Monday, December 3, 2012

Democracy and District Council Delegate Meetings

Below is an excerpt from the Fifth Interim Report of the Review Officer, covering June 4, 2012, to December 3, 2012.

The conduct of District Council delegate meetings (which I observe) has been inconsistent and sometimes problematic. The former President of the District Council too often strayed from necessary adherence to the rules of order. Though meeting materials are distributed to delegates in advance via email, delegates are too often unprepared or inadequately informed to properly raise and debate issues of importance to the District Council. This facilitates executive control of the agenda for any meeting. Required reports from various officers or function heads are not subject to time limits and are often too long and inadequately prepared. The portion of the meeting for “new business” is too late in the proceedings, when delegates are too tired and just want to go home.

The greatest problem at delegate meetings has been the frequent display of a lack of decorum and respect -- from both the floor and the dais, which is usually the result of provocation or the “tough guy” demeanor of certain participants. One such meeting, held on July 25th, led to a delegate requesting that the Inspector General and Chief Compliance Officer review the meeting (which are recorded pursuant to the Bylaws) and issue a finding of harassment (a procedure contemplated by Section 5.F of the Bylaws). The IG and CCO did not conclude that harassment had occurred. See Exhibit l.

After I reviewed their report, I informed the complaining delegate that "though reasonable men might draw different conclusions from what they observed at the July 25th delegate meeting, I am of the view that the events which were the subject of the report represent an appalling failure of decorum and procedure and that the conduct of the chair could fairly be characterized as harassment."

Despite the low points, there have also been meetings that were well run and well prepared, invariably because they were carefully planned and conducted with aides such as detailed power point presentations facilitating the proceedings. Further, essential business of the District Council, such as review and approval of all District Council expenditures by the delegates, has been diligently performed. The District Council trustees have also fulfilled their important obligation to review expenditures and report to the delegate body.

Democracy at the District Council functions but must be greatly improved. Blame can too easily be cast on officers who, though knowledgeable, serious and intelligent sometimes succumb to the stress of constantly being provoked (or who appear reluctant to disclose details of the business of the Council that they perceive as confidential at that moment). Indeed, equal responsibility lies with the delegates to insure that the intended benefits of democracy are achieved.

They must recognize their responsibility to their constituents to prepare themselves for meetings, to leam the facts about the issues of the day and to intelligently assert the plenary authority granted to them by the District Council Bylaws. I have had discussions with some delegates who have said that they and others are contemplating quitting their service. I have urged them not to do so and rather to do everything they can to participate meaningfully in meetings and realize the great potential to improve and solidify the District Council as a mature, ethical and forward thinking institution that benefits and protects its members.
Decide for yourself, do you agree or disagree with the findings of the IG and CCO, please post your comments.

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