The Hood County Commissioners Court discussed the advantages and disadvantages in potentially adopting a new parliamentary procedure during its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 26.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle began the discussion-only agenda item by explaining how the procedure in question, Robert’s Rules of Order, is conducted.
“This comes out of the treatise called The Basics,” he said. “The benefits of parliamentary procedure include the following: justice and courtesy for all, maintenance of order, consideration of one item at a time, all sides get heard, majority rule, and protection of rights of all members, including the minority,” he said. “And sometimes we have differences of opinion up here, which is fine . . . but I'm throwing it on the table as a point of discussion, because we need some sort of consideration for staying with our rules of decorum.”
Eagle continued by saying that the Hood County Commissioners Rules of Order and Decorum does not “prohibit criticism of the commissioners court,” but how every comment needs to relate to county business.
"I'm throwing this on the table because I would like to see what we can do to make this more of a business experience between all of us," he concluded.
According to Slack.com, in essence, Robert’s Rules of Order boils down to three guiding principles:
⦁ Everyone should be allowed to speak once before anyone speaks again.
⦁ Everyone has the right to know what is happening, and speakers should only be interrupted in urgent situations.
⦁ Consider only one motion at a time.
Hood County resident Elizabeth Mercer stated that she wasn’t for sure that conducting meetings under Robert’s Rules is “really necessary,” but that the commissioners should define certain rules under the current parliamentary procedure.
"We should all be behaving, and I get that; it's all of us,” Mercer said. “It's not just the people who come up here and speak; it's all of us. So, if we're going to declare that we're going to be more civil and we're going to be more respectful, then okay, let’s, but let it be all of us.”
Mercer concluded by saying that everyone needs to develop a sense of humor and develop some respect for each other.
"If you're going to ask me to do that — and you have every right to, and I should be respectful — then I'm going to ask it of all of you, and I'm going to ask you to not be so sensitive,” she said. “If you haven't done your job properly, according to someone who pays your salary, you don't get to cry. What is that line in that movie? There's no crying in baseball? Well, there's no crying in commissioners court either.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Kevin Andrews then stated that he believed Mercer was “100% correct.”
"I don't think anybody out here is advocating to remove any criticism,” he said. “If we do something wrong, come up here and get them to tell us. If you feel that we've done something wrong, it is absolutely how this system should work. We have absolutely lost the civility in this thing.”
Speaker Harold Granek quoted from the current rules and procedures of the Hood County Commissioner’s Court, explaining that the county judge is the presiding officer and is responsible for conducting all meetings and members of the public.
Additionally, Granek quoted that these rules “do not prohibit public criticism of the commissioner's court, including criticism of any policy procedures and programs or services.”
Granek then brought up an incident that occurred earlier that morning during open mic and explained how those rules were violated.
“For decades, I've dealt with meetings with Robert's Rules of Order,” he said. “But I'm more concerned about the quagmire error. I don't know if the United States Congress is under Robert's Rules of Order, but I certainly know the quagmire that exists there and how little gets done. I don't want these meetings to be stretched out any more than they are already. I think the way we have it is good, and I think it's just everybody needs to follow the rules.”
Hood County resident Tina Brown was the next speaker, who began by explaining how she didn‘t know what Robert’s Rules of Order was because the book is “400 pages,” in length.
She stated that the Hood County Commissioners Court is the “only court that does seem to get out of order,” but that it’s also the “only one that allows” the public to freely talk and give their opinions.
“The problem seems to be transparency and division in this county; it's bad,” she said, adding that the commissioners court needs to “set an example” while conducting public meetings instead of only criticizing the speakers.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Nannette Samuelson said that she agreed with Brown and explained how there are courses and books specifically on Robert’s Rules, but that there are also cheat sheets available for the court to use if they adopt the parliamentary procedure in the future.
"It goes through the different actions,” Samuelson explained. “(It tells you) what to say. Can this action interrupt a speaker? Is a second needed? Can it be debated? Can it be amended? What vote is needed, either majority or chair decision? There's different things for different actions.”
She added that she is in favor of having an open mic, as she was the one who made the motion to include it during every meeting instead of only once a month.
"I really want to allow people to redress their grievances with their government,” Samuelson said. “And as a couple of people have said, it's our job to stay up here and listen, learn from it, and take action if necessary at a later court date, so I’m very in favor of that.”
She also pointed out how people speak out of turn — both commissioners and the public — and how by doing that, the court isn’t following its own rules.
"I mean, just today during open mic, the judge even said, ‘I'm not supposed to say this, but,’ and then he began a conversation,” Samuelson said. “Well, he knew that he was not following his own rules, but he felt compelled, and I get this too. I feel compelled to answer because I want to provide information, and it's kind of hard sometimes to hold back, but we need to do a better job of following our rules.”
She concluded by saying that the commissioners need to set an example and make sure that they’re upholding that standard for every future meeting.
Samuelson added, "This is a court, not our living room.”
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