Meetings. Perhaps nobody really loves them but yet can understand why they are necessary. With proper guidelines in place they can be a productive exchange of ideas and an opportunity to delegate tasks toward accomplishing a goal. Group members will have a chance to speak without a few monopolizing the floor.
There is a reason that a standardized framework like Robert’s Rules of Order was developed. This ensures that everyone has a voice and that leaders cannot run roughshod over the other attendees. It also gives organizations a starting point so that they do not have to reinvent the wheel every time a meeting is held.
That said, there is plenty of room for customization of an agenda and how it is to proceed, depending on the needs of the organization. It is also relevant if the meeting is of an administrative board, trustees, council members, or other representatives who are answerable to a larger population.
If this is the case then, there absolutely must be an accommodation for individuals to address this governing assembly. A church member should be able to talk to the parish committee; a parent needs to be allowed to speak to the school board; a taxpayer has a right to comment at council meetings.
Without this provision, there is no transparency into the organization. The people must be allowed to pose difficult questions, express unpopular views and disagree with current policies. The representatives have an obligation to give the speakers a fair hearing. If they do not, then they cannot be said to be ambassadors from the larger body.
Constituents must have access to their delegates; otherwise, an organization becomes an oligarchy that is not acting for the greater good of the group. (It’s possible that they could be making popular decisions by chance, but they will never know for sure unless they ask.) Even asking isn’t enough; representatives must also listen.
Decision-makers and those in charge of meetings must allow the constituents to listen as well; that’s what transparency is about. There can be no secrets held from those who chose the policy-makers.
Public means out in the open and not hidden. Becoming a representative is the opposite of an exclusive club — your words and actions regarding that office are now on display.
The flip side to this responsibility from delegates is that they also have rights and can form parameters as to how they are to be addressed. They can decide if they want an open floor for comments before or after a meeting. They can require an individual to submit a proposal ahead of time to be formally added to the agenda.
Additionally, officials are under no obligation to listen to personal insults or foul language. They can set time limits for speakers and insist that comments be relevant to current business. They have freedom to conduct a meeting that is free from disruption or tangential time-wasters. And they are within proper boundaries to ban individuals who repeatedly violate these terms.
Working together to find the balance between efficiency of the governors and accessibility for the people is the key to success. And an effective organization is a sustainable one. All this can be achieved with some basic guidelines and mutual respect for both people and process.
Stephanie Haines is a Greenfield native. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephaniehaines.com.