SUSAN: Okay so excited to be here today with Mr. Parliamentarian. Jim, how are you doing?
JIM: Good, Susan how are things going with you?
SUSAN: I’m doing great because were going to be answering a question I hear a lot. It is Who is Robert and why are we following his rules anyway? So, Jim I think you’re the perfect man to answer this question, let’s talk about, well, who is Robert anyway?
JIM: Henry Martin Robert was an officer in the army corps of engineers, he retired as a general as most of them do. He wrote this in the late 1800s because he was elected president of an organization and had trouble conducting a meeting and he looked at the existing material that was out there, it wasn’t sufficient. And he wrote his own set of rules, and wouldn’t you know it, the engineer is the one who wrote the rules, and that was in the late 1800s, so this has now been in use for almost 130 years.
SUSAN: Wow. And I think its on its 11th edition, correct?
JIM: The 11th edition came out roughly this time last year.
SUSAN: That’s great, so now we know who’s Roberts, and I think the bigger question is well, why are we using, if I’m in an organization, how did his rules, Robert’s Rules of Order come to be something I have to know about?
JIM: Well, there are a number of authorities that tell you how you have to operate. Obviously the constitution is over everybody but that doesn’t apply to groups directly, however there are IRS rules about how your non-profit status is, there’s a to-do list and a don’t do list under that. You have the corporations code of whatever state you’re incorporated in, which will usually set minimums and default positions for things that have to be in your bylaws or things you have to do. Then you have maybe a charter from a parent organization, then you have your own bylaws, which are the structure of your organization and your governance. Think of the bylaws as the frame in the outside walls of your house, and that gives you those kind of limits and the basic structure. All of the other rules and policies you create are what you do inside but the bylaw are the structure, then you have your parliamentary authority which is how you conduct the meeting and how you conduct the business portion of this.
SUSAN: So, really inside my bylaws that’s where it dictate that were going to use Roberts Rules of Order?
JIM: Should be in your bylaws, and it should say were going to use the current edition of Roberts Rules of Order newly revised.
SUSAN: And you know what’s interesting, is that I have a lot of people seeking information from me and have questions, legal questions. And they’ll treat Roberts as if it’s a legal entity. What do you say about that?
JIM: It has the same force and effect as the bylaws because when you say were going to use Roberts as our authority, you are what they’re calling incorporating it by reference. So it has the same effect as your bylaws. The bylaws are a quazi-legal document. Our quazi-legal document that is force able by court if somebody sues over something you did or didn’t do according to the bylaws. But they aren’t a legal document in that there are laws that somebody’s going to come out and you know put you in jail if you violate.
SUSAN: That’s right. Now I think that’s an important distinction because some people really don’t get that they think that Robert’s Rules of Order is the law. I mean and really what Robert’s is, is the guideline, the parliamentary authority of how were actually going to conduct business. That’s what been integrated into our bylaws, saying “Okay, were going to use this”, right?
JIM: And so many times the questions I get asked are, “how to we do such and such” and my answers are usually “Well, this is according to Robert’s, but your bylaws might say something different.”
SUSAN: That’s right, your bylaws over. Very important to know that.
JIM: Yeah if you really want a good answer, I’m going to have to read your bylaws too.
SUSAN: That’s right, because they work together. Robert’s isn’t a stand-alone book, it’s a book that’s supported by the organizations bylaws and constitution. Or maybe we’ll go the other way and say that Robert’s supports the organizations bylaws and Constitution.
JIM: Now, Mr. Parliamentarian. Thank you for your time and your energy as you’ve kind of shed some light on this very important question: “Who’s Robert and why do we follow his rules anyway?”, so thanks for your time Jim.