As the term suggests, consent agendas are generally used when the board has several items for consideration to which all board members are likely to consent. This often includes routine matters such as approval of the board minutes from the last meeting, receipt of the most recent financial reports, receipt of staff operational reports, and receipt of committee reports.
For organizations that operate under special government regulations requiring the board to approve specific items that may have been delegated to your staff, approval of a summary report on these items can also be put on a consent agenda. For example, government departments of education often require that the school board approve all hirings in the district, even if it’s the superintendent and school principals that actually do the interviewing and selection. The superintendent can provide a list of ‘recommended’ new hires in the board’s pre-meeting package and board approval can become part of the consent agenda.
The joy of consent agendas is that all of these items, maybe 5, 10, or 15 items, can be voted on at once. This does require that board members get background information ahead of time so that board members are truly informed before voting. At the board meeting, Bill can say “I move acceptance of the consent agenda items”; Mary says “I second”; the chair asks if there is any discussion, and if none, the vote is taken. When this motion quickly passes, the board goes on to agenda items that really require their time. Often a handful or long list of agenda items can be been handled in less than a minute.
I know that some of you have already discarded this consent agenda concept because you think there are bound to be things in some of these reports that will require discussion. It’s okay; there’s a simple way to have your concerns addressed. If there are items on the consent agenda that you believe need some board time, when the Chair asks for discussion on the consent agenda motion you move an amendment to take those specific items off the consent agenda and make them separate agenda items. As you proceed through the revised agenda there will be opportunities for the necessary clarification and discussion.
Have you ever experienced taking 20 or 30 minutes to get through the financial report even though there were no real concerns? Or an exciting achievement was mentioned in a community relations committee report that the committee members just wanted the board to know about, yet it ate up 15 minutes of precious time.
With a few such agenda items, you have discussed relatively innocuous things and the two hours you had allocated for the board meeting are gone. That’s where there’s joy in consent agendas. As long as the pre-meeting reports don’t cause the board members concern, the long list of fairly standard things can be handled in a minute, which leaves the rest of the board meeting for meaningful discussion on unresolved issues that will materially affect the organization’s future. I encourage you to use a consent agenda for your next board meeting. It will be a wonderful tool in your pathway to governance excellence.
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