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Today's lesson in that if the GOP really wanted to jettison Goat Killer, it could figure out a way

by: Eric B.

Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 09:15:08 AM EST

Yesterday's post about Terri Lynn Land's replacement reminded me of a piece of housekeeping leftover from two weeks ago when the state GOP declared itself incapable of getting rid of a public embarrassment named Dave Agema and spent a Friday afternoon giving him the Pontius Pilate treatment. It was doing a little more digging into the Michigan Republican Party bylaws, which they claim prohibit them from taking action. The state's media originally bought that and then started to back away when it was pointed out that there is plenty of language to create a path if they really wanted to travel it. Yesterday afternoon, I sat down a few minutes with this section.

Parliamentary Authority
Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, shall govern the conduct of all meetings of the Committee and its standing committees, except as provided in these Bylaws or by law.

In other words, for matters not covered explicitly under these bylaws, the bylaws defer to Robert's Rules of Order. First of all, however, the bylaws are open to interpretation. RNC rules governing the selection of its committee members place that job -- of electing and replacing -- in the hands of individual state parties. MRP bylaws give the power to fill vacancies to the state central committee and establish rules for getting rid of officers. A pretty obvious and reasonable interpretation would be that this applies to everyone who holds an office, not just those explicitly named, because otherwise saying that there's no way to remove someone who is bringing shame upon an organization is the same thing as saying that the organization is powerless to pursue its own best interests. That's the direct opposite point of having bylaws in the first place. But, if you hold to the idea that the bylaws have to be interpreted super literally, which is dumb, but we'll accept it for the sake of argument ... if there is no language in the MRP bylaws for getting rid of people, then you defer to Roberts Rules of Order, Newly Revised. You have to buy the book to read those, but there's some hint at how Roberts Rules handles this.

Question 20:
How can we get rid of officers we don't like before their term is up?

It depends. If the bylaws just state a fixed term for the officer, such as “two years,” or if they say the officer serves for a specified term “and until [the officer's] successor is elected” (or words to that effect), then the group must use formal disciplinary proceedings, which involve the appointment of an investigating committee, preferral of charges, and the conduct of a formal trial. The procedure is complex and should be undertaken only after a careful review of Chapter XX of RONR.

On the other hand, if the bylaws state a term for the office but add “or until [the officer's] successor is elected,” or contain other wording explicitly indicating that the officer may be removed before the term expires, then the officer can be removed from office by a two-thirds vote, by a majority vote when previous notice has been given, or by a vote of the majority of the entire membership -- any one of which will suffice. A successor may thereafter be elected for the remainder of the term.

From the MRP bylaws.

B. Election Of National Committeeman And Committeewoman. The Republican National Committeeman and Committeewoman from Michigan shall be elected by and at the same convention which elects delegates to the Republican National Convention. They shall serve until their successors are elected and qualified. They shall be qualified electors of Michigan.

C. Vacancy In Office Of National Committeeman Or Committeewoman. In the event that either office becomes vacant prior to the convening of a state convention to elect National Convention delegates, this Committee shall elect a successor at the next meeting of the Committee, which meeting shall be in part called for that purpose.

See how that works? There's no language in the Michigan Republican Party bylaws that explicity states that a national committee person has to be left in that office for the entire term. There is language in both the ultimate empowering document (the RNC rules, which says RNC members can be disqualified from serving on that committee, but leaves the process to the individual states) and in the MRP rules (serve until a successor is chosen and elected) to get rid of him, and while this is just a summary the fallback empowering document for how the MRP conducts its business -- Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised -- says that someone can be removed by a two-thirds vote, or by a simple majority on previous notice. And, by the way, if they simply wanted to censure Agema, there's always a vote of no-confidence in his abilities.

My point is, as before, not that the Michigan Republican Party can get rid of Dave Agema if it wants. They could do that through means that in a normal organization would be considered fairly reasonable. The party has chosen a much more rigid and literal interpretation of the rules, for reasons that should be obvious. Again, it's not the bylaws or lack of legal mechanism to get rid of him. It's not the rules. It's never the rules. It's how the rules get interpreted, and it's in that interpretation that could can ferret out what the party leaders feel is in their organization's best interests.

