UPDATED: At 1:12 p.m. with reaction quote from Trustee John Alpay.
Was it appropriate for trustees of the to block debate on the 2012-13 school budget before the discussion even began?
Procedurally no, according to a noted parliamentarian. However, the underlying votes still stand, said Daniel Seabold, a professor at Hofstra University in New York who is also one of the current authors of the official Robert’s Rules of Order manual.
At a meeting Wednesday night, once when considering a new contract with the teachers’ union and again during consideration of the actual budget.
Both times, he made his motion just as Trustee Ellen Addonizio began to speak. The end result was little to no discussion on , and a $331-million budget that .
But in Robert’s Rules of Order, which is the guideline trustees use to run meetings, there is no such thing as a motion “to end debate,” Seabold said.
There is a motion that effectively serves the same purpose, Seabold said, but it needs a two-thirds vote to pass, which didn't happen Wednesday. The alternate motion is dubbed a “call for the previous question.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, both of Alpay’s debate-ending motions passed by a vote of 4-3 (with Trustees Addonizio, Sue Palazzo and Anna Bryson dissenting), which is not a two-thirds majority.
Although a call for the previous question may occur before any debate takes place, it is “more commonly moved after some debate has occurred,” Seabold said.
Despite the rules violation, the eventual votes on the contract and budget still stand, Seabold said.
“Procedural errors of the sort we are contemplating would not nullify the adoption of a motion,” he said. “In general, the way to correct procedural errors is raise a ‘point of order’ at the time they are made.”
Addonizio did so at the time, but President Gary Pritchard said Alpay’s motion, seconded by Trustee Jack Brick, was allowable.
“You’re out of order, Trustee Addonizio. Robert’s Rules of Order,” Pritchard said. When Addonizio challenged him (as Seabold suggested), he responded: “No, we’re absolutely not going out of procedure.”
When Alpay was asked for comment Thursday, he submitted this statement:
My motion to move the previous question was proper, procedurally correct and received the required second. I would agree with Mr. Seabold that per Robert Rules, my motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass. That said, my reading of Roberts Rules does allow for alternate practices to be exercised by a governing body. Such alternate practices, per Roberts Rules are also valid and binding on the board until such time a member makes a valid point of order regarding the application of the rule, at which point the governing body is required to revert to the written rules expressly set forth in Roberts Rules. Ellen failed to properly articulate anything to that effect in a point of order. If Ellen wishes to reopen debate on the underlying issue, provided she is in compliance with Robert's Rules, that is certainly her prerogative.
Attempts to reach Pritchard for comment weren't successful.