The question I am being asked most frequently now as a Professional Registered Parliamentarian is ‘we cannot have our meetings, so now what do we do?’

Many organizations  are not being allowed to hold their regular meeting, annual convention or conference and cannot elect new officers, approve their budget, nominate their candidates, or make critical decisions.

Robert’s Rules provides that electronic meetings must be authorized in advance, at a physical meeting. An unauthorized electronic meeting may not be valid, so you cannot authorize you electronic meeting at your unauthorized electronic meeting! The same is true of mail-in voting. So if you can’t have your physical meeting, what should you do?

The first thing to understand is the law trumps your organization’s rules. So if the law says you have to stay at home, or avoid meetings over a certain size, that takes precedence over any rules you have about having your meeting on or by a certain date.

If you can’t follow your bylaws to the letter, your best option is to work as much as possible within the current rules – for example,  does your bylaws allow current officers to serve ‘until their successor are elected’? If so, they can continue on for now and you can reschedule your election for a few months away.

Do you have an executive committee that can appoint replacement officers? Or approve a temporary budget? Maybe these rules are not commonly used, but if you have these “workarounds” in your bylaws, now is the time to use them. Do your best to find some ways you can work within the existing rules and postpone your meeting until a later date.

If you absolutely cannot do do that, then you may have to violate the rules –  because that is better than destroying your organization. Frankly, survival is more important than following the rules. If you don’t have any officers, and you can’t approve your expenditures, or other critical functions, then your organization may not survive.

But, if you must violate your rules, be sure that you do things as fairly and openly as possible in a way that has a consensus of your membership.  Your members will be the final judges of whether you acted properly or not.

Maybe you have to hold an electronic meeting, even if your bylaws do not allow that. Or maybe you have to hold your conference after the time limits provided in your government documents. Do what you have to do, but confer with and get the support of your members. Over-communicate and make sure that every know what you are doing and why. That is just good leadership.

Later, when the quarantine regulations are relaxed and you can finally meet again as a body, you will need to take a vote to “ratify” all of the actions that were taken on an emergency basis, in technical violation of your rules.  So you see if you don’t have the support of a good majority of your members, then you can’t get a ratification, and then the drama will REALLY begin. You may even have to walk back the actions taken during your emergency meetings.

For personal answers to questions go to our Parliamentary Questions page, and get some advice for your specific issue, without charge.

Kirby Glad, Professional Registered Parliamentarian