Posted by Cindy Bracker, Communications Director

I love our organization.  I love that our membership cares about what the board does. I love that we truly are member-driven.  I love that members take the time to express their opinions.  Recently, I received an email from a member regarding the proposed bylaw change.  I want to publicly recognize and thank Lenny Dowhie for presenting his thoughts and opinions on the matter, and I want to share that view with the rest of the membership for personal consideration and reflection.  It is my hope that each and every member considers this proposed change carefully and that you all let your voice be heard.  Feel free to comment on this post, or the original bylaw change explanation post, and of course, be sure to VOTE HERE.  Polls close July 30

 

Vote No on the Bylaw Change

The founders of NCECA would be rolling over in their graves if they could see what has happened to their once “democratic” organization. Early on, the Board of Directors was a fluid group, where a “slate” of candidates were presented to the membership with plenty of time for individual members to consider challenging the “board” candidate and where “live” elections occurred during the last business meeting at the annual conference.  While no one won election from the “floor” until I did it in 1979, many good members have since challenged the board slate, won seats and served the organization well.

Democracy was alive and well in NCECA and NCECA continued to grow and flourish.

Fast forward through the past decade until now and what we find is a board that appears to think tinkering with a system that wasn’t broken is a good idea. While there is the “illusion” of democracy being promoted, (technically, the “membership” can suggest names for consideration) there is no assurance that a person who desires the opportunity to serve as a board member will ever be considered due to the manner in which people get selected or rejected. (The exact manner of selection, we, the membership, are not privy to.)  And, since the current board makes the assessment of whom they will put forth as a “nominee”, there is no way for an individual to challenge that and no way in which the membership can “reject” a board nominee. 

The current board rationale for making all the “Officers” appointed is flawed and illogical.  When two or more candidates are offered for a vote of course only one can win; however, the board seems to think this is bad, stating: “ A Strong candidate who is not elected is unlikely to seek board service in the future.”  HUH? So the board is worried about someone having “sour grapes” if they lose? If that really is their reason, then that person was a poor choice to begin with and the person the board “selected” might not be as good as the person for the board as they thought.

Additionally, the board states that “Your board’s rationale for this by-law change is that as NCECA becomes more sophisticated and complex, each position requires special knowledge, experience and certain skill sets.” Again, HUH?

Secretary and Treasurer are indeed important positions, however they haven’t become that much different than they were in the past. Bookkeeping is bookkeeping (although it would be interesting to know how much the staff now does of the Treasurer’s previous duties) and the Secretary is the keeper of the records and the rules of organizations; again, not rocket science and, as far as I know, doesn’t require a special degree.

 In my opinion, the board’s justifications are invalid and weak. Contrary to the assertion by the rationale, the person who wins in a general election obviously has a greater connection to the membership and indeed would serve as a more active voice on the board than a more narrowly selected individual. The change desired by the board takes ALL power of electing the “Officers of NCECA” out of the hands of the membership who are paying the costs and into the hands of a small group of individuals. History has shown closed or limited access to membership on a board of directors can make organizations ripe for inbreeding, personal agendas and potential corruption.

Perhaps a better amendment would be to remove the positions of Secretary and Treasurer from the category of “officers” and have the board make the extra effort to acquire GREATER membership involvement, not less.

