Buffalo in the 80’s: the generic pop of our summers…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

1980s Buffalo Taste of Summer

genericrootbeer
A guy was selling hundreds of root beer cans on eBay, and I picked out Buffalo’s generic pop cans of the 80s.

Red and White was sold locally at Super Duper, and HyTop at Tops before they switched to their own generic brand. Obviously Bells was sold at Bells Markets.

How many of these did you sneak into the Seneca 1-2 Cinema or take to the Crystal Beach picnic area?

Cichon on the Corasanti Jury: There but for the grace of God go I….

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

People base their opinions on any given subject on the amount of information they know about that subject. Sometimes the knowledge is vast; sometimes not so much.

cichonoffice2012Over the last few days, I have found myself correcting factual or legal errors in people’s angry conversations and Facebook posts about the James Corasanti trial and verdict. In doing so, I’ve been accused of trying to stand up for Corasanti, of trying to encourage people to physically go after Corasanti, of making excuses for the jury, and of trying to encourage hatred towards jurors. A reporter is usually satisfied that he’s doing his job when he gets criticism from all sides.

At the end of one such volley on Facebook, I wrote something along the lines of “that I’m merely offering facts I know to be true from the courtroom, to try to make what some people are having a hard time understanding a little more understandable.”

Someone then asked if I understand. “Understand what,” I asked. Understand, he said, why the jury voted the way it did.

I don’t understand, but I think I might have a better insight than most. Over the last year and a half, I’ve sat through two big trials gavel-to-gavel (Muzzammil Hassan’s beheading trial and Riccardo McCray’s City Grill murder rampage), and sat through good portions of the Corasanti hearings and trial as well.

Covering and listening to a trial as a reporter isn’t all that different from listening to a trial as a juror.

I can tell you that sitting through a trial, you’re trying to keep track of dozens of different lines of questioning and trails of evidence, much of it presented and described in terminology and verbiage that is completely foreign. For legal reasons, it’s often presented in a way that is often painfully tedious.

It’s not Law and Order. Most testimony is boring and can quite often be confusing; especially when something refers back to something that happened days before, or uses unfamiliar jargon.

But that’s where it gets much easier for the media. Kinda like a jury gets to do at the end, we get to go into the hallway during the breaks, and discuss among ourselves what we just heard, and how to understand it. Quite often, we grab a lawyer walking by and ask him or her what this word means, or whether we understand something right.

On one occasion during the Corasanti trial, two defense lawyers whose names you’d recognize, gave us reporters completely different versions of what a single legal term meant. Even the lawyers can get a little confused.

I personally reported on the radio at least 3 times in the days and hours leading up to the Corasanti verdict that I was confused by something that went on in the court room. I ran right out of the courtroom to report on something said in “legalese” that was difficult to follow and synthesize, even with the help of my fellow reporters.

Jurors have it worse. At least journalists can talk it through with one another several times a day. Jurors have to suffer through their misunderstanding or desire to clarify a point or even just seek reassurance that they heard something properly. Jurors are not allowed to talk about a case to anyone, period, until deliberations begin.

Most of us can’t even get through an episode of Law and Order without asking our spouses if “that was the guy from earlier who did that…”

So after a month, with all the questions you might have swimming in your head, you are given two hours worth of legal instructions with so many parsed words and phrases put together in a way that satisfies the law, but not necessarily satisfies the understanding of every day people. In fact, for me, the explanations of the laws often obfuscate my understanding the law.

Having sat through a few trials, I know how the process is going to work, and I have my seatbelt fastened, and I still have a hard time keeping up with understanding the laws as the judge reads them. If you get caught on a bit and try to think it through, you miss the next bit. I can ask Claudine Ewing or Pete Gallivan in the hall. A juror adds it to a list of dozens of things he’s not clear on.

