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Photo by ATXN. Representatives from Austin Pets Alive! address the city's Animal Advisory Commission

Animal Advisory Commission dives into Robert’s Rules

Friday, September 16, 2022 by Nina Hernandez

The Animal Advisory Commission grappled with process questions at its regular meeting on Monday.

Item 5 on the commission’s agenda was intended to be an explanation of Robert’s Rules of Order by the parliamentarian. But since the parliamentarian was absent, Chair Craig Nazor gave a brief presentation on two debate motions instead. He outlined the process for moving the previous question, which is used to terminate debate, and a point of information motion.

Nazor told commissioners a point of information could be used to ask a question while another commissioner holds the floor. However, the commissioner with the question must still be recognized by the chair, and the commissioner holding the floor has “a choice of whether they want you to interrupt or not,” he said.

The structure is intended to reduce back-and-forth arguments during meetings, Nazor explained. “There can be questions during debate but that’s the form,” he said. “Once someone has the floor, you’re not allowed to interrupt them except through certain procedures. That’s one of them.”

Commissioner Paige Nilson asked whether commissioners could question the speaker once they’ve finished speaking. “In a debate, it’s not supposed to be a back and forth between two individuals,” Nazor responded. “That’s the point. Everybody gets to speak once and we go around and everybody gets to speak again. That’s why it goes through twice.”

At the end of the discussion, Nazor and Nilson still couldn’t agree on an interpretation of the rules governing questions during debate. Nazor said he would look into the matter further.

The next item was the monthly report from Austin Pets Alive! delivered by founder Ellen Jefferson, and the subsequent discussion caused Nazor to deliver another piece of insight on the process. During a line of questioning from Nilson on APA’s use of the Town Lake shelter site, Nazor interrupted to note that the city is currently in discussions with the nonprofit and that the merits of such an arrangement were not up for discussion at that time.

“We’re not supposed to talk about that,” Nazor said. “That is a private negotiation. So let’s not go there. Once they agree on it and finally finalize it, it will be brought to us, and we can say yea or nay.”

Nilson continued her questioning, asking Jefferson for clarification about the organization’s mission statement. Again, Nazor interrupted.

“This is a point of order,” Nazor said, over Nilson’s objections. “You’re talking about something that you’re very passionate about, but it has nothing to do with what they came here (for) and the kinds of questions we ask them.”

Nazor told Nilson that she hadn’t asked a question. Nilson responded by asking Jefferson if “she would like to clarify” the group’s mission statement; in particular whether the group is sufficiently taking into account animal suffering, and not just live outcomes, when it makes decisions about animal care. Jefferson agreed to send Nilson the group’s mission statement, and pointed to efforts the group makes to alleviate suffering outside of euthanasia.

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