For the past week, I have been sitting at the COL Chambers in Chicago.  As a second time delegate, I had an entirely different view of things and while tiring and frustrating at times, I believe it is a valuable and worthwhile exercise.

In our democratic society it is important that members at the grass roots level be heard.  And it is important that our leaders glean some input from those participating, regarding their performance, our programs and the policies of our global Rotary organization.

It is difficult enough to try and have 532 delegates reach a consensus, but when you add the layer of language interpretation, culture and different regions of the world, this process becomes complex.  Thus in some cases, we see an issue watered down when it gets put on paper, so that a majority can feel comfortable voting to support it.  But I must say, overall everyone did a great job.

During my recent reporting I had some questions and feedback shared with me and those will form the basis for my comments here.  I also appreciate the wonderful compliments which gave me energy to write in the late hours of the day.

The first thing to understand is that Enactments are changes to the RI Constitution, Bylaws and Standard Rotary Club bylaws.  Therefore they are binding on the RI Board and all Clubs.  Unless specifically mentioned otherwise, they take effect on July 1, 2013.  A simple majority is required except for the RI Constitution items which require a 2/3 majority.

Resolutions, on the other hand, are merely requests (and not binding) for the RI Board and/or TRF Trustees.  They are asking for our leaders to consider an issue and hopefully take some action.  Since resolutions have no enforcement or rigid requirement, they are seen as a simple request and therefore no amendments were allowed.  That policy was new this year.

Some would argue to not allow amendments for the Enactments as well, however I feel this would eliminate the valuable dialogue and discussions.  With amendments the end result of wordsmithing makes things much better or clearer.  I also believe that the participatory process is very important and if amendments were not allowed, much of the valued input would be lost and the reason for going would be diminished.

Some would even suggest we eliminate the Resolutions, since a Club or District can send a "Memorial" to the board directly.  That thought is to try and minimize the time taken at the COL with it's related costs.   A Memorial is a document similar in format to a resolution, however it goes directly from the source to the RI Board.  That process does not allow the dialogue to take place on the COL floor and more importantly, it does not allow the RI Board or Trustees to listen and understand the grass roots sentiment of an issue as it is being discussed. 

A new 'blue' voting card was introduced this year with the intent that members could propose closing an item for debate.  In the past this motion could be proposed, however most of the time it would be up to the Chair to determine when sufficient debate had taken place, then call for the vote. 

At times, because of the blue card, I believe we moved on faster than we might have, with not enough discussion on some issues.  It is difficult to find a happy balance between fair consideration of each item within the available time.  My observation was that nearer the end of the day, people grew impatient and were anxious to just get things done.

One of the popular discussions over lunch was the effectiveness of our COL process and I believe that this is entirely within the power of each Rotarian.  Some feedback I received asked: "Why are you taking time to discuss such trivial issues"?  Quite simply, we were discussing the items that Clubs and Districts submitted.  So there certainly is room for proposals to address more higher level items in the future.

I was disappointed that this COL did not have much appetite to consider trying new and different ideas.  I can only imagine the disappointment of proposers who suggested new concepts which were voted down many times.  We have all been in conversations where we talk about needing to think out-of-the-box, but I don't think that COL got the message.  What makes it more puzzling is that we were not establishing new policies or programs.  The resolutions were merely asking the RI Board to consider the suggestions.

Upon reflection, I think that many times issues do not rise or fall merely on their merits.  The decisions seem to be influenced by the manner in which an individual presents the item from the podium.  Simpler words and more generic terms seem to have easier acceptance, likely because the language interpretation is more easily understood.  And I noted that if the suggestion included a specific 'name' the discussion could easily get off track on the term, rather than the concept itself.  So those asking for a more generic name seemed simpler to deal with.

Another huge factor affecting consideration and decision making seemed to be the time of day and what had happened in previous voting.  Closer to deadlines or the end of a day, participants tended to be impatient and wanted to move through items more quickly. This was particularly true the last couple of days when some got concerned about finishing on time.   In one case, a participant got up and spoke against a motion regarding youth, indicating "I hope you won't vote for this since you defeated mine, which was more important."

There has been discussion on revising the COL, mainly to make it more efficient and to reduce the cost of bringing almost 600 individuals to Chicago for the one week process.  Personally, I feel we can use electronic technology for many of the smaller issues.  However the face-to-face dialogue is paramount to the larger items.  One idea was to have it as an add-on to the RI Convention, however many could not be away from home that long and it would increase costs of administration and staff travel expenses.

In my mind, I see an annual 'electronic COL' where eacjh year resolutions and simple housekeeping enactments could be dealt with.  Possibly an issue could be placed on a discussion forum for a specific number of days.  Delegates could read and participate with their thoughts, then vote by a specified deadline.  This would shorten the needed time for the current face-to-face format covering larger issues, possibly reducing it to three days.  Prior to Chicago arrival, some of the discussion and amendments could be dealt with on on-line as well. 

Another observation was the high average age of those in the room.  We spent considerable time trying to imagine what the younger generation members and prospective members might want from Rotary and how to attract them to membership..  Maybe we should ask them to participate and having a portion of non-PDG delegates may be worth some consideration.  Engaging Rotarians is a popular term these days and for little cost, we could also video down-stream the proceedings for all to see.

And before we blame members for not attending, maybe we have to take a closer look at our club meetings to ensure there is a welcoming atmosphere and good programming for their interests.  We want to get to the point where members regret missing something, if they did not get to their regular weekly meeting.

This final comment, overheard at the coffee pot, is interestingto consider.  A colleague shared that "We do not have Rotary police" and depend on the DG to ensure policies and procedures are followed.  "But many do not, since they want to be the nice guy and tend to put things off to the next guy."  Since then, I have been reflecting on his parting comment: "Why do we spend so much time and money creating all these rules, because they are rarely enforced anyway!"  Maybe that is the first place we should start.

It has been an honour to represent District 7080 during these proceedings and I am happy to visit with of you to discuss further, at any time.

Yours in Rotary service,

Doug Vincent
RC Woodstock-Oxford
Ontario, Canada