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    Default By-Laws/Roberts Rules

    A Volunteer Fire Department has to follow various laws as a non-profit organization, correct? Are they legally required to follow Roberts Rules and the by-laws that are in place or can chiefs just change the rules as they want without going through the proper procedures of changing the by-laws? I would assume they legally have to be held to some laws since they are claiming non profit status through the state. Any input or references you can provide is appreciated. Thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by rob2386b View Post
    A Volunteer Fire Department has to follow various laws as a non-profit organization, correct? Are they legally required to follow Roberts Rules and the by-laws that are in place or can chiefs just change the rules as they want without going through the proper procedures of changing the by-laws? I would assume they legally have to be held to some laws since they are claiming non profit status through the state. Any input or references you can provide is appreciated. Thanks!
    I would say it depends upon what the dept has adopted for its rules and by-laws. If Robert's was adopted, then I would think the procedure should be followed. However, if there were no rules of order adopted, then there is nothing procedurally to go on and there is no "legal" requirement to follow Robert's.

    I guess the question remains as to what this entails. Robert's rules are for a meeting and conducting business. The bylaws outline the associations rules to go on etc. However, if this goes beyond a dept business meeting and you start talking fireground issues etc, then that is the chief's call. Meetings procedure is one thing, dept policy and protocol is another.
    The thoughts and opinions posted here are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the thoughts and or views of city or dept affiliation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rob2386b View Post
    A Volunteer Fire Department has to follow various laws as a non-profit organization, correct? YES Are they legally required to follow Roberts Rules and the by-laws that are in place or can chiefs just change the rules as they want without going through the proper procedures of changing the by-laws? Depends... on a LOT. What are the organization's By-Laws, and/or what vehicle do they specify for changing the same? What local/state/federal laws are in effect there? Etc. I would assume they legally have to be held to some laws since they are claiming non profit status through the state. YES Any input or references you can provide is appreciated. Thanks!
    Lemme guess...something didn't go your way, and you wish to cry about it? If you have a legitimate gripe, bring it to the membership's attention, and make the chief see the error of his ways. If the chief, upon seeing the gripe you have and how his actions may/not be against the by-laws, says FU, or the membership doesn't care, or ???, then you need to consider carefully your next move.

    Yes, your organization should have some Constitution and/or By-Laws on record, which it must follow. Failure to do so "could" open them to legal action. If it gets to that point where you're even thinking of calling a lawyer*, things have already failed. Is it (the gripe you have) worth the cost/risk?

    If the organization is non-profit, then yes, there are laws that need to be followed. Again, where is this? A lot depends on jurisdiction...

    Is the gripe a minor procedural error, something raising major ethical/legal concerns, dissatisfaction with your current political climate, or just sour grapes?

    EDIT: * - lawyer or gov't body, OSHA, DA, AG, State Dept., State fire Marshall, ISO, some other oversight agency, authority, etc.
    Last edited by mrpita; 08-10-2011 at 01:04 AM.
    Opinions expressed are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Philadelphia Fire Department and/or IAFF Local 22.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rob2386b View Post
    A Volunteer Fire Department has to follow various laws as a non-profit organization, correct? Are they legally required to follow Roberts Rules and the by-laws that are in place or can chiefs just change the rules as they want without going through the proper procedures of changing the by-laws? I would assume they legally have to be held to some laws since they are claiming non profit status through the state. Any input or references you can provide is appreciated. Thanks!
    There are couple of 'tests' that must be considered before the definitive answer can be determined.

    If the "Meeting" is a business or Board meeting... meaning "The 'Elected' Board of Directors of the Corporation is conducting business or holding discussion in regard to the operations of the entity, which may include financial reports or paying of bills... then it falls under the Open Meeting Act or the Sunshine Law. Minutes of the Meeting must be recorded. Most enties of this type, especially Non-Profits, must adhere to a strict agenda and project accountability. The Corporation Bylaws usually will include language as to whether "Robert's Rules" have been adopted. But some kind of Rule must be followed including language concerning how meetings are held.

