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Expert: CUSD Goofed in Snuffing Budget Debate

When four trustees agreed to end debate of the teachers' contract and 2012-13 budget before it began, they broke the very rules they were invoking. But that doesn't undo the ultimate vote.

UPDATED: At 1:12 p.m. with reaction quote from Trustee John Alpay.

Was it appropriate for trustees of the to block debate on the 2012-13 school budget before the discussion even began?

Procedurally no, according to a noted parliamentarian. However, the underlying votes still stand, said Daniel Seabold, a professor at Hofstra University in New York who is also one of the current authors of the official Robert’s Rules of Order manual

At a meeting Wednesday night, once when considering a new contract with the teachers’ union and again during consideration of the actual budget.

Both times, he made his motion just as Trustee Ellen Addonizio began to speak. The end result was little to no discussion on , and a $331-million budget that .

But in Robert’s Rules of Order, which is the guideline trustees use to run meetings, there is no such thing as a motion “to end debate,” Seabold said.

There is a motion that effectively serves the same purpose, Seabold said, but it needs a two-thirds vote to pass, which didn't happen Wednesday. The alternate motion is dubbed a “call for the previous question.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, both of Alpay’s debate-ending motions passed by a vote of 4-3 (with Trustees Addonizio, Sue Palazzo and Anna Bryson dissenting), which is not a two-thirds majority.

Although a call for the previous question may occur before any debate takes place, it is “more commonly moved after some debate has occurred,” Seabold said.

Despite the rules violation, the eventual votes on the contract and budget still stand, Seabold said.

“Procedural errors of the sort we are contemplating would not nullify the adoption of a motion,” he said. “In general, the way to correct procedural errors is raise a ‘point of order’ at the time they are made.”

Addonizio did so at the time, but President Gary Pritchard said Alpay’s motion, seconded by Trustee Jack Brick, was allowable.

“You’re out of order, Trustee Addonizio. Robert’s Rules of Order,” Pritchard said. When Addonizio challenged him (as Seabold suggested), he responded: “No, we’re absolutely not going out of procedure.”

When Alpay was asked for comment Thursday, he submitted this statement:

My motion to move the previous question was proper, procedurally correct and received the required second. I would agree with Mr. Seabold that per Robert Rules, my motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass. That said, my reading of Roberts Rules does allow for alternate practices to be exercised by a governing body.  Such alternate practices, per Roberts Rules are also valid and binding on the board until such time a member makes a valid point of order regarding the application of the rule, at which point the governing body is required to revert to the written rules expressly set forth in Roberts Rules. Ellen failed to properly articulate anything to that effect in a point of order.  If Ellen wishes to reopen debate on the underlying issue, provided she is in compliance with Robert's Rules, that is certainly her prerogative.

Attempts to reach Pritchard for comment weren't successful.

Alberto Barrera July 03, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Does pan-handling count as a summer job? It also happens to be tax free.
College Planner July 03, 2012 at 06:46 PM
@ Alberto...Panhandling...you mean asking for money to do nothing??? Like our politicians?
Alberto Barrera July 03, 2012 at 06:56 PM
@Lawrene politicians actually have the upperhand considering that they don't have to ask for your money. In the end however, people would much rather give their money to a panhandler who actually tells them what he's going to do with their money.
Art B July 10, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Why would anyone be surprised that politicians (especially CAPO Trustees), have such a low regard for established rules, open discussion, or courteous behavior? Our country's politicians (and states and cities) have become so enamored with their own power and importance that our democratic principles just seem to be an annoyance that gets in the way of what they want to accomplish, with no concern for their colleagues or constituents. There was a time when many of us believed that the government closest to the people was the best possible government - dedicated citizens who were just concerned with their communities. Not any more. Local government (such as the City of Bell and CUSD Trustees) are filled will self serving politicians just looking for the opportunity to make a mark for themselves in order to run for higher office or even worse looking for the opportunity to make money from unsuspecting and disinterested constituents.
Capo Dad July 10, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Yes, he clearly cares for the best interests of his district's teachers' union.

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