WSFS Democracy in Action

Yesterday saw the first session of this year’s WSFS Business Meeting. One of the issues due to be raised was the decision by the Mark Protection Committee (MPC) to ban me from serving on it, or any of its subcommittees, unless I agreed to decline any Hugo nominations I might receive. Allegedly being on those committees gave me an unfair advantage in the awards, with the implication that my wins in 2009 and 2010 had been unfairly obtained.

Well, a number of WSFS regulars were concerned that the MPC was over-reaching its remit here. They argued that the MPC had no right to decide who was eligible for a Hugo and who was not. Johnny Carruthers and Chris Barkley brought a resolution to yesterday’s meeting ordering the MPC to rescind the policy. This was the first step towards clearing my name.

Somewhat to our surprise, Johnny and Chris faced a new hurdle before they could bring their resolution to the floor. The chair of the meeting, Don Eastlake, ruled it unconstitutional.

To understand that you have to get to the real issue that was being debated here. In order to justify kicking me off the committee, the MPC had to attest that it did indeed have the right to set policy regarding Hugo eligibility. (And indeed if it had that right, I should not be on the committee.) Eastlake’s argument was that not only did the MPC have the right to decide who was eligible for Hugos, but that the Business Meeting had no right to overturn their decisions. He was, in effect, arguing that the MPC was an elected Board of Directors for WSFS that could adopt whatever policies it liked. The only way to change those policies would be to elect different people to the MPC and hope they adopted different policies.

I have no idea why Don took this line. Possibly he wanted to make the enormity of the power grab that the MPC members were making very clear to the meeting. Had his ruling been sustained, he would have fundamentally changed the nature of WSFS democracy. Maybe he wanted that decision on record. But equally by ruling that way he ensured that Johnny and Chris’s motion needed not just an ordinary majority, but a 2/3 super-majority in order to progress, that being the requirement for sustaining a challenge to the chair. It is hard not to see his action as yet another piece of parliamentary trickery intended to stifle debate on a contentious issue.

Update: Kevin has been in touch to tell me that my memory of debate rules is fault, and only an ordinary majority is required to overturn a chair’s ruling. So apologies to Don on that one, and I really do not know why he took that position.

Fortunately we had Kevin on our side. He was able to bring forward numerous examples of past occasions when the MPC had taken direction from the Business Meeting, thereby establishing precedent for the MPC being subservient to the BM. Also the regular BM attendees are an independent-minded lot. The thought of having their authority taken away from them was more than sufficient to rouse them to action. The chair’s ruling was rejected, and Johnny & Chris’s motion went on to pass.

That wasn’t necessarily the end of it. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it is perfectly consistent to believe that the MPC had no right to adopt such a policy, but still believe that the policy was a good one and should be imposed by the BM. A Constitutional Amendment to that effect had been proposed, and was due to be debated today. However, Chris raised an Objection to Consideration motion against it and the BM, having decided that they had discussed the issue quite enough already, backed him.

So the good news is that I’m in the clear. Any insinuations of improper conduct on my part have been disposed of. Where we go from here is not clear. I need to talk to Kevin about it, and it will depend to a certain extent on who gets elected to the MPC today. There are 8 people vying for 4 places. I note that Mark Olson and Stephen Boucher were among the people who took action against me in Australia, and Kate Kligman was one of the backers of the motion to write that action into the WSFS Constitution this year. So if I were in Reno I know who I would not be voting for.

That was by no means all of the business that got done yesterday. The meeting also had to cope with some complex drafting issues arising from multiple motions on similar topics. The first set of motions were all about removing podcasts and video from the Fanzine category of the Hugos. To some extent this is a bit like the people who claimed that Emerald City was not a proper fanzine because it was published electronically rather than on paper. There is, however, a crucial difference, in that these motions do not seek to ban productions such as Star Ship Sofa from the Hugos. Instead they argue that the skills necessary to produce a podcast or video are fundamentally different to those required to produce written words, and that a separate category is required. Many fan awards around the world already make this distinction. The people behind the various motions have apparently come to an agreement on a common approach. I’ll be interested to see how this goes today.

