Open Public Debate: Proposal for Admission to the SC

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Gwyneth Llewelyn
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Open Public Debate: Proposal for Admission to the SC

Post by Gwyneth Llewelyn »

Dear all,

One of the major and most important missions of the Scientific Council is to act as a moderate (and sometimes conservative!) counterpoint in the delicate balance of the CDS governmental structure. The reason that the SC exists, and has the powers invested in it, is to act as a system of checks and balances, which have not only be realistic, but effectively employed — or else, the SC's task is, indeed, void of sense.

It's true that this is mostly a boring and unglamorous task, specially because members of the SC don't establish policy — they validate (or not) the RA's policy. They do not interfere with the law — they enforce it through their internal judiciary. They do not protect citizens directly — they protect their rights. They do not engage in stimulant debate and discussion about the future of the CDS — they try, indeed, to encourage others to participate in open debate. And finally, they need to remain as neutral, fair, and just as possible, in a real world where everybody has an opinion, an agenda, and personal motivations.

To (mis)quote Plato, the best SC member is, indeed, the one that does not wish to be an SC member. Alas, the world is not perfect, so we have less-than-perfect SC members, and we'll have to manage with what we've got.

However, even in spite of all the above, and the checks and balances from the other branches put on the SC (like the need to validate their members), the SC is also a democratic body. And at least two principles should be established in its constitution as a body:

  1. The principle of decision through a vote of its members. While individual members might express an opinion, and in certain areas (eg. moderation/arbitration/judgment) some power might be delegated in order to ensure that a particular opinion might even carry a lot of force, overall decision-making that establishes a precedent or the exercise of the SC's powers as established in the Constitution are taken by a majority vote.

  2. The principle of democratic rotativity. No member should be eternally in the same role. A body that keeps the same people in place for ages, without having an easy and democratic way to remove them (eg. through a vote), is never truly democratic. Also, "staying in a role by default" just because there is no one else to assume that burden is not a democratic process, either!

Striving to accomplish those objectives have not been easy. The SC, for a long time, has been a one-person-body — a very dangerous position for any branch of Government! — without way of getting more members or of replacing the existing one. For a while, it enjoyed a comfortable life as a body with enough members to represent a fair distribution of opinions (meaning: we all disagreed with each other but still managed to agree on fundamental decisions) and this was very encouraging. New members were added with unanimous votes from the RA and the late Guild; new candidates were selected and picked out among the people who had most contributed to a certain "philosophy of the CDS", expressed publicly, and which is what the Philosophical Branch is supposed to express.

Alas, in the past weeks, the SC lost three of its best and oldest members, and it remains with just two (beyond the Dean): Fernando Book, who is sadly very absent from the CDS or SL; and Patroklus Murakami, who, due to his election to the RA, has no decision powers in the SC and cannot be assigned any specific tasks (like, for instance, participating in moderation/arbitration/judgment) during this RA term.

It's clear that the three members have to be replaced, but what's not clear is what the selection process should actually be. The people in the CDS that have, indeed, shown all traces of being potentially very good SC members are either currently on other bodies of Government, or successfully running their own private or semi-private organisations, congregating citizens, and generally contributing far more in their roles than they would if they were members of the SC. To deprive the citizens from these very eager and hard-working members, by closing and locking them up on the Ivory Tower of the SC, is unfair to them, and, indirectly, a loss for the citizens as well. In my opinion, this should never take place, even if the need to have more members at the SC is also a priority.

I'm personally facing the third term as Dean without hope of being replaced — once again. Getting 'elected by default' (ie. "no one else is willing to take the burden") is something that truly worries me, since it establishes a very bad precedent — if the citizens start thinking that "some" branches can have their heads being "elected by default" and that it's worthless to complain, there is just a short step until other branches get their members "elected by default" as well. And this, of course, would be the end of any pretensions of 'home rule' in the CDS, and we'd fall back to a system close to other pseudo-mock-democracies that already exist elsewhere on the SL grid.

