Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, (RONR) assumes one committee handles both the review of submitted resolutions and the drafting of resolutions. Our assembly distributes those two functions to different committees. Our Committee on Reference and Council (usually referred to as, “Reference & Counsel”) performs most of the functions described under the heading, “Resolutions Committee,” in RONR §59. Those functions which belong to a “drafting committee” are assigned, in our Bylaws, to our “Committee on Resolutions.”
Our Reference & Counsel is charged, under our Bylaws, as follows:
B7.16. A resolution of a general character which is not germane to the pending question or report shall be given by the proposer to a Committee of Reference and Counsel, which shall report thereon to the assembly with its recommendations. Other duties of the committee shall be (a) to recommend special orders for the hearing or representatives, (b) to grant or deny permission to distribute printed matter not issuing from the office of the secretary and © to give such assistance to the bishop as may be desired in the course of the assembly.
The primary duty is the review of all resolutions and memorials submitted to the Synod Assembly that are “of a general character which is not germane to the pending question.” What’s that mean?
Matters introduce on the floor
If a member rises immediately after a report and offers a resolution in response to the report, the resolution is germane, i.e., it relates to the report. Such a resolution does not go to Reference & Counsel (unless ordered by the assembly). If member offers a resolution that has nothing to do with a report or other action taking place on the floor, the resolution is, most likely, not germane. These automatically go to Reference & Counsel.
Reference & Counsel reviews each resolution thus introduced on the floor and reports back to the assembly. In that report, Reference & Counsel may, at its discretion, recommend adoption or rejection. It may also recommend amendment. It may recommend any course of action allowable to a committee advising the assembly (i.e., to set consideration as a special order, to refer, to lay on the table, to postpone, to postpone indefinitely, etc.). It may also report on a resolution with “no recommendation.” Unless overruled by the assembly, Reference & Counsel may determine the order in which it reports on the resolutions and is free to request consideration en bloc, seriatim, etc.. When reporting on resolutions, the resolution in question, as it has already been introduce on the floor is the main motion with the report of Reference & Counsel functioning either as a subsidiary motion or mere information, depending upon the content of the report.
Matters introduced in advance of the assembly or appropriately to Reference & Counsel
Most of the time, resolutions and memorials (petitions from congregations and conferences) are submitted in advance of the Synod Assembly. If a member writes a resolution while Synod Assembly is in session, and that resolution is not germane to pending business, it should be given to Reference & Counsel and not moved on the floor by the member. Even if the member does move it on the floor, if chair rules it as nongermane, it is immediately order its referral to Reference & Counsel.
Procedure is slightly different for resolutions and memorials submitted directly to Reference & Counsel. Reference & Counsel can recommend adoption, offer a substitute, recommend referral, or recommend declination of consideration.
Recommend Special Orders
Reference & Counsel may propose special orders for the hearing of representatives, members, etc.. This provision is a hedge against episcopal tyranny. While members have defined rights under parliamentary law, non-members do not. It is possible that a representative of a synod-affiliated agency (or some other person) requests time on the agenda and the bishop (who drafts the agenda) refuses to provide it. That agency rep may approach Reference & Counsel, petitioning for time to address the assembly. Reference & Counsel, if it so chooses, may propose special orders for the hearing of that representative, and the assembly would have the right to adopt or reject the proposal. A member too might want to address the assembly on some topic, and the member could petition Reference & Counsel for the privilege.
It should be kept in mind that the entity protected is not the representative. The entity protected is the assembly. Only members have rights in the assembly (unless certain rights are accorded through the governing docs or the will of the assembly), and a fundamental right of the assembly is to hear from those the assembly believes it would benefit from hearing. Reference & Counsel protected this prerogative on behalf of the assembly. Reference & Counsel also protects the assembly from abuse of the podium/mic by not recommending special orders when the speaker would not assist the assembly in its deliberations.
Distribute Printed Material
As the preceding section protects people from the bishop, this provision addresses tyranny by the secretary. If the secretary refuses to allow distribution of some specific printed material, the sponsor of that material may approach Reference & Counsel as something akin to a court of appeals. Reference & Counsel can order such distribution without interference by the secretary or the chair.
Assist the Bishop
Reference & Counsel may be enlisted by the bishop to assist as needed. Typically, this assistance is around matters of consequence before the assembly. Reference & Counsel, next to the parliamentarian, is the bishop’s place to seek advice and counsel during the assembly.