The other major drafting issue surrounded the semiprozine committee’s report. I talked more about this here. There were, as of yesterday morning, two proposals that actively conflict with the committee’s recommendations. One of the fanzine motions contained wording that, I think inadvertently, would make all professional magazines — such as Asimov’s and F&SF — eligible for semiprozine. If this was a mistake, hopefully it has been corrected.

Still extant, however, is Ben Yalow’s attempt to wreck the semiprozine committee proposal by defining any paying market as professional, thereby ensuring that almost no magazines will be eligible as semiprozines, and allowing Ben to then argue that the category is not needed. That one will certainly come to the floor of the BM today. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Neil Clarke in attempting to deal with it.

There was one other decision that the BM took yesterday that I’d like to talk about. There was a Constitutional Amendment pending proposing the creation of a Hugo Award category for YA books. This too got the Objection to Consideration treatment, and therefore will not be discussed today. I have my reservations about the proposal, but it is one with a lot of support in the community and I think it was wrong for the BM not to allow the issues to be openly debated.

Anyway, my deepest thanks to Johnny, Chris and Kevin for their efforts on my behalf, and also to everyone who supported them with speeches and votes. Kevin has the video of the meeting available here if you want to see what went on.

15 thoughts on “WSFS Democracy in Action

  1. First, I’m glad that’s done with. I still don’t get how being on the MPC in any way gets you a better shot at a Hugo – hell, till this debacle, I didn’t have a CLUE who was on the MPC (nor care much, beyond Kevin, who’s very public in his protection work).

    Second, why is there such a in shutting down a YA category for the Hugos from some quarters? It would make the Hugos infinitely more useful to Librarians, make them more relevant to teachers and teens and recognize a skill at creating what we used to think of as “novella” length stories – it can’t really just be “no more Hugos” crap, can it?

    1. There are a number of reasons why people are opposed to a YA category. Two obvious ones are that we don’t use marketing categories anywhere else, and that it could lead to the same book winning two Hugos. But as Chris notes below it sounds like a lot of people were concerned that there simply wasn’t enough time to debate everything, and that YA should therefore be postponed until next year. I can see the force of that argument, but I wish there had been a better way to make it. I don’t want all the folks out there who support a YA category to feel that they have been dealt with unfairly.

      1. I have to admit that I’m one of those that voted to not consider the YA/Child Book Hugo., something I’d not have wished to do, but not one I regret

        I voted against it because it was IMHO a very badly drafted proposal, and with the more immediate problems of the fancast, fanzine and semi-prozine there would not have been time to make sense of the motion.

        In my opinion there were three elements that need to be fixed.

        1) Defining the eligibility criteria as being “Book Length” when this is not defined anywhere was a problem. And I understand (I think) the reasoning in the length of child/YA books can vary enormously, especially children’s books that can text light and rely more on images. But this could have been fixed reasonably easily .

        2) Why then put the restriction on the Author/Authors having a nomination in any other category. Yes the “Book” should only be eligible in one category, but the Author should not be so restricted, if they are prolific enough there is no reason they cannot be nominated in several categories and multiple times in the same category.

        3) But anyhow even accept the above the motion only stopped a YA/Child nomination from being in the “Novel” category, when it might easily be of a length to be in any of the other written categories (even short story).

        But I don’t see a need for 2 and 3 anyway as Hugo nominees can only appear in one category anyway.

        So the motion was ill defined and confused and would have taken a good amount of time to have corrected. Time that was obviously not available.

        I hope the proposers of the motion will return next year, but after having it discussed in advance to produce a better motion.

  2. I want you and everyone else to know that I consider Ben Yalow and Rene Walling, two of the proponents of yesterday’s actions, as my friends and I took NO pleasure in acting against them.

