Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Chapter IV -- Necessary Officers and Their Duties
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32. Presiding Officer.— The first officer to be chosen is the presiding officer. In New England town meetings and in religious assemblies he is called the moderator. In the popular branches of legislatures he is usually called Speaker. In senatorial bodies, conventions, and the like, President; and in other assemblies, and in committees, Chairman. He is in this country invariably addressed by his title. In the House of Commons the chairman of Ways and Means is addressed by his name, “Mr. Courtney,” “Mr. Mellor.”

33. Qualifications.— The presiding officer, especially if any complicated business is to be transacted, should be a man of good presence, good voice, of much firmness, and good temper. He should have knowledge of parliamentary law, and sufficient good sense to enable him to know when to press a rule and when to let common consent have its way. The conduct of an assembly depends much more upon the conduct of the chairman than upon any other condition, or perhaps all other conditions combined. The more intelligent the assembly the worse it may act under a bad presiding officer.

34. Duties.— It is needless to say that the duties herein enumerated do not all devolve upon every presiding officer, nor do those hereafter enumerated as the duties of a recording officer fall upon every clerk or secretary. How many devolve upon either depends on the nature of the assembly.

It is the duty of the presiding officer:

To call the assembly to order at the time appointed for the meeting.

To ascertain the presence of a quorum.

To cause the journal or minutes of the preceding meeting to be read and passed upon by the assembly.

To lay before the assembly its business in the order indicated by the rules.

To receive any propositions made by members and put them to the assembly.

To divide the assembly on questions submitted by him and to announce the result.

To decide all questions of order, subject to an appeal to the assembly.*

To preserve order and decorum in debate and at all other times.

To enforce such of the rules of the assembly as are not placed in charge of other officers, or of which the enforcement is not reserved by the assembly.

To answer all parliamentary inquiries and give information as to the parliamentary effect of proposed acts of the assembly*

To present to the assembly all messages from coordinate branches, and all proper communications.

To sign and authenticate all the acts of the assembly, all its resolves and votes.

To name a member to take his place until adjournment of the meeting.

And in general

To act as the organ of the assembly, and as its representative, subject always to its will.

(*There is no appeal from the decision of the Speaker in the House of Commons.)

(* Parliamentary inquiries occupy a peculiar position. They are of the nature of privileged motions, and are indulged in at the pleasure of the presiding officer to enable the assembly to understand the effect of the proposed action. The presiding officer always answers them, unless the answer would anticipate the decision of a point of order which he may prefer to have discussed before deciding.)

35. Points of Behavior.— The presiding officer should treat all members as equals of each other and of himself, and should decline all personal disputes.

He should rise when putting a question to the assembly, and also when addressing the assembly.

He may, while sitting, recognize a member for the purpose of giving him the floor.

He may also sit while reading to the assembly any communication.>

36. Power of Assembly Over Presiding Officer.— A presiding officer elected by an assembly may be removed by the assembly whenever such a course seems suitable to the body.

37. Substitute Officers.— It very frequently happens that the assembly itself designates the members whom it desires to take the chair whenever the chairman for any reason is obliged to leave it. Such substitute officers, whether called President pro tempore as in the United States Senate, Deputy Speaker as in the House of Commons, or Deputy Chairman, take the chair whenever the circumstances require it.

38. Appointed by the Chair.— The appointment of a member by the Chair to act in his place is always limited in point of time by the adjournment of the meeting at which the appointment is made, and is always subject to the action of the assembly. The assembly can at all times control the occupancy of the chair. When the presiding officer is absent, and no appointment has been made, the clerk calls to order, and then, on nomination from the floor, a temporary presiding officer is chosen.

39. Temporary Speaker Appointments.— In the House of Representatives the Speaker has the right to name any member to perform the duties of the chair, but such substitution can not extend beyond an adjournment; but in case of his illness he may appoint for not more than ten days, with the approval of the House at the time the appointment is made. Under the practice of the House these appointments may be made in writing.

