Reconsider This – Oxnard Council!

 

By Alicia Percell

Anyone who has watched many Oxnard City Council meetings knows their need for parliamentary procedure rarely gets beyond the very simple basics.  Over the most recent 2-year cycle, 94% of their votes were unanimous.  But once in a while, there is less agreement and things get a little more complicated.

That happened on agenda item L.5 at the January 5, 2021 council meeting.  They broke out a motion to reconsider, and out came the Robert’s Rules manual.

What in the world is a motion to reconsider?

All of the citations in this article are to Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 12th edition.  The book is indexed with section, paragraph, and sometimes sub-paragraph identifications such that 2:5 would refer to section 2, paragraph 5.

The motion to reconsider is discussed in great detail starting at RONR 37:1.  It is a motion with many nuances like time limits, different rules for using it in committees, etc.  The scenario which occurred at the above-referenced council meeting was the simplest scenario, so let’s just focus on that for now.

Let’s first think about why there would be such a thing as a motion to reconsider.

One of the goals of parliamentary procedure is efficient meetings.  In order to protect a group from naughty members delaying or obstructing by making the exact same motion over and over again after it has already been voted on, RONR 10:26(3) establishes that:

No main motion is in order that presents substantially the same question as a motion that was finally disposed of earlier in the same session by being rejected … A main motion that was thus disposed of can, however, be renewed – that is the same question can be introduced again as if new – at any later session;

Think of a “session” as a meeting (or series of meetings) with a single agenda (see RONR 8:2(2)).  The passage above says that once you have already voted on a motion that was not adopted, nobody can just make that same motion again and hope it will pass this time.  This prohibition lasts for the duration of that agenda.  Oxnard’s council typically completes its agenda during a single evening.

Once the council meets again with a new agenda, the prohibition period has expired, and that very same motion could be made again (renewed) even though it was voted down when that topic was on the prior agenda.  At that point, it does not even require (nor is it allowed) to move to reconsider the vote taken under the previous meeting’s agenda.  The topic can be revisited without that extra step of reconsideration.

For the sake of efficient meetings, that prohibition makes sense in most cases.  But what if shortly after the vote has taken place, while you’re still in a meeting using the same agenda, some new information becomes available, or the situation changes in a way that might warrant a new vote on that same motion?

Parliamentary procedure seeks to foster certainty at a fixed point in time as to the decision that was made.  It does not allow members to willy-nilly change their votes after the vote has been completed so that the outcome could be perpetually changing.  RONR 4:42 establishes that:

…a member has the right to change his vote up to the time the result is announced.  After that, he can make the change only by unanimous permission of the assembly.

Sometimes the circumstances change, and members are generally not able to change their votes after the fact, but we don’t want the council to be hamstrung from being able to make a decision to effect the will of the majority in a timely manner.

That’s one reason why the motion to reconsider exists.  It creates an exception that in certain circumstances, even if the group is still working from the same agenda as they were when the prior vote happened, a member can ask the rest of the members for majority agreement to go back and vote again on the same question by saying, “I move to reconsider [motion X].”

Remember that RONR is trying to prevent the sore-loser-time-wasting situation, so a motion to reconsider can only be moved by a member who voted on the “prevailing side” of the motion when the previous vote was taken (see RONR 37:8(a)).  The prevailing side is whichever side got their way – the yes votes or the no votes?  If motion X was adopted, only a member who voted yes can move to reconsider.  If motion X failed before, only a member who voted no can move to reconsider (see RONR 37:10(a)).

When a person moves to reconsider motion X, it requires a majority vote to agree to do that.  The members can (usually) debate whether or not they wish to go back and reconsider motion X, and then there must be a vote on whether or not to reconsider motion X.

The other members are not obligated to agree to reconsider motion X.  Maybe they think the circumstances are not substantially different now.  Or maybe they think it’s an indecisive person attempting to use reconsideration to flip-flop.  They can vote no on the motion to reconsider.

If a majority vote yes to reconsider motion X, the original vote on motion X is thereby canceled (see RONR 37:12), and the council takes up motion X again as it was worded right before the previous vote.  There can be further debate on motion X, or even additional amendments to motion X, and finally a re-vote on motion X (with any newly-approved amendments).

Sound confusing?  Let’s look at a script of how it might work.

MAYOR:  With a vote of 4 in favor and 3 opposed, the yes votes have it, and the motion to authorize purchase of a Gizmo model Q printer from ABC Office Supply is adopted.  Yes, Member A?

