Well, that was fun while it lasted.
For two hours on Tuesday, the C-Tran board participated in a lively, constructive training on how to run orderly, efficient meetings. C-Tran board members and staff used role playing to highlight key points of Robert’s Rules of Order and how to apply them. People laughed. They engaged in a new way. The pace moved quickly.
Then the actual board meeting started.
It didn’t take long for board members to begin tangling in the weeds, talking over some of the same details repeatedly. Granted, much of the discussion — about a major overhaul of C-Tran’s IT department — was substantial and important. But when the board began to rewrite the resolution on the fly, confusion reigned. At one point, the conversation inevitably veered toward bus rapid transit due to some boilerplate language apparently used in this and other budget amendments.
By the end of the evening, it felt like pretty much any other C-Tran board meeting I’ve attended in the last few years. Sigh.
As for the two-hour training immediately beforehand, participants seemed to genuinely enjoy it. The exercise was led by professional registered parliamentarian Ann Macfarlane, whose company Jurassic Parliament helps its clients run better meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order. That’s the set of guidelines that most city councils and other public bodies use. The training cost C-Tran $1,400, plus Macfarlane’s travel expenses.
The dinosaur-themed session saw participants play a variety of characters during a mock meeting of “Dino Transit.” Among the roles: “Enemy of the Chair” (played by C-Tran labor representative John Shreves), “Burnt Out Member” (Battle Ground City Councilor Lyle Lamb), “Elderly Member” (Camas City Councilor Greg Anderson), “Bungee Jumper” (Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman), “Pharmacist” (Clark County Councilor David Madore) and “Guitarist” (C-Tran Director of Operations Jim Quintana, who actually plays guitar).
Characters made motions or delivered lines to illustrate a certain point. At one point, Madore’s pharmacist character made a motion to give Valium to all Dino Transit employees.
One of Macfarlane’s biggest takeaways: The chair of a public body presides over a meeting, but he or she is the servant of the group. “The group is the final authority,” Macfarlane said.
Macfarlane also highlighted some of the obnoxious things you’re not allowed to say under Robert’s Rules of Order. You can’t hurl personal insults, for example. You can’t use inflammatory language or accusations. You also can’t state the motives of other board members.
When this week’s training wrapped up, board members praised Macfarlane and her program. Maybe now they’ll put it to practice.