If you are like me, you have had to sit through some overly-stuffy meetings and have cursed Robert, whoever he was, who in 1876 wrote the Rules of Order widely used to conduct business in organizations large and small.

If you are following Robert’s Rules, one subject is addressed at a time, nobody can speak a second time until everyone has had their chance to speak, any action or proposal (or lack of action) must be made as a motion, seconded, discussed and voted upon. It’s a dead bore for those of us who like to spontaneously jump up and add our two cents as the spirit moves us.

However, if you are like me, three days ago at the Athens City Council special meeting, you were fervently wishing that somebody, anybody, would invoke Robert and gain control.

If I had had some popcorn and a remote for changing channels from time to time, it might have been amusing, even hilarious, at times. There were all the elements of a good movie: bullying, intimidation, rumor-mongering, finger-pointing and a “hero” who clearly saw himself as chief prosecutor in a John Grisham drama as he spent two hours throwing silly, irrelevant, redundant and occasionally pertinent questions at his target.

That the target refused to rise to the bait was obviously infuriating. In what may turn out to be the super spreader of the season, there was a peaceful mob of about 50 activists crowded, unmasked, into the conference room, yelling insults and claiming citizen’s rights. Some stalked around in a subtle but not unnoticed form of harassment.

And the beleaguered city council tried their best to pacify their fellow councilman and the crowd while complying with their own binding rules.

Kudos to them for the effort, but something’s got to change.

Here’s what I propose and I should say at the start these are ideas gleaned from parking lot and backyard conversations following the meeting:

• The cursed and boring Robert’s Rules of Order should be closely followed and brutally enforced at every meeting. When someone goes off topic or takes too much time, their mic is cut off.

• A parliamentarian should be appointed who is non-partisan and has a thorough knowledge of not only Robert’s Rules of Order, but local, state and federal regulations that might come into play. This person would not have the right to express their opinion on the topic, but their word would be final on rules of conduct during every meeting. Those failing to comply with the parliamentarian are escorted out.

• An official timer should be at every meeting.

• City council members should meet in a small room and their proceedings should be televised to a separate, larger room where the public is welcome to come and watch. This way, the audience would not be able to insult and bully council members.

• In the audience room, one official would be appointed to receive written questions that the audience wants asked. I would prefer that this person is the one who reads the written questions, but if that is not allowed, then at least similar questions can be organized and grouped together. This would prevent any one audience member from monopolizing the meeting. It would also allow some anonymity for those who would like to pose a question without having to fear reprisal from a rowdy mob.

• Audience members would need to wear masks and stay in their seats.

Monday night’s meeting was three hours of my life (I left early) that I will never get back again. I could have been doing something productive, like playing Solitaire on my computer.

Again, I thank council members for your diligence. There are 14,000 Athens residents who did not attend the meeting and we depend on you to take care of our city business (so we can stay home playing Solitaire).

There was a lot of talk about reviewing city regulations, charter, etc., but first I move that you review the ways meetings are conducted; does anybody second that?

Kathryn Hunter is from McMinn County and holds a bachelor’s degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Idaho and a Master of Forestry from Yale University. She has worked with the USDA Forest Service locally as well as living and working in natural resource management and protected area conservation in eight foreign countries.

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Kathryn Hunter is from McMinn County and holds a bachelor's degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Idaho and a Master of Forestry from Yale University. She has worked with the USDA Forest Service locally as well as living and working in natural resource management and protected area conservation in eight foreign countries.

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