Today something happened that I thought I’d never live to see, like water being turned to wine or an ocean pushed up into great walls: On the final day of convention the House of Deputies adjourned a half hour early, having completed all of the business put before it.
Back in Indianapolis in 2012, about three days from the end of convention, the Chair of the Committee on Dispatch came before the House to move for a suspension of the rules. He proposed a set of temporary changes, such as shortening both the time each person speaks and the total time for debate on any topic. As part of his explanation for the proposed changes he added a matter-of-fact, “We do this every time.”
He meant to ease our concerns by saying that it was a very normal and typical set of changes, but for me it was an indictment. What did it say about us that every time we met we had to scramble at the end, throwing in new Rules of Order and rushing through legislation to get it done in time?
But this year, we actually thought ahead. The President of the House of Deputies appointed a special committee to look at the Rules of Order and suggest changes to increase efficiency. They came to us with the new rules and we adopted them the first day.
My guess is the most impactful change was shortening the time given to each speaker from three minutes to two minutes. I didn’t notice a substantial change in the content I heard or the message I was able to share when I went to speak, so it seems we lost nothing with the time change. We also added a rule that if three people speak in favor and no one is in line to speak against, the President can call for an immediate vote. This is more helpful than it may seem to an outsider. Most of the legislation that comes before the House is not controversial, but we often spend a lot of time listening to people tell us to vote in favor of something we all already like.
Another change that seems to have helped a lot is the Resolutions Review Committee. This group looked at every single resolution for potential problems, and ensured each piece of legislation was being assigned to the proper committee for formal review.
Then of course there’s the real hero, the monster we feared: the Virtual Binder. This was our first paperless convention, and it went amazingly well. There were occasional workarounds for unexpected exceptions, but on the whole the technology functioned exactly as planned. Pre-filed amendments were easy to see and reference, which meant no more time wasted reading everything aloud three times and answering a dozen clarifying questions. Supplemental calendars appeared automatically on our screens in real time, which meant no more five minute breaks just to distribute paper. No more picking up the daily calendar from the boxes at the front of the House. No more flipping back to yesterday’s calendar to see what we didn’t get to. No more getting lost because you put your pages in wrong. No more showing up 10 minutes early to get everything filed. And most importantly, no more incessant binder ring clicking during opening prayer.
There were certainly other factors, many of which are impossible to pin down. Perhaps we had fewer controversial resolutions overall. Maybe this group of deputies was just a little less argumentative. Perhaps the committee appointments were more appropriate. It could have been the more hands-on approach that Dispatch took, or the incredible ability of our parliamentarian to always have the right answer and be able to explain it clearly.
No matter how the stars managed to align, I never thought we could have a convention where we actually completed all the work we set out to do in a civil and timely manner. We even managed to have a reasonable and successful debate about the budget! Perhaps there’s hope for us yet. Perhaps the dream of a five day convention is closer than we think. Perhaps one day I’ll be part of a group of grizzled old veterans, going on about how in my day we had to take off two weeks from work to go to convention, and about how I still hear binder clicking in my sleep…
NOTE: Convention is over and I’m on my way home, however I plan to write a couple additional posts related to this year’s convention. Look for them in the coming week, as I am most certainly taking a break for the holiday weekend.