I'm thus opening up for discussion a new method of selecting members to the SC. In fact, the SC is able to establish its own procedures for admitting members, and so far, it mostly meant that a proposal by any of its members wuld be submitted to the Dean, and voted upon. I suggest making it more open, by allowing any citizen to get nominated by a group of five other citizens, and have the SC evaluate that proposal. In an ideal world, the citizens would spontaneously congregate and suggest a name (who would probably be very surprised at having been picked!), and bring it up for the SC for discussion. Since this isn't an ideal world, I'm pretty sure that this will work the other way round, ie. people interested in getting a seat at the SC will gather some support and submit the list of five citizens as public suppoters. So far as any citizen is allowed either to suggest themselves as possible members of the SC, and as far as any citizen can show public support towards a candidate (or also publicly stating their disagreement!), I'm sure that it can't be worse than the current system.

Also, the CDS grows, and changes its inhabitants quite frequently. Having been absent from the forums for about two months, I'm quite concerned that I haven't met all potentially good candidates for membership in the SC — thus missing opportunities of getting excellent members just because I don't know them (yet!). As the CDS grows even more, it'll come to a point where it'll be practically impossible to know every citizen, and the SC will have to rely upon a different mechanism for selection anyway.

The SC accepts new members at any time and is not limited in the number of members (except for just having 9 Chairs with decision and voting power, namely, the power to elect a new Dean), so these proposals could come at any time — in the middle of any RA term, for instance. The SC could also opt to ordinarily or extraordinarily meet just for the purpose of looking at the list of possible candidates, and evaluate their admission. I would also very likely ask the public supporters of a candidate why they support them at all. This obviously will not minimise "friends submitting friends to the SC" (which will invariably happen), but at least, it will mean that the friends have to discuss and talk among themselves why it's such a good idea to publicly support a candidate.

Inversely — which is also a requirement for democratic — a group of five citizens would be allowed to submit a petition to the SC to remove a member from office. Notice that this isn't an "impeachment by the public" — just a petition. Like the RA currently allows any citizen to submit a bill (through its internal procedures; it's not in the Constitution, nor on the laws), but the LRA has to set it on the agenda, and it's up to the remaining RA members to vote on that bill, the SC could work in a similar way — allowing groups of citizens to submit proposals for new members or removal of existing ones. Still, the final decision of accepting or not these members would be obviously taken by the SC as a body through a majority vote (or supermajority in case of the removal, as per the Constitution [III, 2 and 9]).

I thus open the debate here in the forums, and in-world on the next Sunday after the agenda of the ordinary SC meeting has been dealt with, for the ones who don't like forum discussions.

Please understand that it's very hard for me (until the end of the sixth RA term at least) to accept that I'll be the only constitutional jurist, judge, moderator, arbitrator, and peacekeeper in the whole of the SC — all those powers in a single person!! — just due to the lack of available members to meet, discuss, and get tasks delegated to them. Specially, as most of you are aware, that my available time has decreased tremendously since the happy and carefree days of 2004 and 2005. Worse than that, several small issues could be easily dealt with by available members of the SC (at least by the ones with decision powers, ie. not currently serving elsewhere on Government), but that always require a meeting with a quorum. It's often incredibly tempting to assume there will be nobody else available for a meeting and simply go ahead "meeting with myself", publish the acts, and get it over with. However, by "resisting to temptation", things get not done as they should. Laws are not reviewed. Citizens demanding a fair trial are untried for months. Philosophical discussions on crucial areas like citizenship or 'federation' are unadressed. This, I think, is a very, very poor performance from a body in the CDS that is supposed to do way more for the citizens than to cross their arms and sigh about "the way things are".

To be even more honest, I'd gladly resign from my office as Dean, after evaluating that my job as Dean has been mediocre at best (and the CDS cannot afford to have a whole system of checks and balances relying upon a mediocre public servant!), if there were anyone else to resign the office to!

