Don’t Say “Table” if You Mean “Postpone”

One of the most common misuses of Robert’s Rules is the motion to “table” something. It would be nice if everyone knew the proper way to lay a matter aside in a meeting. Robert’s Rules of Order states, “[The motion to lay on the table] is commonly misused in ordinary assemblies – in place of the motion to Postpone Indefinitely, to Postpone to a Certain Time, or other motions. Particularly in such misuses, it is also known as a motion ‘to table'” (202).

The motion to lay on the table is to be used to interrupt pending business so as to permit doing something else immediately. It is to be used when something else of immediate urgency has arisen. The motion allows the assembly to lay the pending question aside temporarily in such a way that there is no set time for taking up the matter again, but its consideration can be resumed at the will of a majority (RRO, 201-202). It is not debatable, though the chair should ask the maker the reason for making the motion. Therefore it is not to be used, and is out of order, if the evident intent is to kill or avoid dealing with a matter (RRO, 203, 202).

What people usually mean when they say they want to table something, is that they want to postpone something, either to a definite time (“to our next meeting”) or indefinitely. That’s a fine thing to do, but that motion is debatable. So let’s use RRO properly, and say what we really mean. Moderators, the next time you hear someone say they want to table a matter/motion, ask them if they mean they want to postpone something. And make sure you’ve read the sections on postponement…

SDG

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