My point is, I can see how every day people who are jurors can walk into a deliberation completely dazed. All this incredible and contradictory information that your been hearing for a month. Where do you begin? I think for most people, you begin by listening to the guy with the biggest mouth, and see where that takes you. There was one juror who seemed more agitated that the rest, and I’ll bet he was among the first to do some talking.

Until you’ve sat through a month long trial, you can’t understand what it’s like. I’ve sat through a couple of humdingers, and I won’t pretend to understand what its like to be a juror on a case like this one.

And of course, if the defense has a pulse, there is always doubt. The difference between some doubt and a reasonable doubt is explained by the judge, but its legal language that isn’t in every day soeak, and it’s a few paragraphs in a few hours of legal explanations.

Every time the judge lets the jury off for lunch or a 5 minute break or to go home for the night, the instruction is always “don’t talk to anyone about the case; keep an open mind.” It’s not “use your gut, and don’t forget your common sense.”

Now if you’ve made it this far, you might be saying, what, was Cichon’s mother on the jury? No. I’m not making excuses for the jury, and I would guess that some jurors on the Corasanti trial or any of the others that I’ve covered might be angry with me for calling them confused. I’m not calling any juror confused.

I’m merely saying that it’s not an easy job being a juror, and I’m not really sure how fair it is to ask someone to be a juror in a month long trial like this one.

In my heart, having sat through some of the trial as a reporter, I know how I would have voted. However, if my seat was moved 10 feet to the left into the jury box, I know I wouldn’t have had the same grasp of the material presented. And given that, I certainly can’t say for sure how I would have voted.

This originally appeared at WBEN.com.

A Friend & Brother at 40

Hopefully this is better than a lightbox sign with the message “LORDY, LORDY, LOOK WHO’S 40!” on your lawn

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

To call this guy one of my best friends just doesn’t feel strong enough. For months, as his 40th birthday has approached, I’ve tried to think of some fun or funny or nice or meaningful way to let him know that I love him… or at the very least, make him laugh and remind him of his own mortality on this day that he enters his fifth decade on this planet.It’s been tough coming up with something that has just the right feeling to it. Forty pink flamingos on his lawn would be perfect, but this is a guy who’d actually like that a little too much.  I had some ideas for “stuff” or “events” that we’d both probably think great, but our wives not so much.

steveandmartyHowever, like many things in my life, I was filled with intentions, but it only got that far. “Marty’s Birthday” appeared on at least a dozen to-do lists, and wound up like many other things on those lists– undone.

So here I sit, the day before that big day, with nothing to show for it, except for what I am about to write.  Now I fully realize that a blog post as a birthday present is really about the grown-up equivalent of a homemade card with macaroni and glitter glued on,  but it’s the best I’ve got right now.

I was a 16 or 17 year old board operator at  WBEN when we met; he was just finishing up college, and had joined the weekend news staff at WBEN.  We both thought we were pretty freaking cool, living the dream working at W-freaking-BEN.

There’s really no doubt that providence brought us together.

We share a love for news and politics, and seem to come at it from the same perspective.

We both shared a love for Buffalo and its history, especially it’s broadcasting history. We both had the same 1959 WKBW aircheck memorized when we met. Just ask him what happened at “the fire at the George Root, Jr. farm in the Cattaraugus County Village  of Randolph” the next time you see him.

We’re both Polish-Americans, interested in learning more about and celebrating our roots. We’re both garage sale shoppers, garbage pickers, and packrats, which has now helped up both celebrate Buffalo’s pop culture history on our websites. We both shared an interest in hearing the stories of people like our friend and co-worker Ed Little.

The kicker was, we both wore bow ties, at a time when Irving R. Levine and Pee Wee Herman were the only other two people in America doing so (even Charles Osgood was mixing in the occasional necktie then.)

I remember thinking then, “Wow! Radio’s great! A few months in, and I’m already meeting people who are just like me,” thinking that dorks like us grew on trees, and that I’d be meeting similar people left and right. Luckily for society, the day I met Marty almost 20 years ago, was the last time anyone has even come close.

