Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

DisCon III Moves to December -- and Ignores the WSFS Constitution

As by now I assume most of the people who read my journal know, DisCon III, the 2021 Worldcon, has moved dates and will now run December 15-19, 2021. It will still be at the Omni Shoreham, but the originally-planned other hotel, the Marriott Wardman Park, went bankrupt and is permanently closed. Before reading further, I encourage people to read the linked article, which goes into extensive detail about why they are doing what they are doing. The December date is the earliest that they hold the convention during a time when they think it will be safe to do so and that the Omni had available space. Trying to hold the convention in August would probably not be safe, even if it was legal, and trying to go all-virtual if the large-events-ban orders were lifted by then would have scuppered the convention with massive cancellation fees from the Omni.

Personally, I'm much happier with a December Worldcon in person than in an all-virtual convention in August (if the meeting order was still in effect) or no Worldcon at all (which was quite plausible). It does, however, change my projected travel plans. I expect there to be an in-person Loscon (last weekend of November), and SMOFCon in Portugal is the following weekend, followed by Worldcon two weeks later. Lisa and I plan to take the train to Washington DC, cashing in many years of accumulated Amtrak points. While I do have enough accumulated time off that I could conceivably take an entire month off, I think it would be a bad idea to do so for various reasons. I did even work out a complicated travel plan that would have us drive to LA, then fly to Portugal and back to LA, then drive up the coast to the Bay Area to take the train on our planned trip. Our tentative train travel plan is a circle trip: Emeryville-Chicago, Chicago-DC, DC-New Orleans, New Orleans-Los Angeles, and LA-Emeryville, then drive home. We might spend Christmas in New Orleans. I don't have the family with whom I used to spend holidays, so it's not the hardship it is for some to have a major holiday period around Worldcon.

In any event, I've pretty much given up on traveling to Portugal for SMOFCon. It will save money and allow me to continue to be a team player. Besides, I don't really want to spend all of my PTO at once. I'm going to need it for Westercon 74 next year and likely another train trip to Chicago for next year's Worldcon.

Yes, I'm generally happy with DisCon III's decisions, but there is one decision buried in the fine print about which I and a number of others are not pleased.

At the very bottom of their announcement is this statement:

As we have already closed site selection [filing], we will not be reopening and shifting the filing deadline.

The closing of filing for site selection to which they refer is the deadline for filing the necessary papers to be on the ballot for the 2023 Worldcon site selection election that DC3 is conducting. The relevant deadline is clearly stated in the WSFS Constitution:

4.6.3: For a bid to be allowed on the printed ballot, the bidding committee must file the documents specified above no later than 180 days prior to the official opening of the administering convention.

The original opening date of DisCon III was August 25, 2021. Therefore, the deadline for filing to be on the site selection ballot was February 26, 2021. Two bids (Memphis, Tennessee and Chengdu, China) filed by then. The site selection ballot has not yet been issued, and there is no indication that it has even been printed. (Typically this ballot goes out around the same time as the final ballot for Hugo Award voting.) The newly announced official opening of DisCon III is now December 15, 2021. Logically, that means the new deadline for filing should be June 18, 2021. In my opinion, this means that if anyone else wants to bid for the 2023 Worldcon, they have until June 18 to file a bid to be on the ballot. Yes, that means that I think that filing should reopen until June 18.

Note that the filing deadline to be eligible to win the election is the close of voting, which probably will be around 6 PM Eastern Time on December 17, 2021. Only bids that meet the eligibility requirements, which includes being at least 800 km from the site of the 2021 Worldcon, may file such papers. That does mean that sites like Charlotte, Detroit, Toronto, New York City, Montreal, or Boston aren't eligible, although Nashville, Atlanta, and Orlando are, by my reckoning of straight-line distances via Google Maps.

