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Some Notes Towards an Eastercon Charter

Tim Illingworth

With the increase in size of Eastercons, the need has arisen to make changes to some traditional Eastercon formats. In particular, most of us who are involved in organising conventions and who appreciate the problems encountered by committees in trying to put on conventions of Eastercon size felt that it would be a good idea to move to Eastercons being selected two years in advance instead of one. This would give committees extra stability and reduce the waste involved in losing an Eastercon bid - I imagine that Contravention must have done an awful lot of work, most of which was wasted when they lost to Albacon III at Yorcon. So a movement arose to change the rules, and immediately ran into a problem - there were no rules, as everything about Eastercons is done by immemorial custom.

Thus Albacon, having been handed the problem of a vote at Yorcon to initiate two year bidding and declining to change things on their own, decided to hold a meeting to try to sort out what was wanted. In the event, two were held, and two decisions made. The first was to go to two year bidding at Beccon, which that committee accepted, and the second was to set up a committee to investigate a set of rules. I got appointed as chairman of the committee, and so in order to start some debate you lot are getting my preliminary views.

There seems to be three different things that different people want or expect from an Eastercon charter. First, a set of rigid rules governing the conduct of Eastercons, rather like (in application, not form) the Worldcon constitution. The second option is a set of guidelines, that Eastercons would be expected to observe, or publicly reject, in all or part. The third option is a "help file" of either people who are willing to assist with specialist knowledge or a list of addresses for equipment rental etc.

My personal views on the three areas are as follows:-

A set of rigid rules (hereinafter called the constitution) appears the nastiest one to devise, but is actually the easiest. The Worldcon constitution (traditionally the most horrible document around) actually only has four sections. These cover (i) the definition of a Worldcon, (ii) how the Hugos are run, (iii) how the next Worldcon is chosen and (iv) how to amend the constitution.

Of these, we need only three, as it is the function of the BSFA to run the annual British awards. Membership definitions are reasonably straightforward, as we don't go in for voting fees. Site selection is also fairly simple, as we don't have site rotation. I have tried to include a method of making "no award" work, which the Worldcon doesn't. This could be deleted if there prove to be problems. The proposals for amendment are framed so as not to tie the hands of committees, while being proof against any committee that ignores these rules.

My proposed constitution would run something like this:-

Section 1 - Definitions

  1. The Eastercon is the annual British National Science Fiction Convention.

  2. Members of the Eastercon are those people who have paid supporting or attending membership in the current Eastercon.

Section 2 - Site Selection

  1. Each Eastercon shall choose the location and committee of the Eastercon to be held two years after the current Eastercon.

  2. All members attending shall be entitled to vote.

  3. The method of voting shall be determined by the current Eastercon committee.

  4. "No Decision" shall be an option in the choice.

  5. If "No Decision" is chosen, the next Eastercon shall invite bids for Eastercons to be held both one and two years after its date.

  6. In any voting for an Eastercon to be held one year after the voting, "No Decision" shall not be an option.

Section 3 - Amendment of the Constitution

  1. This constitution shall be amended by proposals which are both passed by a clear majority of the votes cast on the question at the Constitution Meeting of any Eastercon, and also ratified by a similar vote at the next Eastercon.

  2. If no separate Constitution Meeting is held, it shall be incorporated in the Business Meeting.

  3. Any Eastercon that does not hold any constitution meeting shall be ignored for the purposes of this section.

  4. Any proposal not ratified by the appropriate Eastercon shall lapse.

  5. Amendments shall have effect from the end of the Eastercon at which they were chosen.

  6. Eastercon committees shall be bound by the version of the constitution which takes effect from the end of the Eastercon at which they were chosen.

  7. Each Eastercon committee shall publish

(i) The version of the constitution by which they are bound, and

(ii) the version of the constitution ratified at the Eastercon immediately preceding their own convention, together with any proposals awaiting ratification.