Marty is like a brother to me, really the big brother I never had; a mentor and someone I have really looked up to since those weekend days we worked together at 2077 Elmwood Avenue.

He introduced me to many of my Buffalo radio and TV heroes for the first time. I’d met Danny Neaverth at Bells as a tiny kid, but Marty introduced me to him broadcaster to broadcaster. That same night, I met Irv Weinstein, John Zach, and Taylor & Moore, too. My head was spinning. He took me to tag along at great broadcasting events he’d been invited to, or to stop by Stan Jasinski’s show on a Sunday morning. Or over to Jack Mahl’s house.

Marty’d give me a call, and ask if I wanted to go to Cleveland or Hamilton to take some photos or check out the sites. We’d climb into his Honda Civic, and I couldn’t have thought of any better way to spend my time. Not as great, but still there for me; Marty also drove me home the first time I ever got drunk in that Civic. I was about 17 and it was at a WBEN Christmas Party.

He gave me an autographed picture of Ed Little as a high school graduation present. “JUDAS PRIEST,” says the inscription. I  laugh every time I think about what Ed must has said when Marty asked him to sign that.

It might not sound like much, but these were some of the great experiences of my young life. Discovering a friend with the same strange interests in the same weird stuff.

I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for my brother Marty Biniasz, who continues to blaze the trail, inspire me with his passion and hard work, and nudge me when I need it. The guy has done more before 40 than most do in a lifetime.

So, this is a really crappy birthday present… a rambling essay just to let you know that I love you, brother. But it was either this, or a YouTube video featuring some really embarrassing audio that was at the end of a tape you dubbed for me once… I think it’s a 15 year-old Marty pretending to be Danny Neaverth introducing Perry Como records. You have to be pleased I chose this.  And of course, there’s always hope that Eddy Dobosiewicz will do something with flamingos.

So “sto lat,” and Happy 40th Birthday to my mentor, my friend, my brother.

b-kwik, Tim Hortons, & And With Your Spirit: My brain is a mess.

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Unlike many people, I don’t fear change. I thrive on it. It’s sad, of course, when something good changes, but you never know what good thing is going to come of it. Then you have two good things, the old one you remember, and the present one you can enjoy.

I don’t know what i would do if everything just always remained the same. And while I sometimes wonder why some people are just universally opposed to anything different; in many respects I get it.

Does our brain “harden” as we get older?  Am I ever going to be able to relearn things apparently more firmly implanted in my mind than I could have ever thought?

We all like to think we’re so smart, but I for one know I’m a mess. My mind is like the back room of some old office, with rusty file cabinets with papers hanging out and drawers that don’t close all the way.

It’s amazing to me how many things are hard-wired into who I am, and its only, apparently, conscious effort that allows me to do something different.

It’s never been more apparent to me than at mass. The new Catholic mass. Back in November, they changed the words around ever so slightly, to the prayers and responses I have been saying my entire life. Now I know all the new responses. I can say them to you right now. But if I don’t shut down all other programs in my brain, and am concentrating at any less than 90%, forget it. All the sudden, I’m the one guy dropping a “it is right and just to give him praise.”  (An old response that has been replaced with ‘It is right and just’ for you non-Catholics.)

I realize this is new, and it’s only been 4 months after 35 years the other way. But I can guarantee that should I still be counted among the living in 2030s, at least 5 times in that decade I will offer the wrong response at mass, and be angry with myself.

There’s a lot that is hardwired for me, and it frankly scares me. I drink a lot of coffee. Love Tim Hortons coffee, and I order lots of it. I’m fine to order my usual medium black coffee, and will get exactly what I want. The problem comes when I want something different, usually a size smaller.

Now about 15 years ago, US Tim Horton stores made the size shift that Canadian Tim Hortons stores made over the last few months. The smallest cup was discontinued, the medium became small, the large became medium and the extra large became large.

tim hortons sizes

When the picture of the cup that has been a small here for over 15 years pops in my head, I think of it as a medium. If there is time for me to have this rational discussion in my head, all is well. If I’m not paying attention, or am rushed, or change my mind quickly, I often get something different from what I ordered, and drop a “SONAVAB-” on myself.

