Requires the discussion of the agenda item to be halted and for that item to be placed “on hold.” A motion to table can specify a date for the motion to be put back on the agenda or it can be non-specific. If an item is tabled with a non-specific motion, a motion to take the item off the table” and bring it back for consideration has to be taken at a future meeting. A motion to table requires a simple majority vote.
e.) Motion to Limit Debate – Ends debate on an agenda item and requires the body to vote on the issue before them. This motion cannot be debated. When such a motion is made, it requires a second and then a vote of 2/3 of the body to pass (instead of a simple majority vote). If the motion succeeds, the chair must proceed to a vote on the issue before the body.
f.) Motion to Object to Consideration – Similar to a Motion to Limit Debate, this motion, if passed by 2/3 of the body, precludes the body from even considering the item being objected to on the agenda. Also like the Motion to Limit Debate, this motion cannot be debated.
The “Motion to Reconsider” is a special and unique motion that requires more explanation than most. After discussion, debate, deliberation and a vote on an issue, the matter is considered closed. The only way to re-open an issue is with a Motion to Reconsider.
A Motion to Reconsider requires a majority vote to pass (like most other motion), but it must be made at the meeting where the item was first voted upon. A Motion to Reconsider made at a later time is deemed to be “untimely” not allowed unless the body agrees to suspend its rules by a 2/3 majority.
A Motion to Reconsider may be made only by certain members of the body: a member who voted in the majority on the original motion. If such a member has a change of heart, he or she may make a Motion to Reconsider and any member of the body may second that motion.
If a member who voted in the minority seeks to make a Motion to Reconsider, the chair must rule the motion out of order and it can’t be considered.
If a Motion to Reconsider passes, then the original matter is back before the body and a new original motion is in order. The matter may be discussed and debated as if it were on the floor for the first time. If a Motion to Reconsider fails, the original matter is finally decided and a subsequent Motion to Reconsider cannot be brought forward.
If a simple majority vote is needed to pass a motion, then the votes in the affirmative must number at least one more than 50 percent of the body in order to pass. Abstentions (or blank ballots when casting votes in writing), while not counted as an opposing vote, cannot be counted as a vote for the affirmative. Votes of “present” are counted as opposing votes.
In the event of a tie vote, the motion always fails.
Courtesy and Decorum
These rules of order are intended to create an atmosphere where the members of the body and the members of the public can attend to the business of the City in a manner that is both efficient and fair. That being said, it is incumbent on all parties (both public servants, City staff and contractors and the general public) to behave in a way that is courteous and well-mannered.
Only one person at a time is allowed to have the floor. It is the chair’s responsibility to recognize the speaker – and if that speaker is not a member of the City Council, the Mayor or a recognizable member of the City’s staff, the speaker is expected to give his/her name, title (if any) and brief explanation as to his/her interest in the matter under consideration.
While a person has the floor, others attending the meeting are expected to remain respectful and quiet so everyone can hear. It is the chair’s responsibility to make sure the person speaking is loud, clear and understood. To that end, the chair may, from time to time, ask the speaker to clarify or explain their statements or to repeat statements for the record or for others to hear more clearly.
It is also the chair’s responsibility to make sure debate and discussion of an agenda item remains focused on the issues at hand and the City’s policies or proposed actions and not the personalities of the presenter, organizations or individuals represented by the speaker or members of the convened body. Debate on policy is healthy, debate on personalities is not. Disagreement on issues should be expected. Insults, threats, innuendo or other implied personal attacks can’t be tolerated.
It is the chair’s right to cut off discussions that get too personal, too crude, too loud or wander off the matter at-hand. In the interest of time, the chair may also limit the time allotted to any speaker, including members of the body.
There are five circumstances where members of the body may interrupt a speaker or another member while he/she is speaking. In most cases, these interruptions can occur after a speaker has finished and before the next speaker starts. In some cases, it may be necessary to interrupt the speaker during a presentation – but that should be rare. If possible, members of a body are expected to be deferential to guests addressing their body as well as their fellow members.
The following reasons are generally considered acceptable interruptions:
a.) Point of Privilege – Relates to anything that would interfere with the normal comfort of the meeting (e.g. maybe the member is having a hard time hearing the speaker or can’t see the material being presented).
b.) Point of Order – Relates to anything that would not be considered appropriate conduct at a meeting (e.g. someone taking action out of order or violating the Rules in some way);
c.) Appeal – Relates to a member disagreeing with a ruling made by the chair. The chair’s ruling can be reversed if an appeal is upheld by a simple majority vote of the members of the body.
d.) Call for Orders of the Day – Relates to a member requesting the body get back onto the published/approved agenda. This call does not require a vote but can be addressed by the chair reminding the body to get back on track and proceed in good order. If the chair fails to do so, the chair’s decision can be appealed (see C., above).
e.) Withdraw a Motion – During debate or discussion, the maker of a motion may, at any time, interrupt a speaker to withdraw his or her motion from the floor. The chair has the option of asking the member who seconded the motion if they wish to re-make the motion.
General Conduct When Chairing a Meeting
It’s recommended the chair remember that members of the public who are attending the meeting of a City body may not know or fully understand the City’s Rules or how the City’s public meetings are structured and run.
To help make meetings run smoother and inform/educate visitors on how the body will operate, it’s helpful to provide copies of the Rules and the meeting agenda for their use. During the meeting, it’s advised the chair keep the following rules of thumb in mind at each major agenda item:
a.) Tell the public what the body will be doing;
b.) Occasionally inform/update the public as to what is happening while the body is doing it;
c.) When the body has acted on an agenda item, tell the public what the body did.
Remember, it is the chair’s job to make sure the body operates efficiently and for the public to feel welcomed, fully informed and capable of participating/engaging with the body if they are so inclined.