May 10 – Room to Improve

General-Conference full view of room

It had been 1,466 days since United Methodists last gathered for a General Conference session.

Anticipation, trepidation, caution and hope were all present as delegates arrived at the Oregon Convention Center.

For some that arrival entailed walking across the street.  For others of us, like me and my communications colleagues, it meant a 1 ½ mile commute.

Portland has a rail system, the Max, that makes it easy to get around, usually.  As luck would have it, during the two weeks of General Conference the efficiency of the Max system is being put to the test by a construction project in the city.

Commuters were warned to expect delays that could add 30-45 minutes to their travel time.  With that in mind, I decided to walk.  The sun was out, it was 50 degrees, and I was up for the adventure.  It’s an adventure (my wife Karen would have another term for it) because I don’t ask for directions nor do I use the GPS on my phone.

I was inside the Convention Center 50 minutes after walking out the door of my 12th-floor hotel room.  Not bad considering I took two wrong turns – having to double back to correct the error each time – and then had to pass through security.

In 2012 people moved freely in and out of the Tampa Convention Center – not so here in Portland in 2016.

Security-WandingIn the state’s largest convention center, only two sets of doors opened from the outside.  At each set of doors stood two groups of security guards.  The first group checked bags and purses.  The second group used hand wands to scan each entrant.

Starting on Wednesday, we’ll all need to allow a little extra time to get into the building.

We needed extra time inside the building for Day 1 of General Conference.  The afternoon business session took longer than expected.  At issue was a debate/discussion/misunderstanding of what rules were in play.

Long story short – or as short as I can make it:

When General Conference 2012 ended delegates were operating using approved rules.

In an effort to improve the pace, utilize technology, and shorten the work day (ending at 6:30pm each night instead of 9:30 or 10p) at General Conference 2016, new rules were proposed.

The old rules called for delegates who wanted to speak from floor microphones to raise a colored card.  They would then be recognized by the presiding bishop to go to the mic.An I-pad

The new rules call for delegates who want to speak from floor microphones to enter their information into the i-Pad on their table and then wait for their name to be called.

After much debate, multiple ballots, many complaints from delegates whose table did not have a working i-pad, and waaaaay too much time wasted, someone pointed out that the i-pads shouldn’t even be on the tables because the old rules from 2012 were still in effect.

Turns out, the person was right – and that issue presented two problems:

The cards had never been distributed to the delegates

The old rules meant the day’s end time should have been 9:30p on Day 1 instead of 6:30p

So delegates were sent on a dinner break at 6pm – and told to be back at 8pm for an evening session.

As you can imagine, that didn’t go over too well.

The silver lining is that after a rough start to the day, delegates left just before 9pm having voted – on one ballot – to approve 43 different rules!

By Rick Wolcott, East Ohio Conference Director of Communications