Dr. Mary Smith Explains the 2015 House of Delegates
When I finished dental school, my father asked me what I intended to do for my profession. I thought that was a strange question. All I wanted was to get out of school and be left alone. Don’t I just go to work, fix teeth, get paid, and mind my own business?
“Oh no,” said my father, “other people have ideas about how you should do your job, where you work, when you work, how you will get paid. and how much you will pay to them.” I was mortified! Who were these people? How did this happen? Why didn’t someone warn me?
“In most cases they just don’t have the knowledge to understand what you really do, and it is your responsibility to educate them,” my father said. “You need to be active in your professional organization.” He had a good point.
I attended my first House of Delegates more than 20 years ago. Most of the time, I had no idea what was happening. One thing I remember was a request to go into a closed session to discuss our position on the unsupervised practice of dental hygiene. This is the part of a meeting that is only open to the decision-making body: delegates and alternate delegates, officers, essential staff. A delegate from the front of the room asked the president to ask the hygienist in the back of the room to please leave the room immediately! I realized everyone was staring at me. Smiling, the president directed me to a microphone, where I identified myself as an alternate delegate from SDDS (Spokane District Dental Society). My introduction was met with, “She’s a dentist?” We all had a good laugh, and I was hooked!
So where do you start? If you are reading this, you have made the first step. You are a member of the Washington State Dental Association. Congratulations! Thanks for being here. We are only as strong as our membership. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s the truth. It is what sets us apart from any other professional organization. We are member strong. We share the same values and vision. Membership promotes and defends our common interests and aspirations.
Associations are formed by the development of governing documents that contain the rules and procedures the founding members have agreed to follow. When you join an organization, you agree to abide by its rules. Ours are known as our articles of incorporation and bylaws. The WSDA meets annually to review these documents at the WSDA House of Delegates.
What is this House of Delegates (also known as House or HOD)? Every component (that’s your local dental society) has the responsibility to send representation (delegates and alternate delegates) to an annual meeting of the state association, where we discuss our current rules and decide if we need to change anything, update policies, add anything new, vote for and install officers, determine our budget and dues, and plan for the future. We do this every September. This year we are scheduled to meet from Sept. 17 to 19 in Spokane.
The process is unique. To some it may seem archaic. Why use parliamentary procedure? It’s cumbersome, time consuming, and confusing. I disagree. Parliamentary procedure provides a predicable order to the proceedings. The agenda is the first thing set. It is open for discussion and may be amended prior to acceptance. Every question (resolution) is open to debate. Minority and majority opinions have the same rights to discussion. All discussion and debate must be characterized by fairness and good faith. There is time for open discussion at the reference committee meetings following the first session of the House. This is an open session where any member can speak. The final vote is taken during an official session of the House, where the reference committee makes their recommendation.
The fundamental concept of democracy is majority decision. The ultimate authority of an organization is vested in the majority of its members. The purpose of the House of Delegates is to determine the will of the majority and to see it carried out. Until the final vote, all opinions have the same weight, every member has an equal vote, and discussion is open to every position. Following the vote, it is the duty of every member to accept and abide by the decision of the majority.
My best advice for a successful House is:
1. Keep it simple
2. Keep it short
3. Don’t repeat
4. Be respectful
5. Build coalitions
6. Keep the discussion to the issue
7. Be willing to compromise
8. If in doubt, ask for clarification of the question
9. Support the majority decision.
My father was right. It is our responsibility.
See you in Spokane!