Promptly at the time named in the notice issued for the meeting, the President* should take the chair. The custom of permitting a delay, or allowing "grace," as it is called, is rapidly falling into disuse. No efficient Presiding officer will ever suffer it, unless, indeed, it is rendered unavoidable by the want of a sufficient number to form a quorum, but even in this case it is better to proceed with the preliminary steps necessary for an organization. In Town and Ward meetings, a delay of a few minutes, after the arrival of the time appointed, is sometimes rendered necessary, but it should never be suffered in a well-regulated Society.
* Most Societies have a Vice President, to act in the absence of the President, and who, for the time being, is clothed with the President's authority. In all other cases he has no other privileges than those of any other member.
1. The President, on taking the chair, will say, "The meeting will please come to order. The Secretary will call the roll." In small bodies, it is not unusual for the President himself to count the members, and if a quorum* be present, to announce the fact, and proceed with business, dispensing with roll call. In other cases, the Secretary having called the roll, reports to the President the number present. Should there not be a quorum, proceedings are necessarily suspended. The most general usage is, to wait for half an hour,† and then, if still deficient in the requisite number, to adjourn; and in this case, unless a special meeting is regularly called in the mean time, the adjournment will be until the next stated meeting.
* If there be no law on the subject, a majority of the whole number of the members is necessary to constitute a quorum.
† This delay, however, is longer than should be allowed, in justice to the members who are punctual. In some corporations only five minutes are allowed. Perhaps fifteen minutes would be more reasonable. In all cases this matter should be clearly settled by a provision in the by-laws.
2. If a quorum be present, the President will say, "There is a quorum of members present - the Secretary will read the minutes of the last meeting."*
3. The minutes of the previous meeting having been read, the President will say, "The members have heard read the minutes of the last meeting - unless there be objection offered, they will be considered as approved." If no objection be made, after pausing a moment or two, he will add, "the minutes are approved."
It is the custom of many presiding officers formally to take the question on the adoption of the minutes, but this is altogether unnecessary. The minutes being a fair transcript of the doings of the previous meeting, are supposed to be correct, and if so, must be approved, as a matter of course. It is only in case of error that a motion is necessary, and if any be detected, a member should rise and move that it be corrected. Any dispute respecting the actual existence of an error, may be settled by a motion. After being corrected, the President will say, "Shall the minutes, as corrected, be approved?" And if no further objections be made, he will declare the minutes approved.*
* The absence of the Secretary from the meeting, with his books and papers, does not prevent those who are constitutionally assembled from transacting business, although what is done will necessarily be attended with some inconvenience.
Sometimes gentlemen who are dissatisfied with some action of the previous meeting, will move to amend by striking out the objectionable passages from the minutes, but all such motions are out of order. No motion to amend the minutes can be received, unless In some Societies it is the custom to have the minutes read, just previous to the adjournment of the meeting at which they are taken. The object is, that if any mistake has been recorded, it may be corrected while the matter is fresh in the minds of the members, and before the minutes are recorded on the Secretary's book. This is a very excellent custom.
* With a good Secretary, errors in the minutes will rarely occur. Sometimes, however, on a press of motions, and the hurry of business, they are unavoidable. When clearly apparent, no Secretary should hesitate for a moment about yielding to the correction, even though at the expense of defacing his Record book. Accuracy in these matters is of the highest importance.
When a Society has more than one Secretary, the first named is usually the acting officer.
It have reference to the correction of an error in the minutes as recorded and read.
4. The President will then say, "the first* business in order is to receive letters, petitions, or communications - have gentlemen any to present ?" Any member having a communication to offer, will then rise in his place, and say, "Mr. President," and then pause until he secures the attention of the Presiding officer, who will say, as soon as he perceives the member on his feet, "Mr.
----------," naming him.† This secures the gentleman the floor, and he should then proceed: "I have been requested to present a communication, relating to, etc," giving a very brief and succinct statement of its character, after which he will hand the communication to the President. The Presiding officer, on receiving the paper, should say: "A communication is presented relating to, etc," repeating its character. "It will be read," and then hand it to the Secretary. The reading of communications is a matter of business never objected to by members, unless they have reason to believe it disrespectful in its language or character; but such communications should never be presented, and it is unquestionably the duty of a member to guard himself and his associates on this point, by knowing something of the character of the paper he offers.
* The order in which business is taken up, varies in different institutions. The arrangement here offered prevails in very many societies and institutions, and for various reasons is believed to be the most convenient.