By Jim Phillips, F158824, Co-Chairman, Constitution and Bylaws/Policy and Procedure Committee; National Vice President, Northwest Area
Among the elements of the governance of Family Motor Coach Association are the Constitution, the Bylaws, and the Policies and Procedures (P&Ps). Each document is unique, but each also has a place in the hierarchy and management of the association. What is a mystery for many members of FMCA is just how all this works. This article is an effort to explain how these documents have evolved, how they relate to each other, and, finally, how the role of each document complements the others.
The starting point for the analysis of our governance documents is Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules are the foundation on which our documents are built. To understand our documents and their role in our governance, one needs to understand how Robert’s Rules came to be. The statement in the Introduction section of the latest edition of Robert’s Rules of Order explains its history far more clearly than this author can express. Hence, I quote that section verbatim from page xxv of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised.
“Parliamentary law originally was the name given to the rules and customs for carrying on business in the English Parliament that were developed through a continuing process of decisions and precedents somewhat like the growth of the common law. These rules and customs, as brought to America with the settling of the New World, became the basic substance from which the practice of legislative bodies in the United States evolved. Out of early American legislative procedure and paralleling it in further development has come the general parliamentary law, or common parliamentary law, of today, which is adapted to the needs of organizations and assemblies of widely differing purposes and conditions. In legislative bodies, there is often recourse to the general parliamentary law in situations not covered by the rules or precedents of the particular body “” although some of the necessary procedure in such a case must be proper to that type of assembly alone.”
The basic document of our association is the Constitution. It is the basis of FMCA’s existence and can best be described as an enabling document. It states the reason for the existence of the body as well as its goals. Reading it is not a difficult task. On the contrary, it is an exercise in basic understanding of how the association’s existence is justified, authenticated, and then implemented. In shorter words, the Constitution explains what we are, what we are authorized to do, and under what circumstances we can do it.
The Bylaws are derived from the Constitution. The Bylaws are nothing more than a concise explanation of how the power derived from the Constitution passes into the cauldron of the Bylaws, defining the scope of those powers, the limitations on the powers, and the circumstances that affect the nature of those powers. Using a legal jurisdiction as an example, our Bylaws are similar to the ordinances of a city. They detail what is allowed and what is not allowed. Reading the ordinances enables the careful reader to understand the permissible and, if you allow me to coin a word, the non-permissible. Interwoven, as an inseparable foundation for the Bylaws, is the document known as Robert’s Rules of Order. Where there is no provision for a particular issue in any of the governance documents, Robert’s Rules of Order provides the answer. In order to ensure that official meetings of the Governing Board operate correctly, it is FMCA’s tradition to have a parliamentarian in attendance. Thus, any questions on procedure that may arise during a meeting are answered with a rapid solution by the parliamentarian.
The next logical step in the progression of the documents are the Policies and Procedures. A simpler name for the Policies and Procedures could be the Standing Rules of the association. The P&Ps are a two-step documentation. The Policy, the first “P” of P&Ps, typically a portion of a Bylaw, states the subject in a permissive form, e.g., “It is the policy of this organization to (etc., etc.).” The second “P,” Procedure, further creates an orderly means of explaining how a particular policy is implemented. The net result is a series of P&Ps that provide a virtual manual for those members who need to follow the various requirements of FMCA in the performance of their volunteer duties for the association.
When the entire panoply of P&Ps is put into a manual, a manual called the “Member and Volunteer Handbook,” there will be a handy, comprehensive, and understandable tool at every member’s disposal.
Before you conclude that all of your problems are solved, let me discourage you by telling you that this is still a work in progress. On the other hand, let me encourage you by sharing that your national Constitution and Bylaws/Policy and Procedure Committee has not been idle. Co-chaired by Mary Elizabeth Preston, F51004, and your author, this committee has continued the work of the predecessor committee.
The Constitution was rewritten in late 2002 and submitted to the general membership for approval at that time. The work of the committee was confirmed by the approval of the general membership by a majority of affirmative votes in excess of 90 percent. That affirmation allowed the next step, the vote of the Governing Board on the rewritten Bylaws. That mail ballot was sent to every member of the Governing Board, consisting of the national directors of every active chapter of FMCA and the national officers, a total of 447 votes. Of the 327 valid ballots that were returned for counting, 303 voted to adopt the new Bylaws and only 24 voted against that adoption. This was a mandate that our committee recognized and accepted eagerly.
The Constitution and Bylaws/Policy and Procedure Committee members, along with their predecessors from the former Constitution and Bylaws Committee, heaved a collective sigh of relief, knowing that the Governing Board had approved their Herculean efforts. As great as that feeling was, it paled in comparison to the realization that an even greater effort lay before us. It was now time to complete the third portion of the triumvirate of governance documents of the Family Motor Coach Association.
The newly approved Bylaws constituted a much briefer document than the old Bylaws they replaced. With the help of a nationally known consultant, the Constitution and Bylaws Committee had deleted much of the verbiage of the old Bylaws, deemed inappropriate to be in the document. As Bylaws scholars all profess, the Bylaws should contain only those items that are large in scope, covering areas of governance without the burden of details of implementation. In excising those unneeded portions from inclusion in the new Bylaws, the committee created a necessity to place those former Bylaws into the P&Ps. Those excised Bylaws caused the creation of 55 proposed new P&Ps. The task of reworking those new P&Ps into a clear yet concise collection of policies and procedures became the major task of the Constitution and Bylaws/Policy and Procedure Committee.
Your committee members have completed the vast majority of the documents of the P&Ps. The Executive Board (known as the Executive Committee under the old Bylaws) approved the revised documents for presentation to the Governing Board at FMCA’s 70th International Convention in Buffalo, New York, in July. It is worth mentioning that the Executive Board approved the wording of the revised P&Ps almost unanimously. They were considered one at a time, with only one of the 50 P&Ps receiving one “Nay” vote. (Four of the 55 potential new P&Ps were either dropped or placed into one of the remaining P&Ps, and one is still under construction.) The remaining 49 were approved unanimously. This was a thunderous approval of what many onlookers had feared would be a controversial set of documents. That the Executive Board was so overwhelmingly in favor of the writing of the P&Ps expressed clearly the excellent work the committee had done. After approval by the Governing Board, these 51 P&Ps will be added to our existing P&Ps in FMCA’s “Member and Volunteer Handbook.”
It would be remiss not to give recognition to the hardworking members of this committee who completed this latest step in the evolution of our governance documents. They are Mary Elizabeth Preston, past national secretary and co-chair of the committee; Ginger Painter, F23514, past national vice president, International Area; John Kelley, L6562, full lifetime member of FMCA; and Philip Griffin, F128165, president of FMCA’s HMC Club chapter. Your author served as co-chair with M.E. Preston. It was a privilege to have worked with this outstanding and dedicated group of enthusiastic FMCA members.
Becky Abegglen, who officially was our “staff support member,” attended every meeting while providing us with a far deeper and more meaningful role. She counseled us, cajoled us, and generally left a firm imprint on the finished project. As did Becky, FMCA executive director Don Eversmann, whose official role on this committee is “non-voting consultant,” attended every meeting. He brought history and wisdom to our meetings and was helpful beyond belief. Our third member, FMCA president Jeff Jefcoat, is an ex-officio member of our committee. Jeff injected wise counsel into every predicament, potential solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, and a clear head when one was needed. Together with the five core members of this committee, we formed an awesome “get it done” team, personifying the definition of the word teamwork.