Reviewing Robert's Rules

Jacksonville residents might understand the meaning of the term "conflict of interest," yet might not fully comprehend its many applications. They might assign it to any cases in which an authoritative figure has a personal connection to a matter being reviewed. In the everyday world, people might think that conflicts of interest are limited to legal professionals. Yet what about those operating in systems that utilize a voting structure? 

In 1863, U.S. Army Major Henry Martyn Robert was asked to preside over a church meeting. He quickly noticed that the body followed the same parliamentary model as government (deciding matters by way of a vote). From this, he adapted many of the procedures used by the U.S. House of Representatives to apply to everyday organizations, such as: 

  • County commissions
  • Homeowners associations
  • Nonprofits 
  • School boards
  • Professional societies 
  • Trade unions

Robert turned these guidelines into a book commonly known as Robert's Rules of Order, which eventually became the standard for parliamentary procedure in the U.S. 

Robert's Rules specifically address conflicts of interest when it comes to voting. In them, it states that no member of a voting authority should vote on any issue to which he or she has a personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the organization. A personal interest might be easy to define; a pecuniary interest may be more difficult. 

Florida state law mirrors Robert's Rules when assigning voting responsibilities to public officers (specifically prohibiting them from voting on matters that would inure them a private gain or loss). It defines private gains or losses as economic benefits or harm to themselves, family and friends, principals or business associates. While the law imposes this standard specifically on public officials, one might apply the same definition to the actions of corporate or organizational officers. 

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