Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Indy Democrat Investigation: Council President Ryan Vaughn Apparently Doesn't Understand Robert's Rules of Order

During the debate on the ACS parking deal, Democrat Brian Mahern called out Council President, Republican Ryan Vaughn, the Council's presiding officer, for continually taking part in debate while still chairing the meeting instead of handing off the gavel to Vice President, Republican Marilyn Pfisterer.

After some research on my own as well as a few comments left on the blog, I have come to the conclusion that Mahern seems to be right with the spirit of Robert's Rules of Order and that Vaughn apparently doesn't understand the rules (leaving some to think something more sinister). states the following:
The chairman sometimes calls a member to the chair and takes part in the debate. This should rarely be done, and nothing can justify it in a case where much feeling is shown and there is a liability to difficulty in preserving order. If the chairman has even the appearance of being a partisan, he loses much of his ability to control those who are on the opposite side of the question. There is nothing to justify the unfortunate habit some chairmen have of constantly speaking on questions before the assembly, even interrupting the member who has the floor. One who expects to take an active part in debate should never accept the chair, or at least should not resume the chair, after having made his speech, until after the pending question is disposed of. The presiding officer of a large assembly should never be chosen for any reason except his ability to preside.

Rules Online backs itself up in the footnotes:
"Though the Speaker (Chairman) may of right speak to matters of order and be first heard, he is restrained from speaking on any other subject except where the House have occasion for facts within his knowledge; then he may, with their leave, state the matter of fact." [Jefferson's Manual, sec. XVII.]

"It is a general rule in all deliberative assemblies, that the presiding officer shall not participate in the debate or other proceedings, in any other capacity than as such officer. He is only allowed, therefore, to state matters of fact within his knowledge; to inform the assembly on points of order or the course of proceeding when called upon for that purpose, or when he finds it necessary to do so; and, on appeals from his decision on questions of order, to address the assembly in debate. [Cushing's Manual, §202.]

So, Councillor Mahern appears to be correct. Given President Vaughn's admission of "an appearance" of a conflict of interest, some tidbit like this would only seem to fuel the fire, don't you think?

President Vaughn, I invite you to respond to this blog post if I am in error.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Of course you'e not in error. Everyone knows how a presiding officer of a legislative body is supposed to act...he's not supposed to immerse himself in the debate. That's exactly what Vaughn did Monday night.

You have to understand though that Vaughn and his ilk have long considered themselves above the law. His law firm, Barnes & Thornburg, has for years played both sides of issues, ignoring conflicts of interest and gotten away with it. It is nothing to find Barnes attorneys representing one party in a matter involvign another party represente dby Barnes. Indiana attorneys have for years complained about the ability of B&T attorneys to get away with violations of the ethics rules that would be enforced against non B&T attorneys.

Do you know where long time head of the Disciplinary Commission Don Lundberg practices law today? He left last year to become a partner at ... Barnes & Thornburg.

Anonymous said...

I knew Vaughn was inaccurate when he made the statement that he did not have to pass the gavel. A good presiding officer also always avoids becoming deeply involved in a contentious argument. What I don't know was Vaughn lying about his interpretation of the Roberts Rules or is he just plain stupid. In either case, I would not want to be represented by an attorney who exhibits either of those traits.

Anonymous said...

Vaughn does that at every meeting he chairs. Monday night was no exception. He is one cocky little boy.

Ann G. Macfarlane said...

Dear Jon,
Your post correctly addresses the spirit and specifics of most rules of order pertaining to legislative bodies and the role of the chair. However, Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, does include important rules for small boards. A small board is up to about 12 people. Robert says on p. 471 that "The chairman can speak in discussion without rising or leaving the chair." So for a small council, simply taking part in the discussion is not forbidden by Robert's Rules. How the chairman does so, and how he maintains his role as servant of the group, is of course another matter.

Ann G. Macfarlane, Professional Registered Parliamentarian