Keep the elections process as it is and vote NO on the bylaw change

Respectfully Submitted

Lenny Dowhie

Past President, NCECA

Fellow to the Council

Professor Emeritus, USI

4 Responses so far.

  1. Keith J Williams says:

    I have some thoughts on the proposed amendment and on my friend Lenny Dowhie’s response.
    I will lay out a few ideas at length, but they can be summed up in the following words:
    Please participate in NCECA governance and vote. It is what the Board wants and it is what keeps NCECA healthy…
    In writing his response to the proposal Lenny is embodying the type of member awareness and participation that the Board wants. Thanks to Lenny for being a good role model in our member-driven organization.
    Thoughts:
    1. This amendment directly affects how you as NCECA members will be represented and served by your board, and ultimately our staff. It has both pros and cons in my mind and does affect/change what democracy would look like in our organization. (Please note that I don’t necessarily see changes in democratic process as necessarily meaning diminishing democracy.) The bottom line for all member-driven organizations is that democracy only works when people pay attention and participate.
    2. Lenny characterizes a number of perceived limitations to the proposal. Among the first he cites is that the system has worked for a long time and wasn’t broken. Having first been elected from the floor myself, (against a very well known candidate), I might be inclined to agree, however NCECA has struggled for many decades on how to increase participation in governance. For an organization with 3000-3500 members we regularly have only 200 members voting. This has concerned the Board in every year I have been a member.
    Also under our old governance practice:
    Not too far back, when we took nominations from the floor, we had a year when no student came forward from the floor for the Student Director at Large and we ended up asking a former SDAL to return to the position to fulfill these duties.
    Additionally, not all of our members attend conferences, but many have expressed desire/need to vote even when they can’t attend. The board has amended our governance structure recently not to grab power, but rather in attempts to increase democratic participation.
    NCECA now has:
    * on line voting in real time,
    *campaign speeches posted for all members for weeks ahead of the vote rather than simply at the moment of the vote,
    *calls for nominations via many communication vehicles,
    etc. – The board has consistently tried to increase participance in democracy rather than to limit it. Every change considered for how we govern ourselves has tried to give more opportunity for members to participate.
    2. Lenny suggests that the logic of the arguments for the amendment is weak or flawed bears some response. My direct experience is that there are many things that make people reluctant to pursue Board Service. In trying recently to recruit candidates to run for positions, “Not wishing to run for elections”, is a rationale commonly given by many candidates.
    eg: When NCECA voted 5 years ago to split the positions of Secretary and Treasurer apart as I came into my presidency I offered the choice of positions to the winner of the vote. He chose Treasurer and then I appointed the other candidate for one year to be Secretary. We made preparations to have the election for that position the following year. It took me many hours, over some months to find someone who was willing to run against this very popular incumbent.
    In another instance an election for a board position did not go as expected and the loser of the election was alienated from NCECA. (I believe that this has now been rectified, but there was a long period of discomfort and distance.)
    It was not the case, as Lenny suggests above, that this candidate would not have been good for the position. It was simply a very natural, human response to a tough situation.
    It is in fact much more difficult to attract good candidates for election in order to ask them to do hours and hours of volunteer work. It is even difficult to find people willing to be appointed. In the past couple years both an elected candidate and a hoped for appointee stepped away after first having said yes. This is not due to character flaws, or a flawed process. This is simply to say that the reality is that finding and keeping good candidates is not quick and easy like it may have been in the past.
    3. Lenny has suggested that there are no assurances that a nominated candidate will be considered by the Nominations Committee and the Board. Let me assure everyone that, given the realities I discussed above, ALL nominees are considered.
    BUT with that said…,
    Lenny does make a good point that there is little mechanism in place for members to know that process. This is a level of transparency that the Board could consider improving. Good democracy depends on transparency whenever possible.
    4. Lenny suggests that the skills needed aren’t so challenging that the change needs to be made. I will allow that this may be true to some extent, but in truth I wouldn’t wish to be in the seat of the Treasurer participating in discussions regarding investments, etc. AS president I had to swim hard to keep up with the financial complexities of our organization as it stands in the 21st C. These aren’t simple bookkeeping tasks anymore. Certainly we have members for whom this is well within their comfort zone, but I am not necessarily comfortable that I can discern who that might be in an open election.
    On a larger related point…
    Over the past dozen years or so the board has been more intentional about increasing the diversity of its leadership. 3 of the last 6 Presidents have not been professors. We have added a member who comes from the industry side of ceramics, rather than the maker/teacher side. We had an MBA who was also a maker in the position of Secretary/Treasurer. All of these new perspectives, intentionally searched out by the board, balanced and enhanced our conversations and decisions in my opinion. This process of changing our old habits made our board look a bit more like other member-driven arts non-profits and was a positive step in my experience. (It is interesting that the proposed amendment has long been a part of CAA, GAS and SNAG governance process.)
    5. Lenny writes that history suggests this amendment could potentially lead to inbreeding, personal agendas and potential corruption. No one can look around the world and suggest that these are impossible scenarios. However…
    things have changed significantly since I first started on the Board in 2004. We have an excellent Executive Director and staff who provide stability and guidance to an ever-changing board. We have also passed policies, (while I was President), that put checks and balances in place when personal agendas, (coming from within or without), are presented to the board. And as I just mentioned the board’s current direction has been to broaden its representation rather than to become more inbred. The days when the board is solely academics seems to be behind us.
    The mission of NCECA states that it is a dynamic organization that fosters global education and appreciation for the ceramic arts. My direct experience is that recent boards have pursued this with integrity and earnest. Rather than trying to grab power with this proposed amendment and distance members from leadership, their intentions have been to create a process which encourages more participation. I can only assume that current members serving on the board offer this amendment in that spirit.
    My conclusion – (finally):
    I will not speak in favor, or against this amendment. It has the pro of allowing the Nominations Committee identify qualified NCECA members to serve in these important positions of leadership. It has the con of altering the direct democracy for the members, thereby essentially asking members to be more involved on the front end of the process – to come forward and volunteer themselves to be considered for board service – or to identify other qualified members for consideration.
    The bottom line is that NCECA will be healthier if more members engage in paying attention to, and participating in, the governance of their organization.
    So…
    Consider the pluses and minuses carefully and vote your conscience on this proposed amendment.
    Also…
    Nominate yourself or other members for consideration for both elections and appointments. Stay involved!
    Keith J Williams
    Past President
    Fellow of the Council