40. Right to Debate.— Where the presiding officer is a member of the assembly, his right to participate like other members in the debates and in the action of the body admits of no question. That he should not participate in the debates, except on very extraordinary occasions, is equally beyond question. A presiding officer, to be efficient, must not only be impartial as between individuals, but must appear so. His influence and control of the assembly largely depends upon this. While he occupies the chair all its influences tend to keep him in the judicial frame of mind. Few men are so one-sided that a short season on the bench does not convert them to impartiality. It is so with the chair of an assembly. Participation in the rough and tumble of debate has just the opposite tendency. Debate very often produces harsh feelings, gives rise to sharp expressions, and even to personal enmities. None of these things add to individual respect or esteem. In addition, the position of the presiding officer is one of great power. He can not, when he descends to the floor, divest himself of his power and influence as representative of the whole body. It seems hardly fair that this should be thrown into the debate.

These considerations have in the course of time proved so potent that a presiding officer rarely takes the floor, and seldom votes except to take his share of responsibility on great occasions, and to give the casting vote. Nevertheless, there are occasions when the occupant of the chair may properly take the floor, and of these occasions he must be the sole judge, having in view all the considerations.

41. Clerk.— The next officer needed is the clerk, sometimes also called the secretary, and sometimes the recorder. He may be chosen after nomination by viva voce vote, or by resolution, or by ballot. If but one clerk is chosen, and he is at any time absent, his place must at once be filled, since the assembly can not be said to be organized without a Clerk and a Speaker, and an assembly must not only be organized, but must stay organized.

42. Qualifications.— The Clerk should have some knowledge of parliamentary law, should be careful, observant, and attentive to his duties. Either he or his assistant should be a good reader, with a clear voice, capable of being heard in all parts of the place of meeting, even where there is considerable confusion. Too much stress can not be laid upon this qualification, since bad reading, ill understood, breeds confusion, disorder, and misunderstanding. He should also be able to express himself accurately in writing.

43. Duties.— It is the duty of the recording officer:

To read all papers the reading of which is demanded by the presiding officer, the assembly, or its rules.
To prepare and keep an accurate list of members.

To call the roll whenever the yeas and nays are ordered, or when the presence of members is to be determined by that method, to note the responses, and to communicate the result to the presiding officer.

These duties are to be performed standing.

To take down motions as fast as presented to the Chair, and, in general, keep such a temporary record of what is taking place as will enable the chairman to keep the business in orderly condition.

To preserve on file all documents and papers which belong to the assembly, or which are made part of the proceedings.

To authenticate by his signature, either alone or jointly with the presiding officer, all acts, resolves, and proceedings of the assembly, except where by law other authentication is required.

To note and furnish to the chairman of each committee a correct list of its members.

To notify committees of all business referred to them, and to send them all papers laid before the assembly relating to such business.

To keep a journal, or minutes, of each meeting.

44. Substitute Clerk.— Where several clerks, or secretaries, are chosen, the first selected, or the first on the list when they are chosen altogether, is considered the chief. In his absence the next in order acts in his place. Where only one is chosen, and he is absent, his place must be filled at once by a clerk chosen to replace him temporarily or permanently as may be needed.

45. Right to Debate and Vote.— Where the recording officer is a member of the assembly he has the right to debate and to vote and to participate in the proceedings in all ways not inconsistent with the duties of his office, which he must perform or resign.

46. The Journal, or Minutes.— The journal of a representative body should ordinarily confine itself to what has been done. What has been proposed but not regularly presented or acted upon, and what has been said which has not resulted in any act, either of indorsement or rejection, has no place in the journal of a deliberative body. Such is the strict rule, and should always be followed where the object is to furnish a legal record.

The minutes, however, of an assembly not legislative in its character may have an object beyond the mere record of things done. To the constituency to which they are addressed, as in the case of religious convocations and political assemblies, what was said may be as important as what was done. In that case the minutes very properly become more full and extensive partaking of the nature of a report and recording expressions of opinion and remarks, as well as the mere action of the assembly.

This difference, however, regulates itself by adaptation to the needs of each assembly. With the extended newspaper reports of modern times, very full minutes are not as much needed as formerly for purposes of information.

47. Other Officers.— A presiding and a recording officer are all that are strictly needed for a parliamentary organization as such, but as the comfort of the assembly is of importance, other officers are usually selected, such as a sergeant-at-arms to assist the chairman in maintaining order, and in the United States House of Representatives to act as a paymaster, a treasurer to receive and pay out money, a postmaster to have charge of the mails, and a door-keeper to prevent intrusions upon the assembly. All these officers are chosen by the assembly in the various ways already described, or may be appointed by the chairman at the will of the body. Their duties are not fixed by parliamentary law, but by the regulations of the assembly.