September 19th, 2013

Business Meeting

WSFS Rules: Postpone Indefinitely

Yesterday I wrote about Objection to Consideration and how it lands on new business like a 16-ton weight. It is particularly jarring to newcomers who haven't been to previous meetings and have a tendency to take it personally when a bunch of Usual Suspects jump up and yell "Objection" the moment their proposals come to floor, before they've even had a chance to make their opening argument. As I pointed out yesterday, that's because you must object at the very first chance or you can't do it at all, and we end up mis-using the motion (which really is supposed to only be used against personal attacks and issues that might be harmful to the organization to even debate) because it's the only tool left in the WSFS parliamentary bag for dealing with proposals that have little hope of ever passing and are likely to clutter the agenda needlessly.

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I have been persuaded that WSFS has gone overboard in its zeal to suppress business-killing motions, to its detriment. Consequently, I'm thinking of introducing a rules change to next year's Business Meeting to allow Postpone Indefinitely to be made once again, at least in a limited form.

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I do not think that giving proponents of a motion two minutes to make their basic case for the mere consideration of a proposal is going to cause WSFS to fall apart. Furthermore, there's a chance that if such a process had been in place this year, the proponents of the YA Hugo (who appear to have taken the most offense over being OTC'd) could have said, "We'd like to refer this to a committee to report back next year, but the rules won't let us do so until the Main Meeting, so could you please give us that much of a chance?" Having their motion killed without even being able to tell people, "We know this needs more work and would like to work with the rest of you to study it further" might have seemed a lot less intimidating and threatening than the FOAD way that Objection to Consideration appears to a newcomer. Veterans of the Business Meeting have come to understand that OTC is a standard hazard of new business and try not to take personal offense at it, but I'm not sure it's that reasonable to make an implicit assumption that you shouldn't even dare participate until you've attended four or five years' worth of Business Meetings.

Here's something else that my proposal would require, and it's not something that can easily be done by rule, but by persuasion and by the Chair clamping down on the misuse of OTC. If Postpone Indefinitely is once again legal at the Business Meeting, people who have gotten used to using OTC to kill motions would need to learn a new process and accept that proponents can have at least one chance to make the case for the consideration of their proposals. OTC would (and I think should) be restricted to reprehensible and personally objectionable proposals like the "Chris Carrier" motions I discussed yesterday. That's not easy to do, but I know that if this rule change passes this year in London, I would make it clear that as the 2015 Business Meeting Chair I will consider most OTC attempts to actually be motions to Postpone Indefinitely. The meeting could of course overrule me, but it's difficult to prevent "runaways" when the meeting is packed full of willful people.

I know that not all of you are WSFS rules geeks like I am. Did this explanation make sense? Does the proposal sound reasonable to you? I floated it yesterday on the List That Shall Not Be Named, and got a mixed reaction on both substantive and technical grounds. I mostly reject the technical grounds except to add the phrase "(Strike from the Agenda)" as an alternative name for Postpone Indefinitely the same way "Call the Question, Close Debate, or Vote Now" are all alternative names for the parliamentary term of art "Previous Question." Yes, it might take a little bit of time for the Usual Suspects to get used to new procedures, but they reacted badly to Filling Blanks and Serpentine Voting the first time those ideas were shown to them, whereas today we take such things for granted.

I think we can afford to concede people two minutes in return for not looking like a bunch of pompous, arrogant, hidebound conservatives with wax in our ears.