You Have a Problem With That? Let’s Move On: Challenge a Ruling of the Chair

This is not exactly, or even approximately, a Record Off the Record, as the meeting hasn’t taken place yet: tonight’s SD61 Board meeting.  My motion regarding “Appeal From a Ruling of the Chair”, or “Challenge the Chair” was defeated on December 3 (post to come) at the combined Education Policy / Operations Planning and Policy meeting of the Board of SD61 Greater Victoria. The motion involves changing a small part of a School District Bylaw, as explained below. Those who work with Robert’s Rules – city councils, school boards, other elected bodies – will be familiar with the normal “challenge” process. SD61’s appears to be … unusual. Fast, though. And none of that  time-consuming debate.

Robert's Rules

Per Bylaw 9010, Bylaws of the Board

That Bylaw 9368 “Procedure” , Article 107.00  be amended to read:

Any Trustee may challenge the ruling of the Chair, according to Robert’s Rules of Order. The Trustee making the challenge (with a seconder) will be asked by the Chair to state the challenge; debate will occur according to Robert’s Rules; a vote to sustain the chair [or not] will follow debate.


Bylaw 9368, Article 107. 00 (linked above) does not allow a Trustee who challenges a ruling of the chair to state the challenge. This leaves other Trustees and the public with no information about the challenge (what the disagreement regarding the ruling of the Chair is based on). It also allows for frivolous challenges, as no explanation of the challenge is required – or even allowed.

One reason   for a ruling heard in regard to a previous challenge was  “I think the School Act says that”. In another case, an incorrect ruling  was made  regarding another Trustee moving a motion for an absent Trustee. It’s fine to do that but it was not allowed. Nor was any objection  allowed,  according to the current Bylaw.  This mistaken ruling  resulted in a five month delay of a motion. No debate or discussion was allowed; a vote was taken and the incorrect ruling upheld by a majority of trustees. The end.

The immediate call for a vote to sustain the chair – or not – is based on no information, which creates an apparent devolution of the vote from a substantive debate to a seeming popularity contest or a vote based on assumption by Trustees as they have no idea what the challenge is, or its merits.

  • Trustees were told at the last Standing Committee meeting on December 3 – at which this motion failed – that at BC School Trustees Association meetings the Chair may refer questions of parliamentary procedure to the parliamentarian who sits at the table. This is good practice.
  • A “parliamentarian” is a member of the BC Association of Parliamentarians, admitted after passing a rigorous assessment, not a person whom a Board chair designates as “a parliamentarian”.
  • That status cannot be granted by a board chair. If the Board chair wishes to ask the Secretary-Treasurer, as trustees were told is the current practice in  SD61, to clarify a question of parliamentary process, that is the chair’s prerogative. The Secretary-Treasurer of SD61 is, as far as I know,  a Chartered Accountant. The skill set of a CA – extensive and achieved though long and intense study – has zero overlap with parliamentary process.
  • The BC Association of Parliamentarians lists 5 individuals with “parliamentarian” status, none of whom is based on Vancouver Island.
  • It appears that one individual is rated with the highest professional status: Professional Registered Parliamentarian.
  • Four others (including the individual who often works with the BCSTA, and another  individual who was called upon by some of the SD61 Board to supply a paper on why recording votes of trustees was  a really bad idea, used in the debate on that motion earlier this year) appear to be  rated with a slightly lower (non-professional) status.
  • Finding parliamentarians appears to be somewhat difficult, apart from the one individual who has mastered web presence optimization.  If I’ve missed any, my apologies.

As well, under current practice, the public and media have no idea what is going on in a challenge.

Robert’s Rules 11th Edition addresses this issue: the small group rules section – groups under 12 members (this Board is one, with 9 trustees) discusses  appeals, and says they are debatable under the regular rules (see page 256, Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 11th Edition).

George Demeter (d 1983),  law professor at Boston University and Suffolk University, and globally considered an authority on parliamentary process, states in Demeter’s Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure that appeals (challenges to the Chair’s ruling) are debatable, because the reason for the appeal is of importance to the assembly. If the reasons given for the appeal are convincing, the Chair may change the ruling.

Individuals attending meetings of publicly elected bodies expect a challenger to be allowed to speak and and be to able to explain a challenge with reference to Robert’s Rules and the body’s Bylaws and Policies, and the chair to defend his or her decision using the same referents.

The current process as set out in Bylaw 9368 is less than transparent and serves to block understanding of Board process. Supporting this motion would make a small change to the Bylaw and a major change to transparency and the democratic process of the Board.

RR in Brief

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