The 2019 Council on Legislation (CoL) was an awe-inspiring event as 530 delegates filed into the impeccably organised chamber. Past RI presidents, directors and officers conducting the CoL were non-voting members of the Council. Outside, it was snowing in a freezing Chicago. Just the kind of weather when Paul Harris founded Rotary in the city, and cone ice cream was created in this very city.
The CoL is Rotary democracy at its best and it is a heady moment when you realise that the Council is the supreme law-making body of Rotary.
On Day One, 17 enactments were voted down. The first one to be accepted was from RC Madras Temple City, RID 3232, on the need to celebrate and appreciate diversity rather than just have it on the statute books. This had a kind of poetic justice since this club has, for the last 30 years, maintained a strict 50-50 ratio of men and women Rotarians.
The Council passionately rejected any move to dilute the standards that protected the quality of leadership. A move to reduce the number of years needed for a Rotarian to be elected governor was rejected.
PDG Bal Inamdar sought to delete a word from Rotary’s constitutional documents by saying that ‘high’ ethical standards made it sound like there were lower ethical standards! Let’s delete the word ‘high’, he suggested. This was rejected.
This Council did not encourage too much tinkering with our existing structure. A Japanese enactment to increase the number of meetings to 40 was rejected. This was a tough Council, fully aware of its power to overrule even the most powerful people on the Board. Any efforts to reduce representation of districts on the Council were decisively rejected.
It was exhilarating to receive almost simultaneous interpretations in five languages. Most delegates used tablets and other digital devices to study the legislation. Voting was by digital devices. Results were displayed instantly.
Regional print magazines to remain
A series of proposals sought to shift the Rotary magazines from print to digital media. Print versions were powerfully supported and all other proposals were rejected. “The time will come when the printed word will be obsolete but the time is not now. The time will come when click will replace brick but the time is not now,” I said and this was appreciated.
Hence we will continue to get our magazines at our door step.
Indian delegates were well prepared with their points of order. For the first time there were three women in the Indian delegation — PDGs Kalpana Khound, Bindu Singh and I. PDG Raju Subramaniam was on stage as Chairman of the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, the first Indian to be assigned that position. He has hand-held the Indian delegates over the last few years. His training session at the Zone Institute at Chennai ensured that all delegates were fully equipped to participate in the CoL. The delegates also had to pass an online exam, which they all did despite bitter complaints.
A proposal from South Africa to exclude past presidents from Rotary International’s activities was emphatically rejected. “We need their wisdom,” said one of the delegates.
Several attempts were made to ensure fairness in elections. One of the proposals — from RC Madras, RID 3232 — recognising the danger of ‘vote clubs’, sought to ensure that only clubs on the rolls as on July 1 of the preceding year could vote. This was accepted.
On the last day, Enactment 19–72, the move to allow Rotaract clubs to become members of Rotary International, gradually gained traction after being narrowly rejected the previous day. RI President Barry Rassin urged the delegates to respect Rotaractors and build a bridge to pave their way to Rotary. Elevating Rotaractors to become members and partners of RI was the goal, he said. Many yellow cards and points of order were raised. President Rassin reiterated that any Rotaract club can become a Rotary club if they follow the rules and subscription payment obligations. After a long and animated debate, the enactment was passed with 381 votes.
Rotaract clubs will become part of the structure of Rotary. “Let us remain an inspiration to Rotaractors. They have a choice to be part of the roadmap to Rotary,” said the RI President.
Enactments to reduce qualifications for CoL members, to give more votes to districts with more members, reduce the number of non-voting members, were all rejected.
The Board rejected a proposal that discouraged past presidents and Board members from attending the CoL.
A proposal from Japan to ensure reporting and debate on legislation at Zone Institutes was passed. The next enactment to create more transparency in reporting opposition to clubs and members was also passed.
Two enactments to modernise and streamline the Bylaws of Rotary and simplify the Standard Club Constitution were passed. Delegates were informed that the last time these documents were updated was 17 years ago. The move to change the tax status was the subject of Enactment 19–117. This meant a huge saving for RI, said Vice President of the Board John Mathews. There was a concerted move to postpone this matter indefinitely, but it was defeated.
Many members of the Board spoke in support of this enactment. PRIP Rajendra Saboo spoke of the benefit to the organisation through this enactment. Many delegates spoke about the cooperation between TRF and RI. It was the most hotly debated subject at this Council and was passed by more than 75 percent of the House.
A proposal giving the Council three more months to bring enactments to the Council was rejected.
On the concluding day, President Rassin appreciated the transformative decisions taken at the Council.
The CoL had great music, good food and healthy debate. Duane Reed, a delegate, said this was the best executed CoL among the last four Councils. And all that remained was a chance to say goodbye!
The writer is a PDG from RID 3232.