By Holly South
The opening day of the Arkansas House of Representative’s fiscal session began with a moment of silence to honor longtime parliamentarian Tim Massanelli, who passed away at age 85 on Feb. 12.
Parliamentarian from 1977 to 2012, he served under 17 speakers. He oversaw establishment of the permanent House staff and managed it for more than three decades.
He also served seven governors, two of whom sang his praises in a 2007 profile of Massanelli in State Legislatures magazine.
“Tim Massanelli has probably forgot more about the operations of the House of Representatives than anyone else ever knew,” said former Governor Mike Huckabee at the time. “He has been the go-to guy on rules and has been viewed as one whose mastery of the process has helped shape each legislative session.”
Former President and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton remembered that “In the toughest legislative batties, he was calm, did his duty, kept his sense of humor, and always knew what was really going on. When he could do so consistent with the duty to the House, he would even tell me what was going on!” He continued, “I love the guy. We need more people with his dedication to public service.”
The current parliamentarian of the Arkansas House, Finos “Buddy” Johnson, who succeeded Massanelli, considers him his mentor. “Tim was a teller of stories that in many ways guided our organization. Our rule book is sprinkled with rules inspired by mishaps the membership never wanted to happen again, and Tim could tell you all about each and every one. I’ve tried to carry on this tradition, but I’ll never match his ability to get a point across through storytelling.
“Inside the House chamber, above the front door, hangs a bronze plaque that reads ‘In God We Trust.’ In Tim’s view, another one could have been suspended beneath it reading ‘Multiply It By A Hundred.’ It was one of his favorite sayings, because it meant that if you do something for one member of the House, be prepared to do it for every other member, because each is equal. The equality of members, a foundational principle of parliamentary law, easily delivered in simple phrase. Tim could capture those phrases and deliver them at the perfect moment. He was a master of it.”
Massanelli, who was ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church, is survived by Dottie, his wife of 64 years, and three sons.
Holly South, a policy associate, is NCSL's liaison to the American Society of Legislative Clerks & Secretaries.