By Judy Czarsty, F79148
Once upon a time, in a land far away, a group of people came together. Their idea was to enjoy their new friendship and to have fellowship for each family within the group. They all owned buses that were converted to “motor coaches,” and they decided to name their group the Family Motor Coach Association. They wrote a charter (a constitution) describing what they were about and creating a general framework for the association.
Someone very wise said, “We all have different motor coaches and different ways of doing things. What can we do to make sure our new family association will work together like a family?” Another said, “We can set out rules that we all agree to abide by, just as we do in my family.” And it was decided that they needed a structure, and they all agreed to create bylaws to give them this structure. Their job was made easier by using Robert’s Rules of Order, written by U.S. Army General Henry M. Robert. (Robert’s Rules of Order has been maintained since 1876 and is a guide to conduct meetings in a smooth and orderly manner. It is updated periodically and the last revision included information on teleconferences and video conferences and the use of e-mails.)
The group divided their tasks. Some worked on their rules, i.e., bylaws; others worked to develop a way to communicate when they were not together. Still others worked to find a new place where they could gather again for fellowship.
This may sound like a fairy tale, but it may be closer to reality than you may realize. Our association was incorporated, and part of that process called for the creation of a constitution. FMCA’s founding fathers did indeed see the need for some structure to guide them in their meetings, and they used Robert’s Rules of Order to that end.
They also determined they needed a permanent group to ensure that FMCA’s bylaws changed and grew as the times changed. This group they called the Constitution and Bylaws Committee. Changes to our founding documents, the constitution and bylaws, would need to be well thought out and discussed before adopting a change, and a permanent committee would have continuity.
Now let’s move forward to today and look at the current Constitution and Bylaws Committee. This committee is considered a standing committee in that it is permanent. As determined by FMCA’s founders, it reports to the association’s Governing Board. The committee has multiple tasks, but the most important is to ensure that the structure of our association is solid and responds to the changing needs of its membership.
The committee tends to be more reactive than proactive. Changes in our structural documents are suggested by the membership “” either individually by petition or by groups such as the Governing Board or the Executive Board. When a petition is received, or the Executive Board recommends a particular change, the committee will study the proposed change, discuss the ramifications of the change, and make a recommendation to the Governing Board to either accept or reject the proposal; of course, there must be a rationale included for the committee’s recommendation. When the Governing Board directs a change, the committee drafts the language that will incorporate the desires of the Governing Board, and returns the revision to the Governing Board at its next meeting to be voted upon. It takes a supermajority “” 65 percent of the Governing Board “” to approve changes to our bylaws.
It is rare to have a change to our constitution. When there is a proposal to change the constitution, the committee follows the same process as it does for proposed bylaws changes. However, there is a different adoption process for constitutional changes. Unlike bylaws changes, the Governing Board’s approval is actually an approval to send the proposed change to the association’s entire membership. It is the membership that adopts changes to our constitution; such changes require a majority of those voting.
As our association grew, members decided to form local chapters so they could get together more often. These chapters would follow the parent organization’s bylaws, but they might also have needs not addressed in the overall bylaws of the association. The Governing Board decided that the Constitution and Bylaws Committee should review all chapter bylaws to ensure they do not conflict with the association’s bylaws.
Under the association’s bylaws, chapters submit their own bylaws for review when they are formed and whenever they make a change. If there is an area where their bylaws are in conflict (do not conform) with the association’s bylaws, the committee will ask the chapter to make the change that is needed to bring their chapter bylaws back into agreement with those of the association. Once the revision is made and the bylaws are resubmitted, they are accepted for file.
Over the years the committee reviewed literally hundreds of chapter bylaws and found that there was no uniform approach or content. In an effort to assist the chapters and to bring some type of uniformity in structure to the association and its hundreds of chapters, the committee developed what they called a “Chapter Bylaws Format.” This format closely mirrors FMCA’s bylaws; but, since it was only a model, the chapters could modify it to fit their particular needs.
Today the model bylaws format is used by the majority of chapters. Leaders of new chapters use the format to get started. Older chapters that had bylaws documents that were 10 to 20 pages long found they could scale back their bylaws and put much of their procedural rules in something called standing rules. They also found that by using standing rules for procedures, they could adopt changes with a simple majority instead of the supermajority that would be required for bylaws changes.
As FMCA’s areas formed area associations, they, too, had a need for bylaws. The Constitution and Bylaws Committee drafted something similar to the chapter model bylaws format, called the “Area Association Bylaws Format.”
One final task performed by this committee is extremely important. They are a resource for our members, chapters, area associations, officers, and the Governing Board. Committee members will answer your questions about FMCA’s constitution and bylaws. They will work with your chapter or proposed chapter to develop bylaws. They will, when necessary, get opinions from a certified parliamentarian on unusual issues. The important thing to remember is they are here to help you.
Members of the current Constitution and Bylaws Committee are David Fuller, F331444, from the Great Lakes Area; Sue Haught, F82522, from the Eastern Area; and Russ Westcott, F88794, from the Rocky Mountain Area. I am the Eastern Area vice president and the committee chairman. Each of us brings a different background and many years of experience to the committee, as well as a dedication to make sure that FMCA’s structure remains current and solid.
You can read FMCA’s constitution; its bylaws; the Chapter Bylaws Format; and the Area Association Bylaws Format at FMCA.com/governance. Why not take a minute the next time you are on the Web site to see what your association’s bylaws say?