Motion to reconsider must be taken carefully; alternate parliamentary approach available
By Howard E. Seufer Jr., Esq.,
Our county board of education is confused about reconsidering a motion or if we even can. What is the motion involves property or a contract?
Many if not most West Virginia school boards have policies requiring the use of Robert’s Rules of Order. The boards need to be aware that Robert’s Rules for the conduct of a large assembly are different from the rules that apply to a county board meeting. According toRobert’s, ‘in a board meeting where there are not more than about a dozen members present, some of the formality that is necessary in a large assembly would hinder business. The rules governing such meetings are different from the rules that hold in other assemblies.’
Thus, a motion to reconsider may be handled differently in a meeting of a five-member school board than it is in a body with many more members:
- During county board meetings, a motion to reconsider is in order regardless of how long ago the original vote was taken.
- There is no limit to the number of times a question can be reconsidered, except that no motion can be reconsidered twice at the same meeting unless it was materially amended during its first reconsideration.
- The motion to reconsider may be made by anyone who did not vote on the losing side when the initial vote was taken. It may be made by a member who voted on the prevailing side, did not vote on the original motion, or was absent when the original vote was taken.
- A motion to reconsider requires a two-thirds vote for adoption unless all members who voted on the prevailing side are present or were notified in advance that the motion to reconsider would be made, in which case a majority vote is necessary.
An alternative to the motion to reconsider is the motion to rescind the prior action of the board.
- Like the motion to reconsider, a motion to rescind can be made regardless of how much time has passed since the original vote was taken.
- It, too, requires a two-thirds vote for adoption unless previous notice has been given.
- Unlike the motion to reconsider, however, the motion to rescind can be made by any member, regardless of how the movant voted on the original question.
“As to either kind of motion, nothing in Robert’s Rules appears to prohibit a board, after rescinding prior action or, upon reconsideration, defeating a prior motion, from immediately entertaining an alternative motion on the same subject. This assumes, of course, that the published notice or agenda of the meeting fairly notified the public and news media that the board would consider taking such action.
County boards should not lightly attempt to undo prior action that established binding contract or property rights in other parties or that initiated a course of action that, having been taken, cannot be undone without violating a law or causing damage to a party that justifiably relied upon the original action. To do so could have serious negative consequences for the school board and its members, including liability. In all such cases a county board should proceed with caution and the advice of counsel.
Editor’s Note: Seufer is West Virginia School Board Association counsel, having practiced law for more than 35 years. Seufer leads the Bowles Rice Education Law Group, ranked #1 in West Virginia School Law by The Best Lawyers in America® and listed as "Top Tier" in West Virginia for Education Law by U.S. News & World Report's 2015 Best Law Firms. In addition, Best Lawyers in America has designated Howard as its 2016 Lawyer of the Year for Education Law in the metro area encompassing southern West Virginia. Seufer is an emeritus director and past chair of the nation’s first statewide education fund, the Education Alliance. He also serves as vice chair of the West Virginia University Diversity Visiting Committee