    If this question is in regard to the Chief unilaterally changing the language in the Bylaws, then this would be improper. Bylaws can usually only be changed by a vote of the membership, meaning, the people that support your department and vote for the Board of Directors. In most situations, the Executive or Elected Board cannot revise or change the Bylaws on their own. Refer to your Bylaws for the language that should cover this. It should be under Amendments or Amending Bylaws. The Board of Directors are charged with the responsibility of accountablility and tranparency.

    If the Chief is meeting with his firefighters, for the purpose of planning, discussion, commanding, etc... under the authority enjoyed by Statute or Bylaws.... then no rules of order are required. In this case, the Chief decides what the subject will be, who can talk, and who gets to leave.

    But, In most instances, it is a good idea to document or record this meetings or gatherings if (Historically) they tend to get heated. You must understand that the Chief is an agent of the Board of Directors and only the Board can decide who the Chief will be, how long he will command, or when the retirement begins. In other words, the Board hires and fires the Chief.

    In some organizations, the Chief position has become a popularity contest... meaning the membership votes for the Chief. This is an acceptable method, but often does not yield the best person for the job. Personally, any organization that does use this method should consider abandoning this process.

    Another Consideration: If the firefighters can legally (by the Bylaws) also be elected to the Board of Directors, care must be taken when a quorum of the board is present at any function, call, meeting or discussion. Any communication or discussion concerning the business operation of the department outside of a scheduled open meeting is a violation of the Open Meeting Act or Sunshine Laws of the State.

    Keep in mind that firefighters who do in fact sit on a Board of Directors, can only execute their executive powers or duties during a scheduled open meeting. Improper execution of executive powers outside of such meeting is a violation of the Bylaws and the Laws of the State. Example: The Chairman of the Board cannot overule a Fire Chief on a fire ground decision while the Chief is executing his authority. The Chairman can only discuss the Chief's order or conduct, and/or take action toward such action, during a scheduled open meeting of the Board.

    If the Chief is also a Board member, then he must use great care to not wear both hats at once, and he must realize that anything that concerns him/her may require a recusal by law. The Chief can only be the Chief during the day to day operations of the department. A Chairman or Board member, can only execute their duties during a schedlued open meeting.

    Accountability and/or Legal Issues can manifest themselves in departments that allow firefighters, Chiefs or Officers to also sit on the Board of Directors. If you are a Fire Chief and also sit on the Board, you cannot hold yourself accountable, so all actions you vote for or against are subject to emmense scrutiny if it concerns your appointed rank rather than elected position. There are District Attorneys and State Attorney Generals that will be very glad to make an example of you when something comes into question.

    You must remember that as a fire department, Board or firefighter, you are held accountable for the serving the public trust. It does not matter where your funding comes from, but some funds use or misuse can force you to adopt higher standards of accountability. Misuse or misappropriation of any funds or public trust is a crime.

    Since you have not provided enough information as to the meeting, the discussion, the situation... I can only conclude that you didn't like something... otherwise you would not ask about this.

    The place to start is to secure a copy of the department Bylaws, Policies and Procedures, and SOP(SOG). If you are denied this, then ask why, have it put in writing why and by whom, then call the State Attorney General. This is the number one illegal action that will hang someone or someones... A non-profit must provide almost every document to anyone that makes a request. This would not include personnel files/records, response reports or any document which can be considered sensitive.

    If you provide a little more info... and if you do not think you will risk yourself, I will advise which course to take.

    PK
    HAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL

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    Quote Originally Posted by rob2386b View Post
    A Volunteer Fire Department has to follow various laws as a non-profit organization, correct? Are they legally required to follow Roberts Rules and the by-laws that are in place or can chiefs just change the rules as they want without going through the proper procedures of changing the by-laws? I would assume they legally have to be held to some laws since they are claiming non profit status through the state. Any input or references you can provide is appreciated. Thanks!


    This should be asked of the County Attorney of your burg.

    We aren't lawyers, but some may try to be.
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

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    The way that I have come to understand the Issue of Roberts Rules is that it varies by state, as we had an rather long discussion about them at my Ambulance Corporations meeting while I was at our meeting one month. As far as By-laws and SOP's go, it should be listed in those as to whether or not the Chief can change them at any given time. Thats just what I think about that.

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    I have very little experience with Roberts Rules so I cant help you there.

