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May 19, 2008: Speechless

DAY 4 ON nFoG WATCH: I have been looking around on-line and have not found anyone writing in support of the nFoG (that is, anyone who was not a part of the Task Force itself). Can you? If so, send me a link. I will post, I promise. Is there a presbytery, a stated clerk, an executive presbyter or other blogger who is advocating for the nFoG?

Still, no takers. (I don't write on weekends, so I don't expect anyone else to either.)

Committee Survey: Committee 1, Business Referral

You may have noticed that I skipped Committee 1, Business Referral. That was by design. It seemed unlikely that people would be at all interested in how the business of the Assembly got distributed among the other committees.

That all changed at the end of last week. Follow me on this:

“The reports and recommendations of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly regarding the initial docket of the General Assembly and referrals of business shall be referred to the Assembly Committee on Business Referral . . .” (See Standing Rule C.4.) “The moderators and vice moderators of the assembly committees, as a group, shall function as the Assembly Committee on Business Referral. The moderator and vice moderator of the Assembly Committee on Bills and Overtures shall function as the moderator and vice moderator of this committee as well. This committee shall report to the assembly for its action at the first meeting of the General Assembly for the transaction of business.” (See Standing Rule C.1.d.)

That's the description on PC-Biz. OK, so far so good. These are the leaders of the committees, making initial recommendation about which committees should handle which business. However, they are not the first ones to draft up a proposed distribution list. The Stated Clerk does. (Standing Rule C.3.a.)

Here's where things get interesting.

On Friday, there was a note under the "recent activity" section of PC-Biz, Item 01-04 had been modified. What is Item 01-04? Good question. I am glad you asked. It is a recommendation from the Business Referral Committee to suspend the standing rules in order to receive LATE business.

In other words, this committee is recommending the Assembly suspend the standing rules in order to agree to handle business that was submitted past deadlines.

Initially, this presented me with a dilemma. On the one hand, I could be aghast at the overt manipulation of the rules to serve someone's purpose. On the other hand, I could be thrilled and seek to piggy-back my suggestion to suspend the standing rules to create a commissioners committee to interview the stated clerk candidates. What to do, what to do?

But then, I looked at the business they are seeking to get in late. And there's one that left me speechless,

"Item 03-07 Amending G-11.0102 and G-12.0102k Regarding Non-Geographic Presbyteries [COGA] 2/28."

A late constitutional amendment?

I was speechless, I tell you. Remember who is involved in making this recommendation: the Committee on the Office of General Assembly and the Assembly Committee on Business Referral (the moderators and vice moderators of the committees -- in other words, the leaders). That it even got to Business Referrals suggests that the Stated Clerk's office was involved. Not one of them has read the Constitution?

G-18.0301a, "All proposals requesting amendment of the Book of Order shall be communicated in writing to the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly no later than 120 days prior to the convening of the next session of the General Assembly."

Further,

Overtures not timely received will be returned to the originating governing body. All deadlines are postmark deadlines.

218th GA (2008): June 21-28, 2008 (San Jose, Calif.):
120-day Deadline: February 22, 2008
90-day Deadline: March 24, 2008
60-day Deadline: April 22, 2008
45-day Deadline: May 7, 2008
30-day Deadline: May 22, 2008

Where did I get these dates? On the denomination's site. The "late" date for COGA's recommended constitutional amendment? February 28.

The Assembly does not have the authority to suspend, set aside, or ignore the Constitution. Period. It can suspend the Standing Rules, but not in such a way as to render void a specific provision of the Constitution. That is, the Assembly cannot ... ...unless the rules are not enforced and everyone looks the other way. Now, there's a good precedent to get started.

Wow.

To whom does the Constitution apply? Everyone? Only some? Is it discretionary for the Stated Clerk and COGA?

As for the rest of the business, there are a lot of agency reports, yet another ACSWP item, the ecumenical items (again, stated clerk's office?) and some other things. The need to suspend the standing rules to allow these items begs the question: what happened? How did these deadlines get blown? Where is the accountability and responsibility for staff and agencies to play by the same rules as everyone else?

My concern is more about the process than about the specifics of the proposed amendment -- if the leadership of this Assembly is going to act as if the rules matter only when they want them to matter, we are headed for disaster. If nothing else, the appearance of impropriety is damaging. If it is manipulation, it is even worse.