Eric B. :: Today's lesson in that if the GOP really wanted to jettison Goat Killer, it could figure out a way
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Where's there a will there's a way
Dave Agema is a gift that Democrats can only wish keeps on giving. The split within the GOP between the elite DeVos money crowd and the tea party/evangelical riff raff has been brought into full view and it's a huge distraction.  Especially in an election year, particularly when the governor's lt. gov may be challenged for nomination by convention delegates. There is a way, as you so ably point out, for the GOP to oust Agema.  But the will ain't there yet.  

Yes there is...
When I did my first post on this, the intent was to get media people to ask where in the MRP's bylaws it says they can't get rid of him. I got some pushback to that on the grounds that because there isn't an explicit removal process that one doesn't exist. Reporters got hung up on the fact that the national committee man isn't expressly defined as an officer.

I'll chalk it up to the inexperience of the press corps to not know how organizations can act to further and protect their own best interests, or how even black and white language is open to interpretation.

But to the extent that anyone cares, this pretty much demonstrates that there isn't a whole lot to that explanation that isn't subtext. They interpret their own internal rules however they want, but when they do it's not because that's what the rules say it's because it's what the organization wants them to say.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
They don't want
to irritate the teabaggers by throwing Agema under the bus. They need to make it look like homo-loving Democrats and the librul media are somehow responsible. And Obama.

And George Soros.
Also, Hollywood.  

Great Lakes, Great Times.

[ Parent ]
I would not go so far as to say
"It's never the rules." If you don't abide by your own rules, it's just an exercise in raw power by the majority, or even by a minority when the majority is unwilling to push things and claim their rights. I've seen that, it ain't pretty.

However, your major point is quite correct. I've read RONR (11th ed.) cover to cover. The only way to get around Robert's provisions for removal of an officer would be an explicit statement in the Bylaws, "Officers may not be removed from office prior to the completion of their term.", which would then trump Robert's.

Any organization would have to be crazy to put that in their Bylaws. There are just too many bad possibilities to contemplate that.  

My point is that an organization's bylaws are a matter of interpretation
Yeah, you're right, an organization that doesn't abide by its own internal rules is putting its own credibility at risk with its own members. That said, however, it comes down to a matter of how an organization interprets its own rules.

Example: The coop board I sit on has in its bylaws a section prohibiting it from taking a stand on political issues. I think it's a good idea, because the coop doesn't exist to take stands on political issues, it exists to promote better food for people.

A couple of years ago, the city of Mount Pleasant was looking to expand its human rights ordinance to include LGBT people. I thought it was a good, forward thinking idea (in fact, the city commission's two Republicans voted in favor of it). But, someone wanted the coop to take a position on it, and after I pointed out that we couldn't because of what it said in our bylaws, a fellow board member offered an alternative interpretation that it was a "human rights" issue rather than a political one. I argued that that was a bad interpretation of the bylaws, and while expanding the human rights ordinance might seem like a no-brainer (I've got a friend who has rentals who objects to the government telling him he has to do the right thing), I said taking stands on political issues opened us up to potentially getting mired in debating GMO foods and/or fluoridated drinking water and other stuff that's a horrible distraction from the job of moving the store, which is our biggest priority right now.

That's a very long way of saying that absent express language forbidding them from taking action, that there is always a way to interpret your internal rules to promote the organization's best interests.  

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
And what was the outcome in your coop case?
I think you are making my point... In any case, your point to the coop board is the exact thing I would have said under those circumstances.

We say "a government of laws, and not of men", which is a noble ideal, but men and women must interpret and enforce those laws. You are right that an organization CAN do what it wants, if it is willing to adopt a tortured interpretation of its rules -- but it ought not do so, because that weakens the internal 'rule of law' ethos. It gets easier the next time, and the next, until no one is paying any attention to the Bylaws.

I don't think we are disagreeing here.

But MRP has all the authority it needs to give Agema the boot if it wants, without any twisting, in the most straightforward interpretation of how RONR and the Bylaws interact. I guess your point is they have to twist the interpretation to deny that.

[ Parent ]

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