  2. Louis Katz says:

    I believe that candidates are scared of elections. This is certainly true and I do not doubt that we loose candidates because of this. But I also believe that we have elected poor choices at times, and that board nominees have turned out to be poor choices. To me this proposal is a response to the frustration caused by imperfection of boards and democracy as a whole, but it will not solve the problem. It will just replace the responsibility, and keep it quiet, in house, behind closed doors.

    In my opinion the question is simply, Does the organization continue to be membership run? (no vote)
    Does the organization morph into one run by the board with an appointed board.(yes vote)

    I oppose this change and will vote no.

    Louis Katz
    Past Director at Large and multi year volunteer.

  3. Lenny Dowhie says:

    A “lengthy” reply to my friend Keith…

    (K)I have some thoughts on the proposed amendment and on my friend Lenny Dowhie’s response.
    I will lay out a few ideas at length, but they can be summed up in the following words:
    Please participate in NCECA governance and vote. It is what the Board wants and it is what keeps NCECA healthy…
    In writing his response to the proposal Lenny is embodying the type of member awareness and participation that the Board wants. Thanks to Lenny for being a good role model in our member-driven organization.
    Thoughts:

    1. (K)This amendment directly affects how you as NCECA members will be represented and served by your board, and ultimately our staff. It has both pros and cons in my mind and does affect/change what democracy would look like in our organization. (Please note that I don’t necessarily see changes in democratic process as necessarily meaning diminishing democracy.) The bottom line for all member-driven organizations is that democracy only works when people pay attention and participate.

    (L)******My Buddy Keith mentions that the changes in the “democratic process” doesn’t mean diminishing democracy. I have to wonder how eliminating two important positions on our board from being “elected” positions (and no, I do not consider the proposed methodology to be equal to an actual election) is maintaining the process and not diminishing it. If “elected positions” are eliminated, there is LESS, not equal or more democracy.)

    2. (K)Lenny characterizes a number of perceived limitations to the proposal. Among the first he cites is that the system has worked for a long time and wasn’t broken. Having first been elected from the floor myself, (against a very well known candidate), I might be inclined to agree, however (L)Keith mentions that “NCECA has struggled for many decades on how to increase participation in governance.”******

    (L)(Fair enough. But tell me, how does taking AWAY two positions; positions that someone could potentially “run for” increase governance participation?)

    (K)For an organization with 3000-3500 members we regularly have only 200 members voting. This has concerned the Board in every year I have been a member.******

    (L)(I agree Keith, this has been an issue since the beginning.)

    (K)Also under our old governance practice. Not too far back, when we took nominations from the floor, we had a year when no student came forward from the floor for the Student Director at Large and we ended up asking a former SDAL to return to the position to fulfill these duties.
    Additionally, not all of our members attend conferences, but many have expressed desire/need to vote even when they can’t attend. The board has amended our governance structure recently not to grab power, but rather in attempts to increase democratic participation., Two points Keith-******

    (L)First, anecdotal “evidence” of an issue in the past, rarely qualifies as a mandate for change. Second, as far as I can tell, neither I nor anyone else has complained about the experiment of on line voting. That isn’t an issue unless it proves to be cumbersome.)

