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April 14, 2008: Three Quarters

After doing some work with the Archives section over the weekend, I have contemplated the possibility that I may have violated the "Three Quarters" rule.

Simply, the idea is that any individual commissioner has about three opportunities (3 quarters) to address the Assembly -- anything more than that just gets obnoxious and offensive. No one likes a know-it-all. It is more a "rule of thumb" kind of thing than hard and fast -- but it is advice well taken. (I did not create the rule, but can't give proper attribution to who did.)

As to my own potential violation (having already posted about 25 separate notes about GA business), there are some mitigating circumstances:

1) you have come here to read what I have written as opposed to my taking time from the Assembly;

2) my goal has been to share my process of preparing for the Assembly -- more of a diary than a podium. The wide variety of material the Assembly handles means this site is going to cover a large area of ground; and

3) there are plenty of commissioners and advisory delegates who are not reading me here.

At least, that's how I rationalizing why the rule does not apply to me here. That said, the rule absolutely will apply to me when we get to San Jose.

The "Three Quarters" rule is important to know now because it emphasizes the need to come to San Jose prepared with priorities. What are the things you are most called to address in your service as a commissioner? What are the issues you are going to pursue? No one can do everything; in fact, most commissioners find that they can work on only one issue (in addition to the business assigned to their committee). So, what is most important or how can you be most effective?

Many first-time commissioners read the business and think they need to be an expert on all the business. They read and read and read. They try to memorize the business. This is like memorizing a photograph of a river. The water is always moving, always changing. If you try to do everything, you will get overwhelmed and end up going along for the ride downstream. In order to make an impact, you must identify the points where it is possible for you to have an impact.

The Three Quarters rule is a rule of scarcity. Knowing how to use your quarters is more an art than a science. There is a limited amount of time. The Assembly quickly will get impatient with anyone it senses is wasting that time. Picture it like rush-hour traffic on the highway: if what you are going to say is going to help clear a lane or move things forward, the Assembly will be grateful. If you are going to repeat someone else, the Assembly will react like you are a lane-cutter and treat you with road rage. Know the difference.

This applies to procedural maneuvers as well -- in plenary and in the commissioners committees. Robert's Rules are meant to help the process, not hinder it. Do not waste quarters in bickering about process. Remember: the elected moderator will be learning on the job. The committee moderators will be learning on the job. Most moderators have not handled such a large business meeting and it can be pretty intimidating to have to make a procedural judgment call in front of thousands of people (GA moderator) or hundreds of people (committee moderators). And, just so you know: the Assembly never, never, never functions as a pure example of Robert's Rules. There will be mistakes. And, just like a sporting event where an official makes the wrong call, the game still goes on and everyone has to adapt.

(There is one exception to the "do not bicker about process" maxim: it is when there is a motion to move to a "consensus" process or "committee of the whole." More on that at a later date.)

All of which is to say: mind your quarters. I do not need to tell you, but here it is anyway: read these notes if they are helpful; if they are not, do not.