Council Day 111: Amending the Amendment

Knowledge is power. In politics, knowledge limits one’s potential of looking like an idiot. At the council table, the quickest way for even the most intelligent among us to appear as though we don’t know what we’re doing is to not know council procedures, like this:

The presiding member must put the main question and its amendment for the vote of Council in the following order: (a) a motion to amend a motion amending the main question; (b) a motion to amend the main question, or an amended motion amending the main question if the vote under paragraph (a) is positive; and (c) the main question.

Way back in November, two days after the election, we were sent to councillor school: a three-day seminar hosted by the CVRD to help us understand All Things Governance. At lunch that first day, Nancy Tates, North Cowichan’s EA (an acronym that, in her case, means executive assistant and extraordinarily awesome), showed me where to find the council procedure bylaw: the steps and actions we take at each council meeting. Grateful for the tip, yet not sure where it ranked in the stack of accumulated reading, I filed it away for later.

It wasn’t until after my first council meeting that I realized not knowing council procedure is like stepping onto a basketball court without knowing the rules of the game. No, it is more like stepping onto a basketball court without knowing the rules of the game when playing in the championship final in front of a packed gym—and it’s televised.

During a council meeting, there is little time to learn the rules yet we are required to make big decisions immediately and publicly. Those who know the rules are most effective at getting work done—their work, their priorities. You can’t be the high scorer if you don’t know how to get the ball up the court. And one’s argument takes a hit when you have to ask the corporate officer how to make a motion. It’s like asking the referee if it’s okay to dribble.

What I need is a coach: someone with whom I can practice the process away from the council table, and who can help me analyze my performance so I can improve with every game meeting.

I was speaking with a friend who sits on another board and she was game for some coaching too. Perhaps a small group of novices on committees and boards around town could entice a kindly Robert’s Rule expert to guide us through the process. Interested? Give me a shout.

Until then, there’s YouTube, which provides quick procedural tips in video format. Given how much reading we do, video a refreshing change.

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