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Troy City Council Procedure Impacted By 'Robert's Rules'

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Composite Image by Dave Lucas
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The long-running debate involving the Troy City Council's Sanctuary City resolution was almost defeated by an issue of protocol.

For months on end, the Troy City Council has struggled with crafting so-called “sanctuary city” legislation. There were heated arguments over many sessions. Long lines of people spoke for and against the proposal at various civic meetings, some dismissing the proposal as “political grandstanding.”

Push finally came to shove in mid-July, when Democratic councilors, having tweaked Sanctuary City Resolution 113, rebranding it the Families and Communities Together, or FACT act, continued debating as they prepared to vote during a raucous four-hour public meeting. Suddenly, Republican Council President Carmella Mantello tried to invalidate the measure by invoking "Robert's Rules of Order," a standard the

"Like any sport or any game, you need to know what the rules are in order to behave properly at that sporting event or in that game." ~ Jim Slaughter

Council previously embraced to run meetings with maximum fairness to all members. "What I'm saying folks is that there is no Resolution 113. Please hear me out. Per Robert's Rules it had to have been voted untabled at that meeting in January."

Some councilors said they didn’t know anything about any “Robert’s Rules.”

Passion and tension during the marathon meeting took their toll — GOP Councilmember Jim Gulli reached a breaking point.  "For six months I've listened to the same story four different times. There are a lot of people being affected emotionally, passionately and angrily over this issue. We've done this many times. I just drove three hours away to come down here tonight and settle this issue and to get it off the floor one way or another."

Mantello says "Robert's Rules" helps keep motions, proposals and other council procedures on track. "Robert's Rules is our backup for any city council rules that aren't covered. Our city council rules do not cover tabled items, so we refer to Robert's Rules. And that's on several several fronts."

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Credit jimslaughter.com
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"Like any sport or any game, you need to know what the rules are in order to behave properly at that sporting event or in that game," said Jim Slaughter, a North Carolina-based attorney who is a "certified Parliamentarian," an expert on "Robert's Rules."  What are "Robert's Rules?"  Slaughte explains "It may be easier to ask 'What is Parliamentary Procedure?’  Parliamentary Procedure is all of the rules and laws that go into running a legal and effective meeting. So it's everything from noticing a meeting, how the meeting is run, how do you take votes at the meeting, so it's everything that goes into a meeting. Robert's Rules Of Order is a Parliamentary Procedure book. There are other Parliamentary Procedure books, but Robert's Rules Of Order, newly revised 11th edition, is the 800 pound gorilla of the Parliamentary Procedure law."

The book is used by organizations from governmental bodies to homeowner associations.

In the end the council did vote - 4 to 3 - to pass the FACT act. Mayor Patrick Madden vetoed the measure the very next day. The issue remains “up in the air.”

And who's Robert? According to robertsrules.com, Henry Martyn Robert was an Army engineering officer who was asked to preside over a public meeting at a church and realized that he did not know how. He was so embarrassed, he studied books on Parliamentary procedure, and in 1876 published what came to be known as "Robert's Rules Of Order." He died in 1923 in Steuben County, New York, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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