    With our By-Laws, we have a committee. This committee is responsible for making sure the by-laws are kept up to date, which includes doing research and ensuring that our laws are feasible and keep order. If they find a change is needed, they adopt a rough draft of the new proposed law, or the change that is needed and present it to the officers. We as officers review it and vote on in at our officers meeting. Than, the addition/revision will be brought up at a meeting and voted on by the membership at three consecutive meetings, it must pass all three votes to be adopted as law, than approved by our department lawyer before finaly being made law. Lots of steps to ensure that there is a failsafe in place and keep one person from changing rules to suit their needs. The three consecutive monthly meeting vote is to make sure that all of the membership has a chance to attend a meeting, hear the proposed law and have their say during the open discussion portion, and make their vote. The only downfall is, if we get to the third vote, and a member who wasnt at the first two speaks up about a flaw they see and the membership agrees that another change is needed, this will need to go through the whole process again...could take a year or more for one by-law change to take effect depending on how big and detailed the change is and how well accepted or argued it is.
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    Quote Originally Posted by rob2386b View Post
    A Volunteer Fire Department has to follow various laws as a non-profit organization, correct? Are they legally required to follow Roberts Rules and the by-laws that are in place or can chiefs just change the rules as they want without going through the proper procedures of changing the by-laws? I would assume they legally have to be held to some laws since they are claiming non profit status through the state. Any input or references you can provide is appreciated. Thanks!
    The organization is only bound to Robert's Rules if they have stated so in their by-laws. They are a Corporation, and have to obey state laws (usually employment laws, equal rights and tax rules). Outside of that, there isn't much in the way of state laws they are bound to.

    I would leave that reference to RRules out and defer questions to your Executive Board, Board of Directors, etc.... RR are complicated and are ill suited for most fire departments. READ them, crazy stuff.

    They are bound to follow their by-laws. Usually a lot of wiggle room and areas for interpretation. Have a process to do that as well.
    I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

    "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list."

    "When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water."

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaladinKnight View Post
    If the "Meeting" is a business or Board meeting... meaning "The 'Elected' Board of Directors of the Corporation is conducting business or holding discussion in regard to the operations of the entity, which may include financial reports or paying of bills... then it falls under the Open Meeting Act or the Sunshine Law.
    I don't believe the Open Meeting Act applies to all corporations and even all non-profit corporations. However, this is usually a state law, so could vary. It may depend on if that non-profit corporation is acting as an "agent" for the government. Simply being a VFD doesn't qualify.

    Quote Originally Posted by PaladinKnight
    But, In most instances, it is a good idea to document or record this meetings or gatherings if (Historically) they tend to get heated. You must understand that the Chief is an agent of the Board of Directors and only the Board can decide who the Chief will be, how long he will command, or when the retirement begins. In other words, the Board hires and fires the Chief.
    This varies greatly... we don't even have a Board of Directors. We have an Executive Committee who can only act in emergencies between Monthly Meetings. The other items are stated in the bylaws (qualifications, how long he can be chief, how elected, etc). The Exec Committee is the Chief, 1st Asst and 2nd Asst Chief, President, VP, Treasurer and Secretary. No outside folks involved.

    Quote Originally Posted by PaladinKnight
    In some organizations, the Chief position has become a popularity contest... meaning the membership votes for the Chief. This is an acceptable method, but often does not yield the best person for the job. Personally, any organization that does use this method should consider abandoning this process.
    Agreed, not the case in most of this part of the state.

    Quote Originally Posted by PaladinKnight
    Any communication or discussion concerning the business operation of the department outside of a scheduled open meeting is a violation of the Open Meeting Act or Sunshine Laws of the State.
    See my comment above, there are very specific instances where a department might have to follow the Open Meeting Act. I'm willing to bet that most VFD's do not have to follow those rules.
    I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

    "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list."

    "When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water."

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaladinKnight View Post
    In some organizations, the Chief position has become a popularity contest... meaning the membership votes for the Chief. This is an acceptable method, but often does not yield the best person for the job.
    I've heard of places where there is actual campaigning for chief (buttons, posters, etc).

    Electing the chief officers is pretty much the norm around here - but in many cases it's less a popularity contest than it is a matter of who will take the job.

    And that doesn't always mean the best person gets the job, either.
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

    Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

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