Good Practices for the Secretary of the General Assembly

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Duties

The main job of the secretary is to keep a clear record of all acts of the assembly, along with a summary of important debates and notes of all significant events. The secretary also receives written reports and motions and reads them to the assembly on request.

The secretary should have an assistant to help her or him keep an accurate record of important debates, including the names and constituencies of all speakers and summaries of their speeches. It is not necessary to summarize every speech–only those concerning major proposals, on which delegates may have instructions from their constituencies, such as constitutional amendments or highly controversial matters.

The secretary is not responsible for creating a verbatim record of everything that occurs at an assembly. If that is desired, the assembly should hire a stenographer, in addition to the secretary.

If the assembly desires it, the secretary should prepare minutes of each daily session immediately after it closes, and read those minutes to the next day's session as the first item of business. (The last session's minutes are read and approved as the last act before adjournment.) Recent practice, however, which is equally acceptable, has been for the secretary to submit finished minutes to the General Executive Board for approval after adjournment, pursuant to a motion of the assembly authorizing that procedure.

Qualifications

The secretary of the General Assembly should be a good typist and a competent writer. He or she should be familiar with the rules of parliamentary procedure, so that she or he can help the assembly and the chair in the formulation and handling of motions. It is always preferable that the person chosen for secretary be experienced in that office.

Recommendations

1. Obtain a list of all qualified delegates and their constituencies from the Credentials Committee as soon as it reports, including any delegates who carry proxies, the number of votes such delegates carry, and on what questions they are authorized to cast multiple votes. With the help of the card conductors, take care that persons who are not on that list not be allowed to vote.

2. Keep notes on a computer, if possible, for convenience later on, and make daily back-up copies of your notes. Set your word-processing program to save your work automatically at frequent intervals.

3. Have several file folders and at least one file pocket or other container with you for papers filed with the assembly. (Since the secretary is chosen at the assembly, the General Secretary-Treasurer should obtain these in advance and have them at the hall.)

4. Keep pen and paper handy, even if you're using a computer. A tape recorder isn't a bad idea either.

5. Make sure that there is always drinking water available for yourself and the chairperson.

6. Get written copies of all motions and committee reports and make a file of them.

7. For guidance on keeping minutes, see "How to Keep Good Minutes".

8. Make sure somebody moves that the General Executive Board be given authority to correct and approve the minutes after the close of Assembly, if the rules don't already provide for that, unless you’re preparing daily minutes for approval by the Assembly.

9. Don't be afraid to ask for time to catch up, or to ask people to slow down, speak up, or speak more clearly. If you need a minute to record something, ask the chair to pause for a moment. If you need a longer break, move for a recess.

10. The secretary's notes should ordinarily never be made public. The minutes, not the notes, are the official record of the Assembly, and releasing the notes (which may be cryptic or even inaccurate) can cause unnecessary controversy. The notes are only one person’s impression of what happened, and have not been corrected by the assembly or GEB. They should be made public only if there is a dispute over the accuracy of the minutes which can't be settled any other way. Preserve your notes, but don't give them out except on specific instruction from the Assembly or the General Executive Board.