Home Virginia Politics Former DPVA Political Director Clark Mercer: Time for “Dinosaur” Committee Meeting Format...

Former DPVA Political Director Clark Mercer: Time for “Dinosaur” Committee Meeting Format to Change

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The following comment by former DPVA Political Director, former Alexandria Democratic Committee chair, and current Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer was originally posted on Tom Greeson’s Facebook page, and is reprinted here with Clark’s permission. It’s in response to Tom Greeson’s question, “Was there really a quorum call at the ‪#‎FCDC‬ meeting tonight to prevent ordinary business? Why was that? Praying for a peace treaty!” This prompted a lot of comments, including one by Ben Tribbett that Clark references (“No offense, but for most of us in the room, we were not interested in hearing more people make points. Virtually everyone there had decided how they were going to vote. I understand you wanted to speak, but the rest of us (and our time) have to be respected also. There were multiple speakers on both sides of the issue. The Chair does not have to allow every member to speak on every issue they want to speak on.”).

I couldn’t agree more with Clark (and Ben), and honestly wonder why anyone would want to attend Democratic committee meetings when this kind of stuff is what they get to sit there and watch for hour after hour. What a complete waste of time. Anyway, here’s Clark’s epic comment (formatting and bolding added by me for clarity and emphasis):

Tom Greeson’s last comment is spot on as they say. Volunteer based organizations such as these are very tough to run, and if members want to cause meetings to run slow or get off track, then can. People pay a lot of money and go to really fancy schools to learn how to manage non profits- it’s a very tough task. Given the size and scope of Fairfax, the budget of FCDC, and the competing interests and priorities of folks, it’s remarkable the amount of work and production that comes out of the committee. FCDC is no different than many other Dem or Republican organizations, or for that matter service-related groups such as the Moose Lodge, NAACP, Masons, etc. that all thrived 20+ years ago with a monthly committee meeting format.

Things have changed across the board now with how people plug into their communities and give their time and treasure. The monthly committee format for all these groups is a dinosaur if not retooled to give members a tangible opportunity to “do stuff” (real technical term!). Members need to walk away feeling like they have moved the ball forward in electing Democrats and growing the party. Spending too much time on officer reports and things that can be communicated over email will drive people away- you have one chance to make an impression on a new, or potentially new, member. You have to ask yourself why a quorum isn’t being attained- members should want to attend meetings. OFA and DFA are groups that put members to work.

Benjamin Tribbett’s comment is also spot on- with respecting people’s times. We just don’t have so much spare time to waste going to unproductive meetings. How many calls could FCDC members crank through in 1/2 hour if there was a quorum, how many letters on Medicaid could be written, etc. Maybe 20 years ago you needed to go to a meeting in person to find out what was going on, who was running for office, how to donate, where to show up to a rally, etc. That’s simply no longer the case and committees have to understand the seismic shift in how people engage if they are going to attract and keep new members and “get stuff done”.

Now, why can’t there be a whole bunch more Clark Mercers in the Democratic Party? If so, we’d be a lot more effective than we are now, win a lot more elections, and make this state and country a lot better place. But noooooo…. 🙁

P.S. This is not meant in any way to disparage the efforts of superb people like FCDC Chair Sue Langley, who from what I hear did an excellent job handling the situation Tuesday night (e.g., she followed the rules and did what she had to do).

  • linda b

    My thoughts exactly. I do NOT want to sit at a meeting with nothing moving forward…

    We miss you at DPVA.

  • GBrandon

    . . . And, It Wasn’t A Well-Run Meeting From A Robert’s Rules Perspective.  

    The organization should not be bound by decisions by an unrepresentatively small number of members.  To prevent this . . . a minimum number of members must be present . . . for a meeting to conduct substantive business.

    Approving a $320,000 budget is highly substantive business.

    With respect to the actual quorum, the FCDC bylaws states in Article VIII, Meetings, Section 7 that . . .

    The presence of 30% of the members of the County Committee and each of its committees shall constitute a quorum for the conduct of business.

    To meet the quorum with our current membership level, at least 238 members must be present.  We did not come close to making that number.  Additionally, the Chair must determine that a quorum is met and, in my opinion, should declare the presence or absence of the quorum.  In the absence, then a member may make a Parliamentary Inquiry, if recognized by the Chair.

    The main issue at the FCDC meeting was an amendment to the budget.  Had there been no amendment, I believe we would now have a budget.  In any case, I’ve heard that the Chair had a list of pro-amendment members who she called on; And, that she was not going to recognize our Treasurer who had doubts about the budget — as I did — concerning the numbers (what were they based on other than “I’ll work my butt off”).  After much shouting, the Treasurer was allowed to speak.  She spoke and then someone “Called The Question” to close the debate.  Aside from the fact that the person should have said “I move the previous question,” Robert’s Rules states that . . .

