Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

WSFS History: The Chris Carrier Motions

The WSFS Business Meeting has a love affair with the otherwise obscure procedural motion "Objection to Consideration," which allows a 2/3 majority of the meeting to kill a motion without debate as long as they do it immediately after it comes to the floor. (It's only in order before debate starts or before the Chair states a subsidiary motion, such as a motion to Refer to Committee.) This motion only exists in Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, not any of the other alternative rules manuals. If you read it closely, you find that it really isn't supposed to be used on just motions that are wildly unpopular or thought to have absolutely no chance of passing; however, WSFS (for other reasons) has ruled out some of the more useful procedural ways of weeding out its agenda, so OTC is all that's left. Because the motion is obscure, and because you have to interrupt business and be fairly rude in the way you introduce it, and because it's not debatable (you can't say why you're objecting), it has a tendency to act like a 16-ton weight dropped on the heads of newcomers who don't see it coming, leaving them sitting there gasping for air and saying, "What just happened?"

OTC is really supposed to be used on motions that are highly objectionable, to the extent that they could cause harm to the organization if they actually got to the floor. It's rare than an OTC has been used this way in WSFS, but it has happened, and I was on the head table (as Parliamentarian) when it happened, back in 1993.

Here's some history: Back in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, one of the regular fixtures of WSFS Business Meetings was Robert Sacks, a notorious WSFS gadfly who wasn't very well liked and tended to introduce unpopular motions. But Robert suddenly found himself on the side of the angels at the 1993 Worldcon when a Sacramento-area fan named Chris Carrier got into a feud with him. The substance of the feud is irrelevant; the key thing is that Carrier decided to go after Robert when the Worldcon came to San Francisco.

As ConFrancisco's WSFS division manager, it fell to me to interact with Carrier. Chris produced four motions for the Business Meeting, shipping us a case of paper to meet the 200-signed-copies rule. One of the motions was actually (as I recall) routine-but-unlikely, as it affected site selection lead time, I think zone rotation [see comment below clarifying]. But the others are what set off all of our alarm bells. One of the motions called for WSFS to censure Robert Sacks for various actions. Another would have modified the WSFS Constitution, specifically naming Robert, and prohibiting WSFS from holding Worldcon within 100 miles of Robert's place of residence, up to the point of unseating a selected Worldcon should Robert move to within 100 miles of the selected site. (Robert himself suggested that he didn't mind that one, as it potentially would set him up for life as Worldcons paid him Danegeld to stay away.) I forget the third one, but it similarly wandered into oddball territory where it was highly inappropriate for WSFS to go.

Well, the Business Meeting staff went on Alert to deal with this. We actually had Sergeants-at-Arms prepared to take action if the meeting got rowdy. The word was spread that these motions were coming. We had a very well attended Business Meeting. Carrier had himself and one person he'd convinced to come along and second all of his motions. Chris had learned his procedural rules, I'll grant him that. But as soon as we got to the Carrier Motions in the agenda, WSFS members lept to their feet and deployed Objection to Consideration in the way it's really intended: to kill motions that don't even deserve consideration because they could lead to damaging the organization just to discuss them. Carrier tried to fight delaying actions, calling for ballot votes on each OTC, but everything he proposed died everyone-2, and his motions were killed everyone-2. WSFS showed just how efficient it can be, killing four motions in about four minutes, and that was that.

Now yes, one of the killed motions really didn't deserve that OTC, but was "collateral damage" caused by a crackpot dropping three highly objectionable motions onto WSFS. Robert Sacks had a few minutes of goodwill with the Business Meeting that he then proceeded to fritter away in his usual way. Carrier was convinced that there was a conspiracy to support Robert Sacks, which there was not: there was a "conspiracy" to protect WSFS from crackpot motions.

Now this is all ancient history to some folks; after all, it was twenty years ago, and besides, both Robert Sacks and Chris Carrier are now dead; however, it does show a case where Objection to Consideration was used properly, and it also it one of the reasons I'm reluctant to introduce any proposal that completely eliminates it such as the otherwise-plausible idea of making motions with sufficient co-sponsors immune from OTC.
Tags: business meeting, worldcon, wsfs
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