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Decision No. 876

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October 28 1999
In Re: Request from the California-Pacific Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on Whether It Is Legal under the 1996 Discipline for an Annual Conference to Use the "Discernment" Model for Decision-Making.

Digest of Case

The "discernment" model used by the California-Pacific Annual Conference for making decisions on legislative proposals during its 1999 session is in conflict with the Discipline and is contrary to prior Judicial Council Decision 367. Therefore, legislative proposals decided using this "discernment" model are null and void.

Statement of Facts

During its 1999 session, the California-Pacific Annual Conference considered a number of legislative proposals using a "discernment" model. This model was a departure from the annual conference’s normal procedural process using Robert’s Rules of Order. The annual conference did vote to suspend its normal rules of procedure as to some legislative proposals and to apply the "discernment" model to those proposals. This "discernment" model allowed legislative proposals to proceed through a multi-level distillation process before coming to the conference floor for vote. The voting was based upon "voting options." With this model, there appears to be no provision for amendments or minority reports on the floor and the voting options do not allow for clear "yes" or "no" positions on legislative proposals. This model was used for three types of legislative proposals coming before the annual conference: (1) petitions to the General Conference that deal with the issue of homosexuality; (2) the report of the Joint Council on Consideration plus on Restructuring the annual conference; and, (3) the recommendation on the use of the Pacific Homes Settlement Monies. The Judicial Council’s understanding, from the "chronology" presented to the Judicial Council, is that: Because the Pacific Homes Settlement matter dealt with money, the final recommendations to the task force, which incorporated the concerns that had been raised through the discernment process, were submitted to a standard parliamentary voting procedure. The other two subjects were submitted to a "discernment model" voting procedure. Following this voting, a clergy member made the following motion: I request the Judicial Council to rule on the legality of the discernment model for making decisions in the Annual Conference(s) of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Sano ruled that this request was a motion for a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council under Par. 2616.2(j) of the 1996 Discipline. The motion was adopted by the majority vote of the annual conference. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Par. 604.1 of the 1996 Discipline states that "[t]he annual conference, for its own government, may adopt rules and regulations not in conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church..." Decision 367 interpreted that paragraph (then ¶ 662.1)as follows: Any organizational structure in an Annual Conference dealing with legislative matters must protect: the rights of the Annual Conference to receive and act on all proposals brought to it; the rights and requirements of boards and agencies that they report annually to the conference; and, the rights of individual members of the conference to be informed on and to participate fully in all legislative decisions. (Emphasis added.) Decision 367 also held that "The Judicial Council concludes that the proposed rule in the North Georgia Annual Conference does in fact protect these rights because it requires that all final consideration and decisions on legislative proposals be made by the total conference membership." Such a statement cannot be made about the "discernment" model of procedures and voting used by the California-Pacific Annual Conference. That model, from its distillation process, to its unique voting options process, neither allows full participation by delegates in all legislative decisions, nor does it permit final considerations and decisions to be made by the total conference membership. Therefore, this model cannot be upheld and legislative proposals passed thereunder are null and void. The Judicial Council accepts jurisdiction under Par. 2616 because, in effect, the question was asking for a declaratory decision as to the application or effect of Par. 604. However, a more accurate interpretation of the request posed would have been that the Judicial Council was being asked to rule on the legality of an action of the annual conference under Par. 2612.

Decision

The "discernment" model used by the California-Pacific Annual Conference for making decisions on legislative proposals during its 1999 session is in conflict with the Discipline and is contrary to prior Judicial Council Decision 367. Therefore, legislative proposals decided using this "discernment" model are null and void.

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