The tattoo artist at the podium at the July 10 City Council meeting had been speaking for all of two minutes when Mayor Hood felt compelled to clarify the city's position on tattoo shops. She wanted to say she didn't think people with tattoos were bad people. "I don't mean to interrupt you," she said, then argued with the artist for several more minutes.
But the mayor was out of line. Who says? Robert's Rules of Order, the 124-year-old guide to parliamentary procedure that most boards use to govern their conduct. Had Hood read chapter four, she would have known that being chairwoman didn't allow her to talk while the artist had the floor. "Although the presiding officer should give close attention to each speaker's remarks during debate, he cannot interrupt the person who has the floor so long as that person does not violate any of the assembly's rules and no disorder arises," the Rules state.
Those rules are very limited. Had the tattoo artist drifted off the subject of tattoos, for example, the mayor (or any other member of the forum) could have shouted "point of order" and brought the speaker back to the subject.
The faux pas wasn't Hood's first. She and Commissioner Daisy Lynum consistently interrupt speakers, some of whom engage in personal attacks. Of course, personal attacks are also against Robert's Rules. As Henry Martyn Robert wrote a century ago, speakers should maintain a courteous, formal tone, address only the presiding officer and "must never attack or make any allusion to the motives of members."