As you can see, there are plenty of problems with the wording of any such constitution. I don't pretend that this version is perfect - in particular I don't like the double publication of each version, but it does solve the current problem of how to change the voting cycle for Eastercons.

A set of guidelines (hereinafter called the Charter) looks easier, because it is explicitly not binding. But this, in itself, is a problem. It is expected to cover things that Eastercons normally do without prompting, and everybody has his own ideas of what that should be. A version might go something like this:-

The following shall be done by all Eastercon committees, unless in their pre-bid publicity they explicitly announce an intention not to follow all or part of this list.

  1. The committee shall hold a science fiction convention at Easter.

  2. The committee shall issue progress reports to all members from time to time.

  3. Hotel room rates shall be quoted inclusive of taxes, and of anything else supplied by default.

  4. The convention shall have a guest of honour, whose expenses shall be paid, as far as possible.

  5. et cetera..

This raises more problems. Until a few years ago, for example, a banquet at which awards are given out would certainly have been included. Recently this idea has fallen into disuse, due to the problems of catering for the large numbers involved. This means that the charter must be amendable, and the easiest way of doing this seems to me to be its incorporation in the constitution as (say) Section 4.

The "Help file" also raises two real problems - firstly the question of who should keep it and secondly how it should be maintained.

In my view, the file should be held by a member of the current committee whose address should be published so that prospective committees know who to ask. It should be maintained by that person by writing to each individual mentioned in the file and asking if they want their reference deleted - this procedure is not feasible for companies. He (or she) should also add any information to the file that he considers useful, or the details of anyone who volunteers.

This responsibility should also be written into the constitution, as it is very easy for it to be forgotten one year and all the information lost. That is, I understand, what happened last time it was tried.

In short, it looks to me as if we need the constitution to provide a definition of the voting period (which is where this problem started) as well as a means of changing the Charter (if we want one) or assigning responsibility for the help file (if we want one).

As far as possible, the constitution or charter should require as little action as can be managed by the Eastercon committee, as there is no possible method of enforcement that I can see.

If you have any comment to make on Eastercons then please contact me, Tim Illingworth, at 63 Drake Rd, Chessington, Surrey, KT9 1LQ

Since I wrote the above, which first appeared in PAPA 15, a new situation has arisen. From October 1st, it became possible to register service marks in Great Britain. I feel that words like "Eastercon" should be registered, and that in turn means that we now need a holding body, like WSFS, to own these marks. This should be defined as a body composed of all members of current Eastercons, if we can come up with a suitable form.

((Tim seems to have covered most of the main points, given his starting premise. I must admit I'm not really in favour of a constitution or charter - I'd rather keep going with the present system - but I suppose I'm just an old fogey. The Official Star Trek cons bid 18 months ahead and have their constitution in the form of Rules of the Business Meeting. As my contribution to the Eastercon Charter debate, here are some of their rules:

1. The purpose of the Business Meeting will be to ensure continuity of Star Trek conventions, to organise a bidding session for future conventions and resolve any other pertinent matters.

6. It shall be agreed by the individuals/groups whose bid is not accepted that they will not organise any alternative convention/event which will draw attention away from the official convention.

8. These rules may only be amended at a Business Meeting. Proposed amendments must be in writing and sent to the Chairman of the following official convention at least one calendar month prior to the convention.

9. (i) Proposals for new rules, and amendments to rules, are to be made available in writing to all convention attendees by the committee of the convention at which such proposals are to be discussed.

(ii) Details of bids for future conventions are to be made available in writing by the presenters of the bid at the convention at which the bid is to be held.

11. The individuals/group presenting the successful bid shall appoint a Safety Officer to ensure the health and safety of convention atteendees.

To save space I've ommitted rules that are similar to Tim's proposals on "No Decision" votes and that relate to the timing of the conventions. Another feature of Star Trek cons is that the minutes of the business meeting are published - this can make very boring reading! It does allow them to take the minutes as read at the next meeting, however.))


This page updated on 09 July 1999