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.