Similarly at Mighty Taco, there was an order I used to make all the time, but can’t anymore. Every day, on my way home from work, I would stop at the Mighty Taco at Elmwood and Forest, (long gone!!) and order two super mightys, medium, no cheese. It cost $4.16. This was a ritual for maybe three years or so in the early 90s.

Fast forward to today, and I have been on a gluten free diet for 6 years, and eating a flour tortilla could potentially put me in the hospital. Still, if rushed or distracted, I will order two super mightys, medium no cheese, and  not even realize I’ve done wrong. My wife has stopped this from happening at least 4 or 5 times. I don’t think I’ve ever actually received that order, but i know I’d throw it out, disgusted with myself, and figure that at this point i just deserve to starve.

Is it really that hopeless to try to learn something new? I mean really learn it, make it the brain’s new default position? And is it a matter of a hardening brain, or it is that the brain is full and needs somehow to be defragged?

When I first learned how to read, I remember was reading everything and memorizing it. I knew the names of the side streets off McKinley Parkway in South Buffalo, because I’d read the signs and memorize them because I could. I can still go Como, Kenefick, Hubbell…. But I now have to think 3 or 4 seconds about the name of the street one block away from my house, which I have been able to see out my kitchen window for the last 12 years.

I have a hard time grocery shopping, because with maybe 70% of my attention, I’m looking for a box of something. After a minute or two, I’ll often realize that I’m looking right at it, and the box was changed in 1994.

With pretty good regularity, I go for the clutch when driving, even though I’ve had an automatic for 7 years.

bkwik logoWhile my specific examples might be unique, I know I’m not alone. I was in line at Dash’s not too long ago, when the woman blathering on her cell phone said, “I’ll call ya right back, I’m in line at b-Kwik.” After the woman left, I asked the young cashier  if she even remembered b-Kwik. “Yeah, from when I was in like second grade,” she said. Like a decade ago.

It’s also apparent in people’s voices. I spoke to Rick Azar at great length while researching my book on him, Tom Jolls, and Irv Weinstein. It was great to hear his voice get a taste of Spanish accent to it as he reminisced. 50 or 60 years of broadcasting with perfect diction can’t take away that beautiful espanol sound engrained in you as a kid.

I just marvel at the brain, and would love to know the mysteries of how and why it does what it does to each of us. I just wish it wouldn’t do whatever it is to me when I’m trying to order in the drive thru.

I’m a scofflaw. Don’t judge: Why you won’t see me leaving the library with books….

This is embarrassing, and I feel like I have to explain myself.

I love libraries. I mean, even for people who love libraries, I love libraries. I was a library aide at Orchard Park Middle School. On the off chance I had lunch or an off period in high school, I was in the library.

I can honestly say, in college, I probably spent more time wandering the stacks at the Lockwood Library– and learned more there– than I did in class.

I know the Grosvenor Room at the downtown library like the back of my hand. I can tell you almost to the shelf where many of the best books or collections of books are located in that glorious room. And though it was likely the vinegary smell of disintegrating turn of the century pulp paper that caused it, I wept for a moment when I stumbled upon my own book in those stacks. It really means that much to me, seeing my book there, I’ve never felt more like a legitimate author and historian. It meant so much more than having the finished books in my hand, or seeing them for sale at a book store.

I’ve even had the honor at speaking at the library. Downtown. Right between the escalators. About the book I wrote, available for borrowing from the library. Available to you, that is. But not me. You see, I don’t have a library card.

“WHA-A-A-A?,” you ask in a stunned voice. And it’s something that shames me; it really does. I can’t get a library card. Don’t hate me when I tell you that my library card was revoked when I was in middle school. A few hundred dollars in fines and lost books.