So let's hear your opinion about the proposed model of admitting new members.

"I'm not building a game. I'm building a new country."
  -- Philip "Linden" Rosedale, interview to Wired, 2004-05-08

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Patroklus Murakami
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Post by Patroklus Murakami »

Great ideas Gwyn, as ever.

I like the idea of opening up SC nominations to CDS citizens. It may well be that those eager to join the SC will campaign for selection to garner five supporters but I hope that most will have this thrust upon them - it seems to work better that way for the reasons you've outlined in your post.

I also like the idea of citizens being able to demand that the SC consider removing an SC member. A 'recall' system is inherently more democratic in my opinion, especially with a body where members are not subject to regular election. (I think it would be a good idea to have a recall system for the RA as well, but that's another issue!) This could be misused (as could impeachment) but I think the fact that five avatars need to sign up for this, and the fact that the power to remove SC members remains with the SC, are sufficient safeguards.

And we do need to get new members on the SC. But enough with putting yourself down! You don't keep getting elected 'by default' but because you've always seemed like the best person for the job at each election time. I agree the SC has not been as effective a body as it could be. We should consider why that might have been. I would point to the many external commitments of its members, the difficulties of finding time to meet (and meet for several hours at a time) and the nature of the tasks the SC has to perform. The solution? More SC members! But, as you've pointed out in your post, potential candidates tend to get absorbed by other branches of government/ other projects. This will become easier as we expand; once we have a couple of hundred citizens, finding people to serve in the Philosophic, Legislative and Executive branches will be less of a stretch.

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Aliasi Stonebender
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Post by Aliasi Stonebender »

I think it's good. Not just due to the crisis, but I've long found the SC to be one of the more problematic branches, philosophically. I've moderated my view since, but I continue to think there's room for improvement - and establishing things such as petitions would at least give an official channel for citizen input.

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Post by Sleazy_Writer »

Very intersting read :-) The proposal sounds like a good idea, I hope too it will broaden the range of candidates. If the SC members still have the final say, then ..
[color=blue:3stwvacu](1) why not have both current and proposed mechanisms at the same time? If someone has shown philosophic merit, then the 5 guys thing, should be bypassed[/color:3stwvacu]

I like the number 5: more than the usual three Bier drinkers on the Platz, but still a very low hurdle. But what about those 5 if the population grows? The constitution has some built in things to provide for a growing population. I like that, it is some preparation fo the future. Now back the five petitioners for the SC. I don't see problems for SC applicants (the more the better), but do see slight problems for the 'five impeachment petitioners'. From six sims onwards five people will be tiny fraction of the population. Given that there will always be polarizing or unhappy people, do we really want the SC to 'seriously consider impeaching' a member even if there are only 5 petitioners out of 500 citizens? I would suggest that the minimum number of petitioners slowly grows along with the population but that it's kept low and 'accessible'. What about:
[color=blue:3stwvacu](2) Citizens (three percent of the population, rounded down, with a minimum of five) can petition the SC to remove one of its members.[/color:3stwvacu] resulting in:
70 citizens = need 5 petitioners
100 citizens = need 5 petitioners
150 citizens = need 5 petitioners
200 citizens = need 6 petitioners <-- if we're talking about crowded NFS-like sims this means: 1 petitioner per sim
500 citizens = need 15 petitioners <-- " "
1000 citizens = need 30 petitioners <-- " "

If you guys think this is over-regulating, let's keep it to 5.

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Gwyneth Llewelyn
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Post by Gwyneth Llewelyn »

Aye, TOP, good ideas, all of them. Yes, I'm pretty sure that both systems will be in place, ie. the SC will still invite others directly based on its criteria.

But I liked your approach for dealing with a growing population. We might discuss that change and include it on the procedures on the next SC meeting!

"I'm not building a game. I'm building a new country."
  -- Philip "Linden" Rosedale, interview to Wired, 2004-05-08

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