Following Robert's Rules of Warfare

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Robert's Rules of Order is the title of a book containing rules intended to be adopted as a parliamentary authority for use by a deliberative body. It is supposed to allow meetings to go more smoothly and make sure every issue on the table is dealt with equally and fairly.

As we unfortunately too often see, one example being Monday night's city council meeting, Robert's Rules too often becomes the subject matter of the meeting itself, with a huge percentage of time spent backtracking on motions made and tabling motions and snarling at one another when metaphorical toes are allegedly stepped on.

Thank God the whole set-up requires a city attorney on hand to coach the "I'm-not-a-lawyer-but..." attempts by some aldermen to really kink-up the works with their vaguely legal-sounding attempts at logic. Otherwise the city would have ridden them out on a rail long ago.

More dangerous, to this editor, is the sort of political gamesmanship played at the Monday meeting, when the long debated and voter-approved deer hunt was killed on the council table by a fairly crude bit of slight on hand by two aldermen, who have used this tactic before to their advantage and our disadvantage.

To set it up in context: The deer hunt was approved by voters months ago. In conjunction with Arkansas Game & Fish, the city worked out a set of times and a list of citizenry who would allow their private land to be used in the hunt.

The conclusions about how long the hunt would be, and where, have caused total uproar ever since by those who disagree with the particulars.

As City Attorney Tim Weaver explained the situation to Alderman Karen Lindblad on Monday night, the point when people could come forward and protest the wording of an issue on the ballot has long since passed. To change it now would have required writing an ordinance to literally revoke the voters decision in the last election about having the hunt; then a new ordinance setting up new conditions.

The problem with all that, other than the fact the deadline for these last-minute ordinances was Tuesday, less than 24 hours later, is the fact that going through all that would have required compromise on the part of commissioners, and some of them don't do that.

The idea that compromise is basic to functional government has obviously been lost in recent times (e.g. the current Republican party). One suspects the GOP has partaken of the same Eurekan waters as the city government. Whatever's in it, it sure does make everybody hardheaded and crossways.

So instead of compromise, what happened was a political stunt. The vote was brought to the table to proceed with the deer hunt. Once the motion was made and seconded, and once the wrangling was done, the people who motioned for the deer hunt to proceed, instead voted against it. One alderman short, council lacked votes to approve the motion, the motion failed, and so the deer hunt is gone. Hundreds of hours wasted, hundreds of deer now left to starve, dozens of voters who voted in good faith and whose voice has been disregarded because some people didn't get their way.

Good job, contrarians. You got your way. Great work. But for future, what's the point in any of us voting on local issues? If the wrong people disagree, they'll drag it out and find a way to undo it.

Aldermen should familiarize themselves with Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Not a joke. Given the typical political climate here, anyone engaged in civic duty would go far by reading this little book, written in the 5th century BC, consists entirely of tactics for dealing with the kinds of challenges that almost always come up at council meetings and other civic gatherings of like type.

It worked for Sun Tzu and General McArthur and Tony Soprano. And it might just work for you too. There's something in it for everyone. If you want to read it free online, go to http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html.

Enjoy the book.