A Guide to Meeting Procedures

A Guide to Meeting Procedures

Trustee committees for Royal Ascot Master Property Owners Association and the twenty residential precincts take decisions that affect the living conditions and the pockets of property owners, residents and the general public. While the decisions are for the benefit of most people, there is also the real possibility that some people may fear that a decision adversely affects them and they may even launch a legal challenge to such a decision. Unless a decision or resolution is obviously flawed, it is difficult to successfully challenge the merits of such a decision. Most court challenges are launched on the grounds that the procedures followed to reach that decision were either unconstitutional or that the meeting was not conducted correctly. It is thus important that proper and accepted meeting procedures be followed and adhered to when holding meetings of trustees. The meetings of trustees need not be as formal as, for example, City Council meetings or meetings of committees in Parliament, but even a relatively informal meeting must follow certain basic procedures. These basic procedures and requirements are set out here.

Notice of the meeting
All entitled to attend must receive notice of the meeting, with the time, date and venue. Where the period is prescribed in your constitution, the notice must be sent out within the period prescribed; if the period is not set the notice must be sent out a reasonable period before the meeting. To avoid late notices, it is common practice to set meeting dates for 6 months or a year, or determine the date of the next meeting at the end of a meeting.
In most cases the formal notice of the meeting sent to attendees is also the agenda for that meeting.
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The role of the chairperson
The chairperson has the most important role in the meeting. He or she will set the pace for the meeting, make sure that people stick to the topics, ensure that democratic decisions are taken, and that everyone is on board with these decisions. Chairing a meeting is a skill, and it is important that chairpersons familiarise themselves with chairing requirements and know what is expected of them.
In terms of the various constitutions in Royal Ascot, the chairperson is elected by the trustees at the first trustees meeting after the respective AGM’s. This chairperson will serve until the next AGM, but if he/she resigns the position in the interim, the trustees must elect another chairperson. The constitutions also prescribe that the chairperson shall preside at all meetings, in his/her absence the vice-chairperson shall preside, if both are absent the trustees present shall elect a chairperson for that meeting from their ranks. Please note that only trustees may chair meetings, managing agents or other attendees are not legally empowered to chair a meeting.
A good chairperson is an active chairperson; it is not the chairperson’s job to simply keep a list of speakers and to let them speak one after the other. The chairperson should introduce the topic clearly and guide the discussion especially when people start repeating points. When a discussion throws up opposing views, the chairperson should also try to summarise the different positions and where possible, propose a way forward. The way forward can involve taking a vote on an issue, having a further discussion at another date, or making a compromise that most people may agree with. The chairperson should ask for agreement from the meeting on the way forward, and apologise to those who still wanted to speak.
Here are the basic steps for chairing a meeting:
The Chairperson opens the meeting and presents the agenda.
He/she should start a meeting by setting a cut-off time when everyone agrees that the meeting should end. This helps to encourage people to be brief.
He/she calls on individuals to introduce or lead the discussion of points on the agenda and gives everyone a chance to speak.
He/she also ensures that no one person dominates discussion.
He/she should try to summarise the discussion clearly restating ideas and proposals put forward. However, there is no need to repeat everything that has been said.
He/she must be able to get agreement on what the decision is – he/she must ensure that everyone understands the decision, the duty of carrying out the decision must be delegated to somebody, and that the person given the responsibility knows what he/she has to do and when it should be done and reported on.
He/she ensures that everyone takes part in the discussions and decision-making.
He/she ensures that the date for the next meeting is set at the end of the meeting.
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The agenda
The agenda for a meeting should be sent to attendees before the meeting; here the items that should appear on the agenda are listed with a brief explanation of how the chairperson should conduct each item.
Welcome: The chairperson opens the meeting and welcomes everyone. Then he/she goes through the agenda to make sure that all necessary items are on the agenda.
Those present and apologies: The apologies of those members not able to attend the meeting are recorded as part of the minutes. Send round an attendance register if there are too many people to just record it in the minutes. Ask if there are any apologies from people who are not there.
Minutes: Minutes are accurate notes of what is discussed and decided on at meetings. Make sure that the minutes of the previous meeting are circulated to everyone or at least read at the beginning of the meeting. Minutes must be adopted at the beginning of a meeting. Give people a chance to read the minutes or read them out aloud. Everyone must agree that they are an accurate record of the last meeting. Members must be given the chance to add where item/points might have been left out.
Matters arising from the minutes: This covers points that were discussed at the last meeting, when perhaps someone was asked to do some work or there have been subsequent developments, which now need discussion. A list of these points is drawn from the previous meeting’s minutes.
Correspondence: This means all the letters that have been received since the last meeting. They can be dealt with in different ways. If your group does not receive many letters, they could be read out and then discussed. Another way is for the secretary to list them with a brief explanation. The chairperson then goes through the list and suggests action. If the issue raised in the letter needs decisive action it can be more fully discussed.
Other items on the agenda: Someone must introduce each item on the agenda. The item introduced could be either a discussion or a report.
If it is a discussion someone is given the job of leading the discussion and making proposals on that particular item.
If it is a report, the person who is reporting should comment on the following: Was it a task that was completed, what were the problems and what still needs to be done?
Discussion should be to examine a problem or discuss an issue in more detail – get everyone’s ideas and points of view on it, arrive at a decision, delegate responsibility for the completion of the task, and follow-up to ensure that it is completed.
Only agenda items should be discussed – new agenda items cannot be added as this may prejudice those who are not in attendance. If an urgent matter arose after the agenda was distributed, the secretary should either inform all members immediately that an additional item is being placed on the agenda, or if there is not time for that, the chairperson must request the meeting’s permission to add the item right at the beginning of the meeting.
