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Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Motion You'll Probably Never Need

Most manuals of parliamentary procedure contain a list of motions in order of precedence. Among the highest of privileged motions is the motion "to lay on the table" - or, in the more common shorthand description - the motion "to table" the current item of business. (The actual Table at the center of Britain's House of Commons is pictured to the right.)

"Let's table that" is a statement frequently heard in parliamentary meetings, from the town council to the P.T.A. - and, yes, sometimes even in Session meetings. The effect of such a motion is to set the current motion aside, freezing it in its current amended or unamended state, until such time as the body wishes to take it up again.

If the body takes up a tabled motion at a later time, debate is resumed at exactly the point at which the motion to table was made. For example, if a proposed amendment to the main motion was being debated, the body will be begin consideration of the un-tabled motion by continuing its debate on the proposed amendment.

If a tabled motion is never re-introduced, it dies.

The motion to lay on the table is perfectly legal, but it can be used in underhanded ways. It's a very powerful motion, taking precedence over most others. It's undebatable, and requires a simple majority vote to pass.

I'm of the opinion that the motion to table should almost never be used. Maybe if the building's on fire, or if Bruce Springsteen's just walked into the room and has offered to sing a solo (but only in the next five minutes, because he's born to run). That's about it. For most everything else, forget it.

In other words, the motion to table could be useful in the rare situation in which something unexpected has happened, and the wisdom of tabling is perfectly clear to everyone.

In almost every other situation, there's a much better alternative: the motion to postpone. Unlike the motion to table, it is debatable.

Debate on a motion to postpone can ONLY be about the wisdom of postponing. If the body begins to slip back into general debate on the merits of the motion itself, the moderator should blow the whistle and remind those in attendance to confine their comments to the question of whether or not postponement is wise.

There are two variations of this motion: to postpone definitely or indefinitely. A definite postponement specifies when the body will take the motion up again, usually at the same meeting or at the next meeting (if other stated meetings are already scheduled, the item can be definitely postponed even further into the future). An indefinite postponement, on the other hand, is vague and open-ended: if no one ever moves to take the item up again, it dies.

Of the two, the motion to postpone definitely is usually the better choice.

In a meeting, if someone moves to table something (and before there has been a second), you as Clerk can swiftly alert the moderator to the fact that a motion to postpone is also possible, and is usually fairer than the motion to table. This will often result in a different motion, one that's more likely to leave all parties feeling like they have been heard and have been treated with respect.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bartimaeus and the Outreach Committee

Like most other things in this world, when committees are good, they're really, really good. And, when they're bad - well, you know how it goes. In light of that reality, I thought you all might enjoy this little piece (if you haven't seen it before). It's slightly adapted from the original by Andee Zetterbaum, which someone posted on the PresbyNet computer network some years back...

So, herewith, the missing and corrected verses of Mark's gospel. Or, as it should more properly be known, the story of Bartimaeus and the Outreach Committee.

46. They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.
46a. "There's no need to pay attention to him," advised several of his disciples. "We already support the Center for the Preservation of Blind Beggars, so we're doing our share for the community."
46b. "If you have to say anything to him, just direct him to the CPBB--they're the agency that can best deal with his problem," said another.
47. When Bartimaeus heard that it was of Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
48. Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
48a. Jesus turned to his disciples. "That man needs me. I want to pause for a moment in our travels to help him."
48b. "Sounds like exactly the kind of project that should fall under our Outreach Committee," said a senior member of Jesus' band. "Go talk to them, and they'll help you."
48c. "Outreach Committee?" said one member. "We're in the middle of a journey to Jerusalem, and that's got to take precedence. Maybe when the journey is done, we can think about doing something for the blind man."
48d. Other committee members pointed out, "We have only limited resources, so we need you to focus on healing only the members of your own band. Maybe someday when we're richer and have several healers, we can look at helping outsiders."
48e. Finally the committee chair suggested, "Why don't you put your proposal in writing so we can take it up at our next meeting?"
48f. Jesus grabbed for a piece of bark, and with a stick, scribbled on it (in words of one syllable), "I want to stop and help that man." He handed it to the committee chair.
48g. Three weeks later, the committee chair found him and said, "We REALLY liked your ideas, but because we're all too busy to help with the project right now, we'd like you to come to our next meeting in a month, to talk with us about it. Then the liaison can present it to the Session the following week. And, oh, by the way, would you like to serve on the Outreach Committee?"

Scholars' notes:
Jesus, having accepted that invitation, was swallowed up in committee work, and disappeared from sight forthwith. The entire remaining episodes of the Gospels are mere fantasy and writers' inventions.

Bartimaeus was hired by the Outreach Committee chair as its public spokesperson, and later became a consultant in organizational communications, pioneering the science of obfuscation and procrastination. Unfortunately, his supremely important role in history was lost due to a scribal error in the late 2nd century. However, echoes of his story surface from time to time in folk wisdom, where his name has been transformed from Bartimaeus into Murphy (as in Murphy's Law).

No other records of the committee chair or its members survive, and the character "God," who is mentioned earlier in the annals of Jesus and Bartimaeus, is still trying to figure out how to get Session approval and support for various projects. A good course in memo writing is recommended to enhance God's career development.