    NCECA now has:
    * on line voting in real time,
    *campaign speeches posted for all members for weeks ahead of the vote rather than simply at the moment of the vote,
    *calls for nominations via many communication vehicles,
    etc. – The board has consistently tried to increase participance in democracy rather than to limit it. Every change considered for how we govern ourselves has tried to give more opportunity for members to participate.******

    (L)All well and good, but as I mentioned in my first missive, the current proposal will ELIMINATE, not add to the democratic process, which in two significant ways, makes all the efforts of the past meaningless to those spots.)

    2.(K) Lenny suggests that the logic of the arguments for the amendment is weak or flawed bears some response. My direct experience is that there are many things that make people reluctant to pursue Board Service. In trying recently to recruit candidates to run for positions, “Not wishing to run for elections”, is a rationale commonly given by many candidates.
    eg: When NCECA voted 5 years ago to split the positions of Secretary and Treasurer apart as I came into my presidency I offered the choice of positions to the winner of the vote. He chose Treasurer and then I appointed the other candidate for one year to be Secretary. We made preparations to have the election for that position the following year. It took me many hours, over some months to find someone who was willing to run against this very popular incumbent.
    In another instance an election for a board position did not go as expected and the loser of the election was alienated from NCECA. (I believe that this has now been rectified, but there was a long period of discomfort and distance.)
    It was not the case, as Lenny suggests above, that this candidate would not have been good for the position. It was simply a very natural, human response to a tough situation.
    It is in fact much more difficult to attract good candidates for election in order to ask them to do hours and hours of volunteer work. It is even difficult to find people willing to be appointed. In the past couple years both an elected candidate and a hoped for appointee stepped away after first having said yes. This is not due to character flaws, or a flawed process. This is simply to say that the reality is that finding and keeping good candidates is not quick and easy like it may have been in the past.******

    (L) Keith, again, anecdotal examples that no doubt were problematic. However, nothing in the changes proposed will do anything to eliminate those issues from the future. I am fully aware of sudden, unanticipated changes occurring as that is how I became President Elect during our final board meeting in San Jose when the “elected” President resigned and Val Cushing asked me to step in. My point here is that these “issues” are not new and they are solvable within the board and or membership as the solution demands.

    3.(K) Lenny has suggested that there are no assurances that a nominated candidate will be considered by the Nominations Committee and the Board. Let me assure everyone that, given the realities I discussed above, ALL nominees are considered.
    BUT with that said…,
    Lenny does make a good point that there is little mechanism in place for members to know that process. This is a level of transparency that the Board could consider improving. Good democracy depends on transparency whenever possible.

    (L)We agree on this Keith.

    4.(K) Lenny suggests that the skills needed aren’t so challenging that the change needs to be made. I will allow that this may be true to some extent, but in truth I wouldn’t wish to be in the seat of the Treasurer participating in discussions regarding investments, etc. AS president I had to swim hard to keep up with the financial complexities of our organization as it stands in the 21st C. These aren’t simple bookkeeping tasks anymore. Certainly we have members for whom this is well within their comfort zone, but I am not necessarily comfortable that I can discern who that might be in an open election.
    On a larger related point…
    Over the past dozen years or so the board has been more intentional about increasing the diversity of its leadership. 3 of the last 6 Presidents have not been professors. We have added a member who comes from the industry side of ceramics, rather than the maker/teacher side. We had an MBA who was also a maker in the position of Secretary/Treasurer. All of these new perspectives, intentionally searched out by the board, balanced and enhanced our conversations and decisions in my opinion. This process of changing our old habits made our board look a bit more like other member-driven arts non-profits and was a positive step in my experience. (It is interesting that the proposed amendment has long been a part of CAA, GAS and SNAG governance process.)

    (L)First, while I might agree that a “candidate” may or may not have the investment savvy to run the portfolio held in trust. However, that is why you hire a trusted and competent financial services advisor. It strikes me as a tad bit ironic that we have become so sophisticated that we need, newish, specially trained and selected board members, but we haven’t become savvy enough to hire a professional? I have to assume we have a pro FP or a consultant who guides the Endowment, just as I have lawyers and FP who guide our trust funds.)