General: This item on the agenda must not be used to introduce new matters or proposals; it should only be used for items of general information that need to be brought to the attention of the trustees. This slot could be used to inform trustees that an important item will be discussed at the next meeting.
Date of next meeting: Before closing the meeting, the date of the next meeting should be set if possible.
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Meeting rules
All members should know meeting rules. There are a number of points that people use in meetings to ensure that the meetings run smoothly. Often members use these points to assist the chairperson.
The following are procedural points most used in meetings:
Quorum: This is the minimum number of people who must be present for the meeting to conduct business and take decisions. This minimum number is stated in the constitution. The meeting cannot start until there is a quorum. Always ensure that you have this minimum number of people at a meeting, especially when decisions must be taken. If you do not, and decisions are taken, members who were not present can request that it is re-discussed, meaning that time was wasted.
Point of Order: It should be used when a member feels that the meeting procedure is not being stuck to and he/she wants the meeting to return to the correct procedure or order. For example, when an individual is speaking totally off the point, another member might ask on a point of order for the speaker to stick to the agenda.
Point of Information: A member may raise their hand and ask to make point of information (or request information) when it is not his or her turn to speak. This can enable a member to speak (by putting up his/her hand and asking to speak) when it is not his/her turn to request more information on the matter being discussed, or to give more information on a point being discussed.
Out of Order: When an individual is not sticking to meeting procedure, being rude, interjecting or misbehaving in some way, the chairperson might rule him/her out of order.
Protection: A speaker who is being harassed when he/she is speaking can ask for the protection of the chairperson.
All these points are called meeting rules, they are there to make meetings more efficient and effective. These rules should not be over-used just for the sake of it.
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How to take decisions at meetings
Decisions at a meeting can be taken by consensus or by voting. Consensus means reaching decisions by discussion and general agreement. Voting usually occurs where a particular proposal is put forward by one person, and seconded by another; if the majority of people present accept the proposal, it becomes binding. Voting is done by show of hands or, on rare occasions, by secret ballot.
It is usually better to reach consensus than to vote. Reaching consensus often means that there are compromises from everyone but it ensures that most people feel part of the decision. Sometimes a vote does need to be taken, for example in elections or when the meeting cannot reach a decision through consensus.
A formal proposal put to the meeting becomes a resolution if accepted (by consensus or voting) by the meeting. A formal proposal should have a proposer and a seconder before discussion is allowed. At the end of the discussion, the proposal may be amended, but each amendment must be accepted separately before the final proposal is put to the meeting for acceptance.
The chairperson (and trustees) should study their constitution to avoid discussion on proposals that may be contrary to the provisions of the constitution or non-compliant with any existing legislation. It is pointless and a waste of time to discuss proposals that may turn out to be unconstitutional or illegal.
A resolution normally consists of three parts (see example below):
The first part notes the issues under discussion;
The second part lists the points showing your understanding of the issues and its causes; and
The third part is the decision stating what you are going to do or what your policy on the issue will be.
Example of resolution or decision:
The trustees committee of Royal Ascot Master Property Owners Association meeting on ….(date)…. Notes that:
1. there is a rapid increase of crime in the area,
2. it has a devastating effect on the lives of residents.
Believes that this is caused by:
1. the failure of the police to effectively service the community,
2. that lack of manpower and sufficient funds is primarily responsible for this failure,
3. that high unemployment is forcing many young people to take up crime as a way of life.
Therefore resolves:
1. to actively participate in the community police forum,
2. to use all means possible to pressurise the government to improve the police’s resources,
3. to work with local council to ensure that facilities are provided to keep the youth off the streets.
This is very formal, but if a resolution is formulated in this manner, there can be no doubt in future about the background and reasons for the resolution. However, it is not necessary for all decisions to be formulated like this, a fairly routine decision can be simply be minuted by describing what was decided, but it is advisable that the minutes provide some background information giving the main reason or reasons for the decision.
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Minutes of the meeting
It is important that minutes be recorded accurately. They are not only a reminder of issues that need to be followed up, but also prevents arguments about previous decisions. Minutes serve as a guide to the chairperson and secretary when drawing up the agenda for the next meeting.
There are three aspects to taking good minutes:
Listening – an important skill that often needs to be developed; the person taking the minutes must not only listen to what is said, but must also understand it.
Taking notes – it is impossible to write down everything; write down only main points and decisions taken. Identify the aim of the discussion and use your own words to make notes, this is usually more accurate than trying to write down what the speaker says. Stop the discussion if you want clarification. The chairperson should also make sure that the secretary has the important points down before continuing to the next item. A resolution must be written out in full.
Writing the minutes – the minutes should be kept in a special minutes book. The minutes are not a record of everything that was said, but must contain decisions made, resolutions taken, and include the names of people responsible for specific tasks decided by the meeting.
The following information should be included: • Nature of meeting, date, time, venue • Names of those present • Names of visitors • Apologies • Summaries of decisions and discussions
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Conclusion
While some of the procedures mentioned above are in your constitution, most of them have developed over the years as accepted procedure to conduct meetings. They may not be described in any law, but they have been accepted by courts as the correct way of conducting meetings. This means that, in terms of common law principles, decisions taken at a meeting can be challenged in court if the correct procedures have not been followed.
It is thus important for trustees to ensure that correct procedures are followed at meetings so that there can be no legal challenge to decisions and resolutions taken. Trustee committees will also be much more effective if correct procedures are followed, and meetings will be more productive and run more smoothly.
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Information here sourced mainly from the Education & Training Unit (ETU) website. » Click here to go to the community organisers section on the ETU website.