It\u2019s party time, and imagine you\u2019re the party planner. Invitations are sent. Those who RSVP\u2019d are expected to show up, and those who sent regrets to stay away--so there\u2019s enough shrimp tandoori to go around. The entertainment is booked (two turntables and a microphone). Once the festivities start, you encourage smart, lively, conversation. At the end, when the streamers wilt and the glasses are all empty, you\u2019re satisfied that something good has come from it. A regulatory version of that event occurs a couple times a month at 505 Van Ness, San Francisco--party headquarters for the California Public Utilities Commission. The venue used to have a reputation for boring soirees that few bothered attending. A couple years ago, with the advent of \u201csmart\u201d meters, there were amusing gate crashers--some even in costume. They were welcomed--more or less--and the party schedule expanded to start an hour earlier for accommodations. They became the entertainment, although minus the two turntables, just the microphone. Still, the banter in the main part of the room, behind that curved wood table where the hosts generally sit, remained less than lively. What\u2019s a party planner to do? Traditionally, there was the party \u201cagenda\u201d and the party \u201chold list.\u201d Party goers could reasonably assume that never a word would be uttered about what was on the hold list. Of late, the CPUC\u2019s ingenious party planner invented a new conversation piece--the \u201cdiscuss & hold\u201d list. With \u201cdiscuss & hold\u201d in the mix, the decision making hosts chew over philosophies, data, invective, rhetoric, flights of fancy verbiage, college affiliations--and maybe, just maybe, find common ground. \u201cDiscuss & hold\u201d--which is often becoming \u201chold & liberate\u201d (see below)--is positive for the commissioners because it allows them all to be in the same room at the same time. (The Bagley-Keene law prevents non-public meetings.) It\u2019s beneficial for the public, who get to watch\/listen. It may even lead to better public policy. A recent \u201cdiscuss & hold\u201d which stuck to the \u201chold\u201d part was a discussion of feed-in tariffs May 10. But, like any party conversation, those proffering their ideas do not change them just because another makes good points. So far, I\u2019ve never witnessed a commissioner change his\/her mind after the rousing \u201cdiscuss & hold\u201d repartee. Voting patterns tend to be shaped long before a public meeting is held--through staff advice, lobbying, attending hearings, and general political influences. While that human behavior is unlikely to change--although an open mind is always welcome--one thing regulators can alter is another trend. This one arrived about the same time as \u201cdiscuss & hold.\u201d I\u2019ll call it \u201chold & liberate.\u201d \u201cHold & liberate\u201d is when commissioners release some of the hold list items either they, as individuals, or the staff, agree should require more deliberation, more data, or other consideration. The initial hold list is posted on the CPUC\u2019s website the afternoon prior to the commission\u2019s morning business meeting. In the last few months, at the beginning of that meeting (but not at every meeting), some of those \u201chold\u201d items are put back on the voting list, or \u201cliberated.\u201d Those in the \u201cin\u201d crowd who know to look at the hold list the day before the meeting have the advantage of the inner circle at a party. Their invitations get last minute annotations, such as, \u201cthe appetizer is going to be foie gras instead of Swedish meatballs,\u201d and \u201citem #36 on the menu (the one everyone really wants to taste) will be held completely.\u201d The \u201cout\u201d crowd, or the mass general public, isn\u2019t even aware there\u2019s an annotated late invitation list always in the works. If the public is \u201cin\u201d enough to find that item 36 is out, then, Jane or Joe P. just might send regrets and find a good salon (or saloon) elsewhere to spend their time. With the \u201chold & liberate\u201d practice, both the \u201cin\u201d crowd and general public get caught unaware that the party is still on. There\u2019s no way to even find out, much less attend--unless the public ignores the \u201chold\u201d list and shows up anyway. Subject to \u201chold & liberate\u201d recently were two dozen expensive solar contracts with both Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. Commissioners got their chances to proclaim philosophies May 24. Then, they decided to vote anyway. Finally, there\u2019s the traditional \u201chold & hinder\u201d list. That\u2019s the practice noted above--a \u201chold\u201d list is promulgated the afternoon prior to the business meeting. In this case, regulators stick to that holding pattern. There are some things the party planners can do to ensure their guests are treated fairly to most of what they are promised on the menu while allowing for the greatest latitude in conversational policymaking. -\u201cDiscuss & hold\u201d--This is a party planner\u2019s ambition. Lively conversation on important topics. Although the discussions are highly unlikely to change anyone\u2019s final vote, they reveal the thinking process to the rest of party attendees. Planners get nervous when it morphs to \u201cdiscuss & vote.\u201d Both the \u201cin\u201d crowd and the general public are caught unaware. To circumvent that, commissioners should avoid the last-minute vote. But, please, go ahead and discuss away. -\u201cHold & liberate\u201d--Unlike the human nature of sticking to one\u2019s vote despite influential arguments, the \u201chold & liberate\u201d movement can be changed to benefit the public that regulators are supposed to host. Ideas: don\u2019t put items on the agenda at all until they\u2019re really, really ready; and if, at the last minute an item truly needs to be held, make it clear, in detail, to everyone why that\u2019s so, not just a notation on the hold list. Last minute holds mess with your party goers\u2019 heads. -\u201cHold & hinder\u201d--Like the above, what can be done about \u201chold & hinder\u201d is to avoid even posting potential decisions on the invitation until they\u2019re ripe. Sometimes political winds force ripeness. Sometimes the fruit remains hard for months. But once you put the item on the menu, choose to delay it with more caution than haste. Then, if the public accesses the original agenda--posted a week in advance--and doesn\u2019t see their item on the menu, they\u2019re free to use their time researching, working, etc. This precludes the chance that the public will wind up going out of its collective way for no reason. For instance, Jane & Joe P. don\u2019t need to go organizing neighbors to make a show of solidarity on an item (complete with having to get off work and charter a bus) if there\u2019s no item on the agenda in the first place. What\u2019s happening now with the traditional method of putting an agenda together with advanced notice is that a few people who care change around their lives for the day in order to address regulators on a subject close to their hearts. After they arrive, sometimes they find that their treasured item\u2019s been held. They still chat up the commission. Yet, it\u2019s a blow to find that--for that day--it\u2019s irrelevant, or they\u2019re irrelevant because they don\u2019t show up for the party at all because their invite was officially cancelled--yet the party went on without them. Everyone wants to be relevant at their own public party.