Among the more complex issues a meeting chair may be required to handle at an owner’s meeting is the dreaded amendment to a motion. Consider the following fact scenario: an owner makes a motion that the association should beautify the common area around the community sign. Immediately someone seconds the motion. The chair then properly restates the motion and asks, “Is there any discussion?” The trouble starts when other owners, instead of making statements in support of or opposing the main motion, instead want to change the motion: “I move that if we do this, we should spend no more than $500.” “I move that we install only xeriscaping!” “I move that we install speed bumps.” “I move that we table this whole thing!”
Let’s assume the issue was raised at the appropriate time on the agenda and is appropriate for the owners (not just the board) to vote on. How should the meeting chair handle voting on a motion when owners don’t agree on what the motion should be in the first place?
A key tenant of parliamentary procedure is one thing at a time. It takes tact and patience to keep control of a meeting when members don’t agree on what is the real issue. The way to keep control is by slowing down and holding one vote on each separate motion to amend the main motion in turn.
In our scenario, the chair should have required each member to make their statements as amendments to the main motion, then voted on each amendment (if in order). Each amendment to a main motion requires a second, restatement by the chair, and discussion before a separate vote on that amendment. Finally, once all the amendments have been voted on, the chair must “go back up the chain” until you have taken a valid vote on the main motion, as finally amended.
Notes about amendments:
- If two or more amendments are made, it’s likely the issue isn’t ready for the whole membership to vote on. Instead, the issue could be brought into focus by a broad discussion in a committee. Consider encouraging a member to make a motion to “commit or refer” the issue to a committee;
- As soon as the motion has been seconded and the chair has restated it, the motion “belongs to the assembly”. In other words, the person who originally made the motion doesn’t have any special right to grant permission to amend the motion;
- An amendment is only proper if it is germane to the original motion. In our scenario, the motion about speed bumps iss not related to the original motion so it is not appropriate and should not be voted on;
- A motion to “table” another motion is usually – but mistakenly — made when a member wants to kill the main motion. Unfortunately, that’s not the right motion for the job. The chair should explain that the right motion is to move to “postpone indefinitely” (Why? because a motion to table requires that the original motion be brought back again);
- Go SLOOOOW. Make sure the secretary has time to write down each amendment and that the members understand what they are voting on each step of the way.
Taking the time to go through each motion to amend one at a time can be frustrating to members, but it’s the only way to be sure that no one is confused about what they are voting on. Done properly, the final vote will accurately reflect will of the majority. It is also faster than having the same debate all over again at your next meeting because members don’t agree on what they voted on last time.