In a community association or HOA meeting, without procedural rules and organization, it’s amazing how quickly a room full of adults can devolve into a room full of toddlers—everyone talking over one another and no one listening, insuring that no actual objectives are achieved. Fortunately, for anyone who has been spared the annoyance and aggravation of meetings turned kindergarten classroom, over a century ago, an engineering officer in the army named Henry Martyn Robert, really embarrassed himself.
One day, Robert was asked if he would preside over a church meeting. Not having any knowledge or experience as to what such a responsibility might entail, he made the decision to give it a try anyway. Things did not go as smoothly as he anticipated. As a result, according to the official website of Robert’s Rules, (www.RobertsRules.org,) Robert vowed to never attend a meeting without any knowledge of parliamentary procedure again, and thus his studies began.
Parliamentary procedure defines how a democratic organization (loosely defined as your condo association’s board of directors)—how its members make decisions, how its leaders run the organization to meet the needs of its members, and the rights of non-members. Parliamentary procedure is vital to the fair operation of governments, corporations, homeowner associations, charities, and other organizations operating on democratic principles.
Due to his military duties, Robert was transferred to various parts of the country, and everywhere he went he found “virtual parliamentary anarchy,” in which members from different parts of the country had differing ideas of correct procedure. Ultimately, the lack of a uniform, parliamentary procedure, lead him to write Robert’s Rules of Order, first published in February 1876. Initially, a 16-page pamphlet, Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised is now in its 11th edition at around 700 pages. Interestingly enough, all editions of the work issued after Robert’s death have been prepared by persons who either knew and worked with the original author or are connected to him in a direct continuity of professional association.
According to Jeanette Williams, education director for the American Institute of Parliamentarians (AIP), the basic rules have only been modified slightly since 1876. The rules have been expanded as the need for more information has arisen, but today, Robert’s Rules is perhaps the most well-known and comprehensive guide to parliamentary procedure.