MEMBER A:  I just voted in favor of the motion to purchase the printer, but I just realized that we misunderstood the price.  We voted for the purchase with the understanding that the price was $350, but my printed material says the price is instead $3500.  Because of this new information, I move to reconsider the motion to authorize purchase of a Gizmo model Q printer from ABC Office Supply.

MEMBER B:  Second.

MAYOR:  It is moved and seconded to reconsider the motion to authorize purchase of a Gizmo model Q printer from ABC Office Supply.  Is there debate on the motion to reconsider? [crickets chirp]  Hearing no debate, we’ll proceed to a vote.  A yes vote is in favor of reconsidering the motion to authorize the purchase of the printer.  A no vote would allow the previous vote result to stand.  [votes are cast] With a vote total of 5 in favor and 2 opposed, the yes votes have it, and the motion to reconsider is adopted.  At this time we will again take up the motion to authorize purchase of a Gizmo model Q printer from ABC Office Supply.  Is there further debate on the question of purchasing the printer?

[additional debate ensues]

MAYOR:  Seeing no further debate, the pending question is on the motion to authorize purchase of a Gizmo model Q printer from ABC Office Supply.  Those in favor vote yes.  Those opposed vote no.  [votes are cast]  With a vote total of 2 in favor and 5 opposed, the no votes have it, the motion is not adopted, and we have not authorized purchase of the printer.

Once you see how it works, piece of cake!

The more meeting participants learn about parliamentary procedure, the more likely it is that the result will reflect the will of the majority because the members will have a more complete understanding of what options are available to assert their influence in the group.

Alicia Percell is a professional registered parliamentarian


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Steve
Steve
1 month ago

The detailed and complicated description of the process demonstrates that this is a classic “form over substance” exercise and detracts from the very issues that the City Council is working to address.

Measure M does not make for good government. Instead, inserting the very complicated Robert’s Rules of Order into City Council meeting hurts the very people that Measure M claims it intends to help — the residents of Oxnard.

Douglas D Partello
Douglas D Partello
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

We are already seeing improvement in the citizens having access to information, and being able to digest what the City is to bring to Council Meetings, with the posting of the presentation on Homeless Encampment. This was given, as Measure M stipulates, one week before the actual meeting, 1/19/2020. Robert’s Rules of Order are used by business, government, and non-profits worldwide, and there is good reason. No one is throwing out substance, as you suggest, only that the rules be followed. This provides for better, more efficient governance. You have no substantive argument against Measure M, only a political agenda that reject whatever Aaron Starr does. I suggest that our City leaders consult Ms. Percell, and others that are experts in this area, and learn the rules of the road. Proper procedure DOES result in better government. There have to be guidelines, and guardrails in place, especially concerning our City leaders.

Steve
Steve
1 month ago

Doug:

You are simply wrong.

Two years before Measure M became effective, the City Council approved the Sunshine Ordinance, which requires that the City Council agenda, staff report and supporting documents (such as PowerPoint presentations) be available 12 days in advance of regular meetings and 7 days in advance of Council Committee meetings. Measure M did not impose these requirements.

Even if Measure M had not been adopted, you would have had the ability to review the staff report and PowerPoint presentation for City Council items and Council Committee items well in advance of the meetings. Because of the Sunshine Ordinance — not Measure M — the public has had ample time to review agenda reports and presentations for two years.

As for substantive arguments against Measure M, Robert’s Rules of Order is designed for large legislative bodies (such as state legislatures) and not for small legislative bodies such as City Councils and Boards of Supervisors. Robert’s Rules of Order is
rarely used by California cities and counties because it is overly complicated and focuses on procedures instead of the substance of the issues. This does not make for good government.

Alicia Percell
Alicia Percell
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

Steve, what is the evidence for your assertion that Robert’s Rules is allegedly designed for large legislative bodies? The introduction section at the front of Robert’s Rules gives a history of how and why it came to be. It very clearly explains that it was written for what Henry Robert thought of as “ordinary societies” — the types of small local groups in which he’d had rough meeting experiences in the past with no agreed upon standard rules, in express contrast to Congress as a large legislative body (see p. xli, among others). It is the most frequently used parliamentary manual in the United States.

Steve
Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Alicia Percell

It may be the most frequently used parliamentary manual in the United States, but not for California cities or California counties. Robert’s Rules of Order is rarely used by California cities and counties because it is overly complicated and bureaucratic, and detracts from the substance of what is being considered.

Rosenberg’s Rules of Order is much widely used by California cities because it provides a straightforward approach to running meetings. I encourage the readers of Citizens Journal to review Rosenberg’s Rules of Order at: https://www.cacities.org/Resources/Open-Government/RosenbergText_2011.aspx,