Shafer Leadership Academy Helps New Muncie City Council Members Run Efficient Meetings

Parliamentary procedure session empowers council members with efficiency and decorum. Photo providedParliamentary procedure session empowers council members with efficiency and decorum. Photo provided

By Mitch Isaacs—

MUNCIE, IN—Nora Powell won the Muncie City Council District #2 election in November and was eager to build on her experience as an at-large member from 2012—2019. As the excitement settled, her thoughts turned to preparation.

When Powell was elected to serve the Muncie City Council in November, she knew members would engage in workshops to understand budgeting, ordinances and resolutions.

But, she felt there was more to learn.

“It is just as important for councilpersons to know how to run the meeting itself as it is to learn about the topics we are addressing. And it would be even more beneficial for all to attend the same workshop to ensure continuity,” said Powell, an occupational therapist for Muncie Community Schools.

Powell had participated in a few programs offered by Shafer Leadership Academy, a Muncie nonprofit that provides inclusive leadership development for individuals, businesses and nonprofits. She called Mitch Isaacs, SLA’s executive director, to see whether it offered a workshop about parliamentary procedure, or a protocol employed by legislative bodies to facilitate meetings.

SLA did not, but Isaacs listened to Powell and told her SLA would create one.

“In less than a day, Mitch secured a facilitator who is incredibly knowledgeable of Robert’s Rules of Order and, more importantly, able to teach it to those who are not.”

Many of Muncie’s nine council members met on a Saturday with Mike Slocum, director of Career Development at Indiana University-Purdue University—Indianapolis (IUPUI). Powell said the two-hour workshop was entertaining, accessible and informative. More importantly, she added, it brought the council together as a team.

“We were able to problem solve together and get to know each other beyond political campaigns. We were able to discuss not only how parli pro worked but why we wanted to be more confident in our skills as we take office,” she said. “This will help to keep meetings civil, keep them moving and allow all voices to be heard.”

Better yet, Slocum said, following procedure will help the council save time — about 6-8 hours each year, he estimates.

“Parlimentary procedure is not just a good option; it’s required by Indiana Code,” said Slocum, who graduated from Ball State in 2020 with a doctorate in higher education. “It is essentially a language for running effective meetings that both councilors and the public have access to, so that a city council can be transparent about its work and all voices can be heard.”

Building on the language analogy, Slocum said that in-person, interactive workshops promote greater mastery, much like immersion leads to better language proficiency. He gave each council member a cheat sheet for quick reference when making motions and more.

Dale Basham, a newly elected at-large council member, said he was glad for the opportunity to review Roberts Rules of Order and parliamentary procedures in preparation for the upcoming term of service.

“It was such a valuable time spent with newly elected Councilors, filled with great discussions,” Basham said. “The more prepared we are to lead, the better we can serve those who have trusted us with their votes.”

Isaacs said council members left the session feeling empowered, and he looks forward to offering this lively and informative session to other municipalities.

“Many cities and organizations get by using resources online, but it was amazing to see how much more people got out of an interactive, in-person experience. That confidence helps them better perform their jobs, which helps our communities. Shafer Leadership was happy to create this workshop, and we look forward to tailoring it for other cities and organizations.”