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Featured Question - February 16, 2004

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Q:

Our board keeps struggling with the Consent Agenda.  Do you have any suggestions?

A:

First, let's review the purpose of the Consent Agenda.  Then, I'll share a partial dialogue of a board meeting that will help give a grasp of how the Consent Agenda is used in a real board meeting. 

I'll quote John Carver on Leadership, p. 140, "the Consent Agenda is a method by which the board officially performs a ritual approval of actions for which it has already assigned authority to the CEO."  "Often, these are required by law or other authorities."  "The board makes the decision, but does not treat it as one of substance."  For an even more in depth discussion of the Consent Agenda, the article "The Consent Agenda and Responsible Rubber-Stamping" in the same book should be very helpful.

I find the problem not with the logic of the Consent Agenda but the process by which it is handled.  Individual board members will often want to discuss a particular item, not to decide on it just to discuss it.  This places the chair in an awkward position.  It doesn't seem like a big deal, but it isn't what the board decided.  By the item being on the Consent Agenda, the board has said there will be no discussion.

Board Meeting Dialogue:

The following is a sample dialogue from a board meeting as the Consent Agenda is discussed.

Chair: The next item for us is the Consent Agenda.

Member - Ella Jane: I move that the board approves the Consent Agenda.

Member - Dee: Before we do that I’d like to discuss an item.

Chair: Dee, you would need to first make a motion to remove an item from the Consent Agenda so that we can then discuss it, but I see no items on the list require a discussion.  If you believe one of them may cause the executive to exceed a limitation, then we should move the item off the agenda.  Is that your concern?

Member - Dee: I don’t want to approve it, and no I don’t think it will cause the executive to exceed a limitation, I’d just like to ask a question.

Chair: Would you mind asking the question outside of the meeting.  I would like to make sure that we have as much time as possible for our other topics.  The items on the Consent Agenda are to be items that need no discussion or require board approval, not by the wish of the board but by an outside organization. 

Member - Dee:  I’ll ask my question outside of the meeting.

Chair:  Thank you. There has been a motion to approve the Consent Agenda.

Director - George:  I second the motion.

Chair:  All those is favor say “Aye.”

All Directors:  Aye

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