A funny thing happened on my way to the last North Coast Unit meeting. The reason isn’t important here, but instead of being in place almost an hour before the meeting I signed on slightly late. And I’m the president, so that was a problem: members were waiting for me to start the meeting on Zoom!

Since NCU thinks of its meetings as a teaching tool, my tardiness provides a teachable moment. I’ll provide here a quick look at the parliamentary situation when the presider doesn’t show up.

The first line of defense in NCU, as in most organizations, is the vice-president. Like most presiders, I prepare a podium script which helps with the many predictable parts of the meeting; and I share it with the vice-president before the meeting. Normally, our VP would have used the script to start the meeting in my absence; however, this evening she was absent due to a medical procedure.

RONR1 (12th ed.) 3:6 identifies the presiding officer and secretary as the “minimum essential officers for the conduct of business.” Normally that presiding officer is the president, but under certain circumstances someone else serves as the presiding officer. RONR (12th ed.) 47:33 (11) states that the duties of the secretary include “In the absence of the president and vice-president, to call the meeting to order and preside until the immediate election of a chairman pro tem.” In this case, she didn’t need to do so: I was ready to preside before most assemblies would have been able to elect a chair pro tem; but that’s how the assembly would have solved the problem if I had been much later.

A couple of comments about this:

  • The podium script is a functional document, not a publication; but it makes sense to share it with the secretary as well as the VP. That way the secretary can share it with the chairman pro tem.
  • Some organizations would want to designate the secretary as the chair pro tem.2 However, the work of the secretary is critical to the meeting, and it would be difficult for one person to perform both roles. If the members elect the secretary as the chair pro tem, then his/her first act should be to preside over the election of a secretary pro tem.

Hopefully the situation won’t happen again in my term as NCU president; but if it does, or if it happens in other organizations you may belong to, I hope this article clarifies what happens. What is clear is that the absence of the president doesn’t mean that the meeting is canceled: the organization is bigger than the president.


  1. “RONR” is Rules of Order Newly Revised: parlispeak for what most folks call “Robert’s Rules.” The 12th is the current edition, published in 2020.
  2. There’s some logic to this: the secretary typically sits next to or near presiders and is familiar with the environment and many of the participants; but organizations typically don’t elect secretaries for their presiding skills, so some secretaries may not be comfortable in that role.

In-Person: If, When, How?

Having made heroic efforts to master new technology quickly under pandemic-induced duress, many organizations are weighing a return from electronic to in-person meetings. And many are asking their parliamentarians for help and guidance.

This article is aimed at those parliamentarians, not at the organizations themselves. So let’s first review – what do parliamentarians mean when we talk about meetings?

For the purposes of this article, meetings are what RONR1 terms deliberative assemblies. Organizational meetings, committee meetings, conventions, etc., are deliberative assemblies; classes, staff meetings, and social gatherings generally aren’t. (See RONR 12th ed. 1:1 for more.)2

During the pandemic emergency, electronic tools provided a lifeline: without them, those organizations would not have been able to meet at all.

Participants experienced frustration as they learned the technology, but something funny happened on the way to the home office: some organizations enjoyed increases in participation and attendance. Travel costs decreased, travel time was eliminated, and a, shall we say, less casual dress code prevailed. (Feel free to pause here for your own humorous recollection.)

Continue reading “In-Person: If, When, How?”


  1. “RONR” is shorthand for Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th ed., currently the world’s predominant parliamentary authority–commonly called “Robert’s Rules of Order.”
  2. It’s possible that some of these remarks will pertain to other kinds of meetings as well, but I make no such promises.

And Now, Three Letters

I received notice recently that I had successfully completed the Professional Qualifying Course (PQC) for the Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP) credential.

Parliamentarians are hardly top-of-mind for most people, although legislative parliamentary rulings make news occasionally. (Google “Senate Parliamentarian” if you like.) I became a Registered Parliamentarian (RP) early in 2020, and I wrote about that at the time.

The new designation involves three letters instead of two. It includes the word “professional,” and there’s a bit of irony there, since unlike most people who pursue this credential, I don’t plan to begin a practice as a professional parliamentarian. (I’ve had two great careers already; I don’t plan to start a new one.) Earning my PRP was an opportunity to test the level of my knowledge and skill against the yardstick of people I work with and admire, and I’m glad to join them.

I have a page on the overall topic at https://lavezzi.us/point-of-order/.

Thanks go out to my study group colleagues (you know who you are); to our friend and mentor, Patricia Koch; and to Jim Connors, who helped me and others in OEA qualify for NAP membership several years ago.

And on a bittersweet note, let me express much respect and affection to my late friend, the parliamentarians’ parliamentarian Jim Williams, who encouraged me to pursue this goal back when I would have been happy to stay an RP.