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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #80: Robert's Rules of Order

"We are now debating the amendment to the amendment."

Back in high school, I had the great opportunity to participate in the YMCA Youth & Government program. More than a mock legislature, this was a youth house, a youth senate, a youth executive council, a youth governor. Heck, a youth judiciary and youth press corps. It's one of the more awesome programs I've ever been a part of, and I've seen my share. It was during my sophomore year as member of the general court from the Exeter High delegation that I fell in love with the rules of parliamentary procedure. Keeping the proceedings on schedule and making sure everyone had a fair chance to address the issue up for discussion held a fascination for me that's never really waned. I decided I wanted to serve as Speaker of the House the following year as a junior. I never got the chance - fate intervened and I wound up serving as Governor instead. But the year I had spent teaching myself the intricacies of procedure and Robert's Rules of Order was not time wasted. I'd spend some time teaching procedure to high school senate types at conferences, and then when I headed to UNH and joined the Student Senate there, an intimate knowledge of procedure came in handy (sharpening those skills under the tutelage of Speaker Dave Emanuel is one of my great college memories).

Eventually, I'd serve as president of the student body alongside my long-suffering running mate Becky Turner, who would make a gift of this attractive pocket-sized reference version of Robert's Rules. I wasn't sure then - and I'm not sure now - how much genuine affection and how much playful teasing went into the present. There was always plenty of both in our working relationship. But it's still the copy I use today. It's the copy I used during my nine years on the Select Board in Exeter and the copy I use now chairing the Select Board in Kensington. I still enjoy keeping the meeting rolling, trying to keep the discussion fair and civil, and getting to thoughtful resolutions. Knowing how to do that is equal parts understanding the rules and common sense.

You want to know the best part? It's really not all that complicated, at least 99% of the time. People are often intimidated by the concept of parliamentary procedure, and they shouldn't be. It's not rocket science, unless you get way down in the weeds. We shouldn't regard self-styled parliamentarians as mystic gurus who have mastered some arcane art impenetrable to mere mortals. It shouldn't be wielded as a snooty cudgel of artisanal superiority or the hidden rites of an exclusive club. It certainly shouldn't be seen as an obstacle to participation. If you find yourself in a deliberative body, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the basics. Like dancing, a little competence goes a long way. And hey, if you'd like, I'm happy to work on the fundamentals with you.

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