    But I did what I thought was necessary at the Business Meeting because the the fundamental unfairness of the what happened at Melbourne and the bad light it cast you in. The work you have done for the Mark protection committee was done relatively anonymously, there was NO evidence that you had used your position to promote yourself or your works for Hugo nominations or awards therefore, you did not engage in any thing that might be regarded as acts of impropriety.

    I was not entirely surprised that the YA/Children’s Book Hugo proposal was dismissed.

    There was quite a bit of opposition to it on the SMOFs list discussion group so I knew going in an Objection to Consideration was a definite possibility.

    However, I was told by several people afterwards that they voted for the OTC because the big semi-prozine/podcast/fanzine kerfuffle was going to take a majority of the BM’s time and efforts. My proposal was a casualty of bad timing.

    This issue, which I consider THE most important Hugo Award I have ever proposed, WILL be resubmitted (with a slight tweak here and there) to the Chicon 7 Business Meeting where I hope it will meet a better fate. There is also a slight chance some future Worldcon may use the Additional Category clause of the WSFS Constitution (3.3.16) to test it’s viability.

  3. My pleasure. If you’ve read the resolution, you already know from the commentary my thoughts on the matter. And I would like to publicly thank Chris for agreeing to be my co-sponsor on the resolution.

      1. Or as Snoopy once said, “Every so often, I feel that my existence is entirely justified.”

  4. A couple of (minor) corrections here. If the MPC were not required to accept direction from the business meeting, the other way to require it to do something would be via a constitutional amendment — but that would take an extra year for ratification, of course.

    And Don Eastlake’s constitutional ruling (that was overturned) also stated that the MPC did not have the power to set such a policy for itself, only for its sub-committees and other officers.

    1. Thanks Mike, points taken. Though I think we are all much better off with the MPC agreeing that it doesn’t have the right to set policy.

  5. I think the MPC ruling was overly cautious; one could extend the argument to the point of absurdity (like, no Hugo voter should be eligible for a Hugo). I was a little surprised that Rene said it was already ‘standard practice;’ since when has any MPC member (or sub-committee member, aside from you) even been eligible for a Hugo?

    1. Certainly “no Business Meeting attendee should be eligible for a Hugo” – after all, the BM sets Hugo policy.

      But you are right, this new rule was crafted specifically to target me, and no one else.

    2. Lisa Hertel: Actually, Mike Glyer was on the Hugo Award Marketing Committee for a couple of years, but dropped off a few years back, and he would also have been affected; however, the only high profile current (as of last year) member of the committee who could reasonably be expected to be affected was Cheryl. FWIW, I suspect that if Mike had been still on the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee, the proposal would either have not been made at all or would have had less support.

      I think that the actual maker of the proposal (René Walling) was acting in good faith and I’m sorry that he appears to have taken grave offense at my position. I think that René genuinely seems to feel that the MPC and the marketing committee are in an unduly precarious situation with the Hugo Awards; however, I think it highly likely that not all of his fellow-travelers are acting from the same ideologically pure motives. I appreciate and commend the work he’s done this past year as chairman of the HAMC (I’m the person who suggested he be appointed chairman!) in working up usage guidelines for the Hugo Award Logo in consultation with book publishers, and I would welcome his continued participation. I furthermore see no conflict of interest between him doing that and him being involved in publishing efforts that could make him or works associated with him eligible for a Hugo Award.

      Had the Business Meeting not rejected the constitutional amendment out of hand, I would have proposed removing the firewall separating the Hugo Administration Subcommittee from the rest of the current Worldcon Committee, thereby making any current Worldcon committee member ineligible. I would have also suggested that anyone who attends a WSFS Business Meeting also be ineligible for a year or two afterwards, on account of the Business Meeting is actual policy-setting body of WSFS. (Note that multiple past Hugo Award winners and current-year nominees participated in the debates at this year’s Business Meeting.) The “potential conflict of interest,” concerns (aka “Caesar’s Wife” arguments) lead you down a very slippery slope.

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