    (L)Increasing diversity is fine.A worthy goal that really has nothing to do with the current proposal, unless you are hinting that given how “candidates” will be selected is going to be biased to begin with, not sure what you mean or want here K.)

    5. Lenny writes that history suggests this amendment could potentially lead to inbreeding, personal agendas and potential corruption. No one can look around the world and suggest that these are impossible scenarios. However…
    things have changed significantly since I first started on the Board in 2004. We have an excellent Executive Director and staff who provide stability and guidance to an ever-changing board. We have also passed policies, (while I was President), that put checks and balances in place when personal agendas, (coming from within or without), are presented to the board. And as I just mentioned the board’s current direction has been to broaden its representation rather than to become more inbred. The days when the board is solely academics seems to be behind us.
    The mission of NCECA states that it is a dynamic organization that fosters global education and appreciation for the ceramic arts. My direct experience is that recent boards have pursued this with integrity and earnest. Rather than trying to grab power with this proposed amendment and distance members from leadership, their intentions have been to create a process which encourages more participation. I can only assume that current members serving on the board offer this amendment in that spirit.
    My conclusion – (finally):
    I will not speak in favor, or against this amendment. It has the pro of allowing the Nominations Committee identify qualified NCECA members to serve in these important positions of leadership. It has the con of altering the direct democracy for the members, thereby essentially asking members to be more involved on the front end of the process – to come forward and volunteer themselves to be considered for board service – or to identify other qualified members for consideration.
    The bottom line is that NCECA will be healthier if more members engage in paying attention to, and participating in, the governance of their organization.
    So…
    Consider the pluses and minuses carefully and vote your conscience on this proposed amendment.
    Also…
    Nominate yourself or other members for consideration for both elections and appointments. Stay involved!

    (L)Finally, I think we both are in agreement that the current and past board members have held to the ideal of doing their best for the organization. In part that was accomplished by transparency and in part by the desire and willingness of members to serve. (Perhaps a generational trait?) It is one thing to have a closed board (such as in a private business-like SOFA) and another to have an “open” organization. Wherever possible, I will always vote and encourage “openness” versus “restrictiveness”.

    Cheers
    Lenny Dowhie
    PS-K one of these days, on course near you…

  4. Dan Hammett says:

    I am glad to find this blog; I hope a few members are as fortunate. As a former Secretary-Treasurer to nceca, an organization that I have loved and invested in since 1971. I am glad that some stewards of the organization have shown a concern to the proposed by-law change. I hope that as a member of this “member driven organization” nceca will always offer views and opposing views for members to consider.

    A few facts – not rocket science
    • Most non-profits in art use nceca as their 503-c model.
    • The nceca “Board of Directors” has always had a slate of candidates (to the best of
    their ability) for every position offered.
    • The Secretary & Treasurer positions are the only floor nominated and elected
    “Executive Council” positions.

    Treasurer position has access to an nceca staff bookkeeper/accountant, C.P.A., a senior V.P. for capital markets and structured investment advisor and a governing committee that requires a majority vote for action. The governing committee consists of a majority of appointed board members. A working knowledge of the organizations history, its constitution, bylaws, and the direct access to unlimited membership as council is the most valuable resource to the nceca Treasurer.

    • Treasurer who is an executive council member and the most direct voice of
    the members.
    • Taking on the stewardship for nceca’s financials concerns is an exceedingly
    important member position.
    • Budget – collecting, developing and implementing budget.
    • File annual organization I.R.S.
    • Signing check vouchers, making deposits, contracts and wire transfers.
    • Must be bonded.

    Taking away an elected “Executive Council” positions will make it a self-appointed “Executive Council”. As someone who was never a board slate candidate, I am glad to have served and saved and increased the organization’s endowment and expanded the creative idea pool. Empowering candidates who have a desire to serve, with the proper assets for success in the investment process will help cultivate members into board as contributors. Who knows it may even generate membership into board service. Appointing positions to the board only cultivates a member concern for the board culture. nceca needs to grow and cultivate a desire for member participation in the organization through elections not appointments to the board of directors.

    ” I voted no”