Motions to Reconsider – A Follow-up

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David Lawrence

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Last week’s posting about motions to reconsider led one reader to ask a couple of follow-up questions: (1) does a board need a specific rule in order to permit motions to reconsider, and (2) if a board does desire a specific rule, for how long a period may it permit the motion to be made.

Most boards probably do not adopt rules of procedure specific to themselves.  An overwhelming number of boards, though, operate pursuant to Robert’s Rules of Order, either because the board adopted a resolution or motion to that effect at some distant time in the past or because that has been the board’s longtime custom.   Section 36 of Robert’s recognizes and discusses the motion to reconsider, and therefore any board that follows Robert’s Rules has authorized itself to use motions to reconsider.

What about the few boards that have neither adopted Robert’s nor customarily followed it?  Well, various authorities seem to suggest that such a motion is an inherent right of any deliberative body.  McQuillin’s Municipal Corporations treatise, in § 13.48, puts it this way:

Unless restrained by charter or applicable statute, the legislative body of a municipal corporation, like all deliberative bodies, possesses the undoubted right to vote and reconsider its vote upon measures before it.

A board is well-advised, though, to adopt its own rule, because there is ambiguity, even in Robert’s, as to the time period within which such a motion can be made.  Last week’s posting suggested that most commonly a motion to reconsider can only be made at the same meeting at which the original action was taken, or perhaps at the next meeting.  The various model rules of procedure published by the School of Government recommend that it be limited to the same meeting, while Robert’s allows the motion either on the same day or the next day.  This is also the rule of the North Carolina House and Senate.  The Robert’s time limit assumes a legislative body in continuous session, which fits the General Assembly but doesn’t fit local governments, and that’s why the School’s model rules take a different path.

If a local board wishes to allow a motion to reconsider at a subsequent meeting, though, there does not seem to be any bar to its doing so.  As noted, both Robert’s and the state House and Senate permit the motion on the next legislative day after the original action was taken, and there are appellate cases from other states that uphold board rules permitting the motion at the next regular meeting after the original action is taken.  (A good example is the old case of Decker v. City of Toledo, 10 N.E.2d 955 (1937), in which the Ohio court of appeals permitted the city council to reconsider an annexation vote at the next meeting.)  Both G.S. 153A-41, for county commissioners, and G.S. 160A-71(c), for city councils, require that rules of procedure be consistent with generally accepted principles of parliamentary procedure, which might suggest being cautious about allowing a time period for the motion longer than the first regular meeting after the original action was taken.

David Lawrence is retired from the faculty of the School of Government. For questions about the subject of this blog post, please refer to our list of faculty expertise to identify the appropriate faculty member to contact.

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