It wasn’t me. I know that no man in prison is guilty, but I’m really not. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but it was my scofflaw father who left me in this dire strait.

It was well known by the South Park High School Library, the Daemen College Library, the Niagara University Library, and, yes, the Buffalo and Erie County Library that my ol’man wasn’t too good at returning books. He would tense up at the thought of calling this theft, but that’s pretty much what it was.

I don’t know if he’d ever planned on returning volume after volume and it just got away from him, or whether he really thought one day he’d take them back when he was done with them. But suffice it to say, once when he was trying to write a book about world religions or something (It kept changing, and he rarely finished a project) he drove me to the library, and asked me to take out this big pile of big books. I was in 6th or 7th grade, and these were graduate level theology texts.

Somehow these books wound up in the same place where my parents kept my $120 in First Communion money for “safe keeping.” Neither the books nor the cash was ever seen again.

I had assumed the books were returned, until one day I tried to take out a book and sirens blared and an armed guard escorted me out of the library. Not really, but they said I owed hundreds in fines and loss charges. Dad promised to pay. Never did. I ribbed him about it for years, and always said he’d take care it. Didn’t.

There was always that thought, though, that if I really needed a library card, I’d go get a check from the ol’man and it’d be all set. Now I’ve got nothin’.

A few years ago, I applied again, but they bounced me. Its a shame I live with, but now feel a little better for having it out in the open.

Aside from good ol’books, one could go through a history lesson in audio/visual media in looking at what I’ve been barred from borrowing. I haven’t been able to take out record albums, VHS movies, CDs, movies on DVD, and now books for my NOOK.

So don’t tell me about how you can borrow e-books from the library. I’ve spent a lifetime (at least since I was 13) convincing myself that if a book is good enough to read, it’s good enough to own and put on the shelf.

And since I’m not shelling out that couple hundred bucks anytime soon, it’s something that I guess I’m going to have to continue to believe.

The Wiping Willow Winter: Muddy Dogs Make Prayers For Snow

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

willowsitsMaybe you hear it in my voice. As a journalist, I’m supposed to, and do, tackle my assignments without prejudice and with a willingness to hear both sides.I hope you haven’t heard it, but over the last few months, I just haven’t been able to hide my disgust. As I read the weather forecast.

I’m not a skier or a snowmobiler, so I really don’t mind the lack of snow. And since I don’t play pond hockey, the fact that the lake didn’t freeze causes me no real alarm (except that typical Buffalo expectation that we’ll all be under 37 feet of snow on April Fools Day.)

Really, I love the warmth and sunshine maybe even more than the average guy. But this year, nothing ruins my day like seeing a high temperature of 43 or 39. Above freezing. Well above freezing. There’s no snow to melt, but the ground does get soft. 

There really hasn’t been much of a winter at all, which is why the winter of 2011-12 will forever be remembered in the Cichon house as the “Winter of the Muddy Paws.”

If you are a dog owner, how can you be excited to hear that its 30 today, but tomorrow we could hit 38? Can you really feel the difference between 30 and 38? Even if you can, good luck enjoying those “warmer temperatures,” since in my house a quick 25 seconds outside in the backyard can equal up to 5 minutes of paw, leg, and belly cleaning.

Willow is good. She sits and will even hand you a paw to be cleaned; very regal for an SPCA mutt. But if you’ve just about finished wiping, and a squirrel pops his head over the fence…. forget it.

I really don’t want to be one of those people who finds something to complain about everything, and I’m generally not that way. Even about our usually mundane winter tasks like scraping of windshields and snowblowing the driveway. No problem. But these dirty paws, five, six or thirteen times a day, sometimes just to do the quick run out and come in for a treat.

It’s affecting my marriage and showing my flaws. So far deep into the spare bathroom towels, I’m not sure whether I’m about to pluck a “good towel” from the linen closet or not. And saints preserve us if there’s an unexpected muddy paw and I reach for the good dish towel.