    . . . the motion for the Previous Question requires a two-thirds vote and is undebateable.

    The Chair failed to stipulate that it would be a “rising” vote or that it would require a two-thirds vote to close debate.  

    It was at this point that a now-former FCDC Steering Committee member pulled the “nuclear option” and did the Quorum Call.  As stated above, it probably should have been a Parliamentary Inquiry.

    Of course, if we want to give the Chair a veto over the Body or if the Body should unquestioningly defer to the Chair, then count me the f#$k out.

  • Clark’s comments are pretty insightful in an abstract, generic sense, but they have absolutely nothing to do with what actually happened at the meeting. We were voting on our budget, which must be done in person and only happens once a year. I totally agree that we should communicate officer’s reports and other information via email. But you can’t discuss and vote on a budget that way.

    And as to Ben’s comment on wasting people’s time with debate, i will offer the same comment i did on Facebook: Then why have debate at all if everyone already has their mind made up? I am all in favor of limiting debate in order to save time, but Robert’s Rules does not allow for any one person–including the Chair–to limit debate. Any limits on debate must be established in advance so everyone knows the constraints they are working under. As mentioned in a previous post, the only other way to end debate is if no one else wants to speak, or by a 2/3 vote of the body.

    What actually happened in the meeting is the Chair suddenly announced she was ending debate, called on 2 more people, and then put the motion to a vote. It was at that point the presence of a quorum was questioned.

  • clark

    I wasn’t there and agreed that my comments on the FB thread were more in the abstract… I came across a string of 30+ comments about Robert’s Rules etc. as they pertain to calling a quorum, etc. My comments were more to focus on how can the committee get enough members to show up to have a quorum and not have this problem- it’s not the first time this has been an issue for FCDC nor the first time a quorum has been called to derail an agenda. Nor is this a unique problem for FCDC- that is getting more members to show up, be active, and get meetings more action oriented so we can grow the party. It’s becoming a chronic problem with our committees and too often the meetings do get bogged down in the officer reports, procedure, etc. and folks with limited time who want to get stuff done decide not to come back. Probably a comment best to stand on it’s own though and not jump in the middle of how this specific agenda item was handled.  

  • notlarrysabato

    1)  I was there and would have voted for Sue’s budget.  Mostly because if there was a fundraising shortfall, I would like to see other things cut than the red to blue program targeted at the 10th CD.  Frankly if FCDC just spent its resources on the 10th CD this November and let the 8th and 11th candidates fund their own efforts, it would be the smartest thing the committee could do given the opportunity in the 10th is a once in a lifetime thing.

    2)  There was a 20 minute debate.  That having been said, Sue could have done a MUCH better job of moving around the room to call on people.  A number of people she called on had prepared remarks, indicating they came wanting to speak on the issue and that the whole discussion was pushing one side of the issue.  Hopefully a lesson learned for Sue and anyone who thought that would be a good idea.

    3)  Many people complained for the last 2 years that Cesar had a group of opponents who showed up to every meeting to oppose whatever he did.  I agree that was happening with some.  But the reaction of many of those who complained about that has been to do exactly the same to Langley.  I suggest everyone reconsider this before the committee becomes completely useless.

  • about the problems we face with meetings in general.  (One correction: FCDC meets every two months, not monthly.) Sometimes I feel like volunteering on a campaign instead of attend a meeting would be a better use of a member’s limited time.  But a budget is an important decision we make together once a year.  And until the DPVA Party Plan is changed, you have to be present to vote.

    The motion up for debate was to restore part of the funding to the Red to Blue program, which the Steering Committee had voted previously to reduce. I would have voted for the budget with or without that motion. I think the program in question is a very worthwhile one (provided that it’s done right and that we can pay for it). Red to Blue is probably one of the most important things we can be doing this year, considering the opportunity that’s been handed to us in the 10th.  Either way, I’m confident that we can get it done.

    It was clear to me that a majority of the membership present would’ve voted for that motion.  But when there was a motion to stop discussion, the same majority voted to continue the discussion because they wanted to hear opposing views.

    FCDC has a lot of big things to accomplish.  I hope we can stay focused on our mission of electing Democrats.

    Thanks for reading, here’s a donkey GIF I put together from FCDC archives dating back from the early 1970’s to the present:

  • Tom Greeson

    Lowell, I had messaged Clark saying that I’d like to see his excellent comments get a wider audience than just those who were reading the thread under my FB post. So glad you posted this!