The most current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order apply to the proceedings of city council and council committees, as stated in the council procedure bylaw. (Photo - Jacqueline Palmer)

Politically Incorrect: An Obituary to a Man of Rules

Tim Palmer

Special to the Review

Henry Martyn Robert III, a man world renown for rules, died at the age of 98 on Jan. 6, 2019.

He did not have any living relatives to inherit his riches.

He did, however, pass on a legacy to millions, including the mayor and council of Revelstoke. That treasure is Robert’s Rules of Order.

First published in 1876 and passed down from his namesake grandfather Robert’s Rules is still a No. 1 best seller on Amazon. These rules are often cited in many association, charity and board meetings.

The application of these rules can be a blessing or a curse. Which one is it for the City Revelstoke?

Before his death Henry Robert III was working on the 12th edition of Robert’s Rules.

When released in 2020, this latest edition will be adopted by the City of Revelstoke through the Council Procedure Bylaw which states “Robert’s Rules of Order most current edition apply to the proceeding of Council, and Council committees to the extent that those Rules are (applicable).”

The City of Revelstoke Council Procedure Bylaw and Robert’s Rules of Order are necessary evils. Necessary because as Henry Robert III wrote, “A certain paradox appears. In order to preserve its freedom to act, a body must impose regulation.”

However, these bureaucratic documents, when abused, can restrain meaningful debate and good democratic decision making. Too often councils and committee members end up serving the rules.

That reversal, in my opinion, is politically incorrect.

Regrettably these rules are sometimes used to curtail initiatives by some progressive councillors.

For example, despite repeated requests since November last year to get the Development Cost Charges (DCCs) back on the agenda, Coun. Cody Younker had to use a cumbersome “motion of notice” process just to start the discussion.

That discussion is being further delayed so staff can write another report. Meanwhile residents will continue to subsidize developers, affordable housing will be limited and the current DCCs will benefit some construction at the expense of others. The controversy will just continue.

A second example of rules over-ruling the interests of the community is the required bureaucratic process of providing feedback on the budget. A councillor did an unofficial poll to get the communities feedback on one issue.

That poll gathered over 200 responses that the city will not recognize. Is that democracy?

Many mayors and councillors have a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order. If they don’t the city should purchase a copy for them — from the local bookstore — courtesy of the taxpayer.

These rules, if properly applied, will not increase bureaucracy but rather, in Henry Robert III’s words, assist in “getting the business done …and even more important…in a way that’s fair to everyone…”

Robert’s Rules are a curse if abused; they are a blessing if used to serve democracy.

It is the responsibility of our elected officials and bureaucrats to remember the parliamentary rules are written so they can better serve the people and not have people serve the rules.

Drawing from over 25 years inside the municipal bureaucracy, Tim Palmer explores non-traditional methods to helping towns and cities perform better.

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