DisCon III contends that because the original deadline has passed, it should not be reopened. I contend that the wording in the WSFS Constitution is explicit and that there is no overriding reason (like, for example, local law, or a direct restriction of the pandemic as opposed to an incidental side effect of it) that an explicit provision of the WSFS Constitution should be set aside. As it happens, the site selection filing deadline is the only date that is written into the WSFS Constitution relative to the official opening of the convention. Eligibility for the Hugo Awards and eligibility for being able to nominate for the Hugo Awards are hard-coded dates. The deadline for submitting new business to the WSFS Business Meeting is relative to the date of the first Preliminary Business Meeting, not the start of the convention itself. (And a good thing, too, because in my opinion, the contention that deadlines have to be based on the original convention date means that if the new-business deadline was relative to the start of the convention, we'd have to refuse to accept new business in mid-July for a meeting that won't happen until mid-December.)

You may be asking, "So what? All the bids we knew about have already filed, so what difference does it make?"

I contend that there are two reasons for being concerned about this. The first is that frankly, there are groups that are unhappy about both the bids on the ballot, for various reasons. A "sprint" bid might enter the field. Now even though I have agreed to run Memphis' WSFS division should they win, I'm trying to be as fair as I can about the known deficiencies of all currently filed bids. In 1990, I was a member of the San Francisco in '93 Worldcon bid committee, facing filed bids from Phoenix and Zagreb. Due to unimpressive performances from all three filed bids at the 1989 SMOFCon (the filing deadline at that time was the close of the previous Worldcon, and sites were selected three years in advance at that time), a heretofore hoax bid for Hawaii was pressed into service by a large number of SMOFs and a write-in bid for Hawaii in '93 filed. The write-in bid placed second ahead of the Zagreb and Phoenix bids, and I rather expect that had they been on the ballot, they might have beaten San Francisco. In 1991-92, I wrote and was a co-sponsor of a change to WSFS rules that changed the filing deadline to 180 days before the convention, a rule that, had it been in effect for the 1990 election for the 1993 Worldcon, would have allowed Hawaii to be on the ballot. So even though it would have been used against me back then, I recognize the value in keeping the door open for "sprint" bids. If there are groups that still want to take a shot at the 2023 Worldcon, I think they should have a chance to file until the T-180 deadline that is written into the Constitution.

The second reason I think DisCon III should reopen filing, even if nobody else files, is philosophical. WSFS rules are not self-enforcing. We trust Worldcon committees to follow WSFS rules as much as they can, subject to local laws and other contingencies. There is no higher authority that can force a Worldcon committee to obey WSFS rules. There's no WSFS Inc. that can step in and give orders. There is no appeal from a Worldcon committee's decisions. A Worldcon committee that refuses to follow a clearly-written and unambiguous rule that would not be difficult to follow is telling us that no rule is safe. WSFS governance is based on trust. If we can't trust a committee to follow the rules, then the unwritten contract between the members of WSFS and the Worldcon committee that manages the members' annual convention breaks down.

There are much more complicated things that Worldcons have to do that are written into the Constitution. We trust those committees to follow those rules, and to deviate from them only in extremis. There may even be reasons to set aside some rules. For example, had DC3 been held on its original dates and should the existing public health emergency have still been in effect and the convention held entirely online, we would have been able to set aside the WSFS Constitutional provision regarding remote participation in the Business Meeting because the District of Columbia (local jurisdiction of the convention) has an ordinance that says that during such an emergency, rules in your bylaws prohibiting electronic meetings cannot be enforced. It would have been complicated, but it would be legal, and it would not be the DC3 committee arbitrarily deciding to ignore a WSFS rule.

I think DisCon III should change their initial decision and reopen site selection filing until June 18, even if no other bid surfaces, to confirm that insofar as they are able to do so, even under the difficulties of a worldwide pandemic, they will continue to obey the rules of the organization whose membership is the World Science Fiction Society. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to the members of WSFS.
Tags: site selection, worldcon, wsfs

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