Palatine board's vote to hire meeting referee may signal dysfunction, expert says
The recent news that the Palatine Township board was considering hiring an outside party to help run its meetings has led to speculation about what circumstances may lead to this unusual step.
The story broke Dec. 19 in a post on the CBS Chicago TV affiliate’s website under a headline stating the vote to hire a parliamentarian had been delayed.
While it remains unclear whether the plan indicates unusual rancor during the meetings is keeping the board from conducting its official business, one thing is certain: it’s unlikely they will be able to hire one for the estimated price of $50 quoted in the CBS story.
“The price that they quote seems like they may be underestimating how much it will cost,” said Maryam Judar, executive director for the Citizen Advocacy Center, a community-organizing group based in Elmhurst. “From my understanding, a parliamentarian is going to charge by the hour, half-hour or quarter-hour increments. If they’re planning on spending $50 per meeting, I think they’ve got another think coming."
Hiring an outsider to referee the meetings, normally a duty of the chair (i.e., the mayor or township president) would be an almost unheard of step for an Illinois public body, Judar said.
“From what I hear, the group is fighting in meetings and going off the agenda,” she said.
A similar case occurred in 2010 when the Buffalo Grove Township board held what the Daily Herald called a “historic” vote to recall board member Lisa Stone over her demeanor at council meetings.
“It wasn't necessarily the issues themselves that caused friction,” wrote Steve Zalusky in the Herald. “Stone's opponents would say it was the way she dealt with them – her absolute refusal to back down or move on on any issue, and her practice of dragging village board meetings on for hours and hours as she pushed and pushed.”
While it's not known for certain whether that same scenario is going on with the Palatine board, Judar suggested there are remedies if that is the case.
“Since it’s so uncommon in the suburbs, my guess is there is chaos at the meetings so I would ask who are the people causing chaos and can they redirect to respect the chair’s authority,” she said.
So what exactly would a parliamentarian do in a meeting? Ordinarily, Judar explained, they would keep the meeting running on course, limiting the time for each speaker to make statements, and ensuring motions are made and voted on correctly.
The primer on proper parliamentary procedure is Robert’s Rules of Order, a manual Wikipedia says was first published in 1876, which has seen updates as recently as 2011. But there are slimmer alternatives to this 800-page tome, Judar says. For instance, an Internet search lists a Dummies Cheat Sheet and there’s an official Robert’s Rules website with the full text of the 1915 version.
If the Palatine Township board does eventually decide it needs a referee, it will have to determine who would be both impartial and qualified to fulfill the role usually held by the board chair, Judar said. A first place she recommends is the National Association of Parliamentarians (NAP), an Independence, Missouri-based group that lists on its website several training opportunities via online and in-person seminars.
For Illinois, the site lists an Illinois NAP chapter, as well as five units, as the organization calls them, across the state: Pekin, Hazel Crest, Chicago, Palos Hills and Palos Park.