Even as a lifelong Buffalonian, I don’t know that the weather’s ever had such a lousy effect on me. Another month of snow? No problem. I have furry hats to keep me warm. There is no kind of head gear to get you through muddy paws.

willow in the mud

About now is the point in my rant when someone will mention that they saw these cute little booties for dogs’ paws, so that you can put them on when they go out, and take them off when they come back in. These were obviou sly designed either by someone who has never been around a dog, or by someone who hates dog owners. Willow would, and rightly so, go out in the muddiest part of the yard and roll around in it, covering herself in mud trying to get those booties off her paws. Her paws would stay clean, but the rest of her would be caked in mud.

At this point, if taking out the ice boom means spring is here, for the sake of my mental well-being, I hope the solid-ground-part of spring is around the corner really fast. To think it could be another two months of picking mud covered grass bits from between the toes of this animal could actually have me hoping for a blizzard. I’m losing grip with reality on this.

I really wish I could be one of the proud Buffalonians who can think only of Mr. Softee trucks and shorts when we hit 42 degrees in February, and most winters I’m with ya. But this year, that excitement is marred by the same mark as my kitchen floor: a big muddy paw print.

Rubbery Chicken & Canadian Puppets: being home sick takes me back to childhood & Mr. Dressup

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

There’s something about the old days. I know, news flash, right?

But really, upon examination, they really weren’t all that better than today. Unless you are a miserable Luddite, i.e., someone who hates or fears technology, living is easier now than ever before. Easier isn’t necessarily better, but when virtually everything (except ‘getting away from it all’) is easier, it’s got to be better on the whole.

Still, even the worn-in feeling and familiarity of even the most uncomfortable things of our past bring us some level of comfort, especially when the going gets a little rough.

Today, I had a type of day which has been rare for me in adulthood; a sick day where I wasn’t bed bound or just too nauseous or pained to really want to do anything.

It was supposed to be a vacation day, but I have a lousy cold. The kind of day that wouldn’t normally stop me from going to work, but not a day where I’d get much more than the bare minimum done, between filling up the tea cup, blowing my nose, and generally feeling a little beat up and a little run down.

But instead of putting in a solid ‘C+’ day down in the salt mine, I sat at home with all sorts of great plans for the day.

Those plans just weren’t to be. With my sinuses feeling like they’re filled silly putty and the rest of my head slogging around like wet cotton balls, well, the cold just took the sails out of my wind. I think. When you’re not sure, without deep thought whether you’re saying it right, or quoting former Bills Head Coach and King of the Malaprop Hank Bullough, it’s time for a rest.

Home alone, and too sick to do anything good, but well enough to want to do something. Just try to remember that euphoric feeling after the bus went by, and you were assured a day home from school.

That’s really about where I was this morning. Not being one to ‘bang in’ unless there is death, vomiting, or no voice (important for me!) in the forecast, I go to work, so I’m left to think about sick days as a little twerp, and immediately it’s a thought that brings comfort between anticipated sneezes that never come.

After a nice bath ( who has time for a bath anymore!), I made a can of soup on the stovetop. Normally, the thought of all that salt is enough to raise my blood pressure, but not today. It’s incredible to me, but even that awful processed single piece of ‘chicken meat’ in the can took me back to a simpler time.

And I used the stove top for the tea kettle, too. We didn’t have a microwave until my teen years. I can survive waiting more than exactly 2 minutes and 29 seconds (I stop it before the beeps) for water for my tea.

Not even really on purpose, and not even really thinking about it, I started my vacation day just like a good ol’sick day.

MrDressupCasey&Finnegan4While I hadn’t planned it to be like that, I was thinking about now, and how nice, how comforting it would be to run through the sick day staple TV lineup. For me, it started with Jerome and Rusty on ‘The Friendly Giant,’ and then Casey, Finnegan, and the Tickle trunk on Mr.Dressup on CBC.

