Who’s Robert and why does he get to make all the rules?

In 2016, the New Hampshire Legislature amended many sections of the Condominium Act.

One passage in particular now dictates that, �(e)xcept as otherwise provided in the bylaws, meetings of the association shall be conducted in accordance with the most recent edition of Roberts’ Rules of Order Newly Revised.�

If your condominium association was created prior to Sept. 9, 1977, you�ve received a pass as it only and automatically applies to associations created after that date. Lucky you.

No one really knows Roberts� Rules of Orders, affectionately known as RROO. As an example, a month before the law went into effect I received an offer from the Community Association Institute that offered the latest issue of RROO � and it was only 235 pages! I have had multiple discussions with town moderators, where RROO are most frequently used, and even they have noted they don�t fully understand them. �Arcane� is too kind a word to describe RROO. (I swear there are doctoral students doing their dissertations on how to understand and use them.) Archaic might be better.

In light of the perpetual confusion they cause, I embarked upon a journey to determine who was Robert and why he got to make all the rules. Sure enough, there was an actual Robert, but that wasn�t his first name. His actual name was Henry Martyn Robert. (Hank�s Rules of Order apparently did not have the necessary gravitas.) He was an engineering officer in the U.S. Army, a major, who was asked to lead a church meeting.

In a moment of self-candor reserved for an earlier age, Maj. Robert noted he didn�t know how to run the meeting. Being an Army officer he forged ahead anyhow � and the result was disastrous, church meetings apparently being as chaotic and contentious as condo meetings. Who knew?! Maj. Robert was embarrassed to such an extent that to punish all of us, he wrote the �Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberate Assemblies� in 1876, a title which somehow makes Roberts� Rules of Order look quaint.

RROO is now in its tenth edition, which leads to another question. If RROO are so good, why do that have to keep updating them to make them simpler and easier to use?

Interestingly, RROO is not the only form of parliamentary procedure. Though it is used by most meeting gatherers (80%), one version used, especially by physicians and dentists (who knew they had such formal meeting?) is the Sturgis Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (about 15%) and Riddicks� Rules of Procedure, Mason�s Manual of Legislative Procedure (used by many state legislatures but apparently not New Hampshire�s), and Bourinot�s Rules of Order, used primarily in Canada (together about 5%).

Anyway, basically parliamentary procedure is a code of rules and ethics for working together in groups, so all are treated equally at meetings, an admirable goal. In short, through the use of RROO, all members are to have equal rights, privileges and obligations; the will of the majority must be carried out; and the rights of the minority must be preserved.

Of course, nowadays the purpose has been obliterated since no one understands them fully. How can they be fair if no one, or perhaps only a sad few, grad students come close to understanding them? Regardless, next time I will share some common procedures and tips on how to use RROO.

But perhaps the most important tip would be to choose not to use them. As noted they are something beyond arcane, hard to follow and understand, and harder to use properly. As such, they can (and have) led to real issues at associations about whether something necessary was passed properly.

Perhaps this is why the Legislature left us all a way out. As noted way above, the particular section of the Condo Act passed in 2016, notes, �(e)xcept as otherwise provided in the bylaws,� RROO have to be used. So, the easiest way to prevent problems is to ensure your bylaws have a passage that makes their use optional and not mandatory.

And if all else fails, remember the words of Pablo Picasso, �Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.�

Thanks to the University of Illinois Extension Program for much of the information in here.

Attorney Robert E. Ducharme is a former teacher whose civil practice is limited to condominium law, primarily in Rockingham and Strafford counties. He can be reached at red@newhampshirecondolaw.com and Ducharme Law, P.L.L.C., found at www.newhampshirecondolaw.com. His column appears bi-weekly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *