They said WHAT?

Follow parliamentary procedure to deal with an inappropriate comment.

Many questions about Parliamentary Procedure are directed to Michigan State University Extension on a regular basis. Those individuals who help answer those questions often subscribe to resources to help keep their skills intact. One such resource is Jurassic Parliament. Recently in the newsletter, Ann Macfarlane highlighted a question I receive often, “What do we do when someone says something inappropriate?”

Ann points out, “The chair of the meeting has the duty of enforcing the rules and should speak up and stop a council member who makes one of these remarks. If the chair neglects to do this, any council member can raise a Point of Order. When that happens, the chair makes a ruling as to whether the remark can be allowed in discussion” (Jurassic Parliament Newsletter December 2015 Vol. X, No. 12).

The advice I typically provide for that question is to close down the discussion by saying something like “that comment is not pertaining to the subject at this time” or something similar. RONR (11th ed.), p. 392 II 5-10 explain that “in a debate a member’s remarks must be germane to the question before the assembly- that is, his statements must have bearing on whether the immediately pending motion should be adopted.”

Examples of inappropriate comments found in Jurrasic Parliament’s supplemental materials can include:

  1. Personal remarks – remarks that pertain to an individual’s appearance, background, ethnicity or other personal aspects, rather than their views on issues.
  2. Insults, obscenity, vulgarity and personal attacks.
  3. Inflammatory language – remarks that incite high emotions rather than addressing the issues.
  4. Criticizing past actions of the group, with two exceptions:
    1. If the group itself is discussing a past action, it is fine to criticize it.
    2. If the council member intends to propose to “amend” (change) or to “rescind” (cancel out) the action at the end of his speech, they may criticize it during their speech.
  5. Remarks that are not germane or relevant to the discussion.

These blog posts provide specifics for both local government and nonprofit boards with free downloadable PDFs:

Michigan State University Extension Educators can provide your organization with assistance in learning more about parliamentary procedure. The Government and Public Policy team also offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). 

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