Then Bob Barker, Johnny Olson, Janice, Dian, and the beautiful Holly on the ‘Price is Right’ on Channel 4, before a quick switch to Channel 2 at noon for the Flintstones.

Of course, the Price is Right remains, but to me in name only. When grandmas would wear homemade t-shirts because they’d been watching Bob since he was on Truth or Consequences, and then would jump for excitement when they win a new washing machine, that was real.

Hipsters wearing too-tight t-shirts they paid to have made at a kiosk in the mall, who feign excitement because it’s ironic that they win a washing machine because they don’t bathe; that just doesn’t do it for me.

But, then there’s YouTube. Technology of today, soothing my fever induced nostalgia.

I watched ‘The Friendly Giant,’ and didn’t have to fight with my brother over who was going to get to sit in the rocking chair if we ever went to visit the Friendly Giant.

I also got to watch Mr. Dressup make a pretend clarinet out of a paper towel tube, and I got to listen back a few times to my favorite Mr. Dressup sounds: his scissors and his markers. The only way I could have had a better childhood is if my scissors made that crisp a noise as they cut, and my markers that fantastic a whine as they whizzed across the paper.

I also got a good helping of the original ‘Come on Down!!’ man Johnny Olson, and Bob Barker with a mahogany colored head.

As always, the past is a nice place to visit, but one really shouldn’t live there. It’s dishonest to live there. It’s our amazing present, with YouTube on smart phones that helps make it happen.

But still, its really amazing how rubbery chicken bits and decades old video of Canadian puppets, and the memories they rekindle can make a lousy day a little less so.

It’s too bad. I really would have enjoyed today if I wasn’t sick.

Greatly simplified Parliamentary rules of order

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Most people who’ve ever served on a board or been a member of a large club have heard of Robert’s Rules of Order, which calls itself “the most widely used reference for meeting procedure and business rules in the English-speaking world.” First written in 1896, there have been eleven editions, and the paperback is as long as 816 pages.

These rules are supposed to make meetings more orderly, more fair, more concise, and geared to help accomplish more in less time.

Many of the basic ideas of Robert’s Rules are often woven into a group’s governing bylaws—things like recognizing a chairperson, quorum, executive sessions, the preparation and availability of agendas and minutes, etc.

We follow Robert’s Rules and we don’t even know it. Fundamental principles found in the book include ideas like having one question discussed at a time; one person, one vote; and a vote being limited to members present.

It’s basic Parliamentary procedure, which considers the rights of the majority, the minority, individual members and all of these groups taken together.

The National Association of Parliamentarians writes:

Parliamentary procedure refers to the rules of democracy—the commonly accepted way in which a group of people come together, present and discuss possible courses of action, and make decisions.

The most recent edition says Robert’s Rules should “enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.”

The book is written like that: Most sentences have to be read a few times. Basically, that last one said, “Lots of people. Every opinion counts. General will be done. As little time as possible.”

Knowing that most groups follow Robert’s Rules to some degree or not, even if it isn’t expressed, I like to introduce a very simplified version of Robert’s Rules for the very basic rules of discussion and meeting.

These are a few basic ideas discussed in Robert’s Rules over dozens of pages, boiled down into a few simple sentences to help facilitate better discussion for everyone, to put us all on the same page.


These shall apply to all board discussions both in person and email:

  • All comments are addressed to the chair.

To facilitate easier and more orderly discussion, members do not address to one another and discussion goes through the chair.

  • In order for any discussion to ensue, there must be a motion before the board, and it must be seconded. Discussion is limited to the motion before the board.

During these discussions, offering personal opinions and experiences and advocating for causes and beliefs is encouraged. Personal attacks, abuse language, and disparaging the ideas of others will not be tolerated.

  • Call the question

At any point during a debate, if half those present agree to end debate and vote, debate is ended and there is a vote.

 

Having clear, concise, fair rules are important to maintain order and civility, and when simple rules are spelled out, it becomes much easier for everyone to play along– or understand why they are being called out for not doing so.