Governance of Professional Organizations in the Internet Age: Part Two
Betsy McKenzie‘s post of yesterday on what she (and judging by some commentary, others) see as the lack of respect shown to its membership by AALL’s leadership is worthy of further discussion as it relates to the thread I opened here a couple weeks ago. Betsy describes the two main points of discussion at last week’s Members’ Open Forum at the conclusion of the AALL business meeting in Boston. These were the proposed bylaws amendments that, inter alia, would allow fewer restrictions on which members may serve as officers or executive board members; and the reorganization, or perhaps takeover, of the Private Law Librarians SIS Summit by the association’s headquarters staff.
I too was at that meeting, and I’ll begin by trying to put a slightly different spin on Betsy’s description of the change to the PLL Summit. I understood the description provided by the respondent to Steve Lastres (I can’t remember whether outgoing President Darcy Kirk or incoming President Jean Wenger responded) as a move to integrate the functionality of the summit with the annual meeting. Among the reasons for that is maintaining headquarters staff oversight of sponsor relationships–apparently the summit counted on significant external funding for its success. Doing this is well within the long-standing policies of AALL, which provide that the association, rather than its constituents, is charged with sponsor arrangements. Having said that, I can well understand the concern expressed by Steve Lastres and Michael Ginsborg that in its new form the summit would not meet the needs of the PLL members. I am hopeful that discussions among PLL leadership, headquarters staff, and association leadership can resolve these concerns in a manner that satisfies all parties. Discussions toward that end cannot be begun, much less concluded, in the venue of a members’ open forum. I hope all parties will undertake these discussions shortly, and I look forward to reading about them in future communications from Steve and Michael.
Turning to the proposed bylaws amendments, I agree with Betsy that the posting of the “Board Book,” i.e., the agenda and materials for consideration by the executive board at its meeting, to the association’s web site a couple weeks before the annual meeting is not as transparent as an association can and should be in the current digital environment. I made this very point in my earlier post on this topic: “But one wonders whether, in the age of instant broadcast communication enabled by the Internet, where fact and rumor are spread instantaneously by social media, blogs, and email, is it not time for organizations make better use of this technology to satisfy membership perceptions regarding organizational transparency.” I have no doubt that the association’s leadership and staff can and will better communicate such information to the membership in the future.
I must also discuss, however, what I see as Betsy’s underlying premise that the association leadership is acting without regard to membership needs or interests and therefore is being disprespectful. She says, “The lack of respect for members who are not on the executive board, or not in the “inner circle” has a lot to do with the fact that AALL may be losing members or that current members are putting their energies into other associations. I am starting to think that way myself. ” I do not see a blanket lack of respect from the board. The board is not a hand-picked group of oligarchs with life-terms. At least three and more often four of its eleven members are replaced every year, by association members who are elected to those positions by their fellow members.* The committee that nominates the board slate likewise is refreshed with a new group of members every year. So, in short, the executive board is a representative group composed of the membership, charged with overseeing the operations of the association as is the case with most other not-for-profit organizations. The association, through the board, hires a staff to conduct operations on a daily basis.
The specific bylaws now generating controversy, and for that matter all proposed bylaws, should be made available to membership as early as practicable in their consideration. But ultimately a group assigned with oveseeing the operations of the organization – here the executive board – must make its best decision about the language of the proposal. The membership then decides the fate of such proposals by its vote. That fate lives or dies by all our hands, not the actions of a few. I have no doubt that between now and the end of the bylaws election, a period of nearly three months, there will be plenty of back-and-forth discussion about the relative merits of the proposal in blogs and other media. This is as it should be. Ultimately we, the membership, will cast our votes and the majority** of us will decide whether they are adopted. This too is as it should be.
*Here I should disclose that I am a candidate for a seat on the executive board, in the interest of full disclosure.
**For my discussion of the rationale for requiring majority or super-majority votes on bylaws, please see my earlier post on the bylaws proposal.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized