Since my message June 27 to the SPJ board, Michael Koretzky, the other candidate for SPJ president-elect, spelled out more fully his “offer” to me: If I support two proposals he has made at his site, spjrefresh.com, he will withdraw from the race.
This offer is an invitation to a breach of ethics. Accepting this offer would mean taking some action impacting SPJ in exchange for something of personal gain; it would violate the oath I took as an officer and my duties to SPJ. It would be a conflict of interest. I reject this offer on ethical grounds. I will continue to operate, as always, with what is best for SPJ in mind.
Michael’s two proposals involve (1) having the SPJ board approve all committee members proposed by a new president and (2) SPJ governance at our annual convention. Here is my take:
BOARD APPROVAL of ALL COMMITTEE MEMBERS.
Is the SPJ president an all-powerful autocrat? A review of the SPJ bylaws spells out the answer: no.
The powers of the president are enumerated in Article Six, Section Five:
“The president shall be the chief executive of the organization and shall preside at the convention. The president shall have charge of the relations of the organization with other organizations and shall have the usual powers and duties of a president in accordance with the spirit of the bylaws. The president shall have authority to require a report from any chapter or national or chapter officer of the organization at any time. The president is authorized to appoint and assign duties to committees that the president deems necessary.”
This is the only mention of SPJ’s committees in the bylaws.
Contrast the president’s authority to that of the board of directors, found in Article Seven. The board has far more power and responsibility. The board’s members:
• Have “the responsibility of maintaining the fiscal integrity of the Society by keeping it financially solvent.” (Section Eight)
• Are “responsible for organizing, guiding and supervising, and stimulating the activity of each chapter in their regions.” (Section Ten)
• Have the responsibility to “encourage and assist professional chapters in carrying on activities of a professional nature in furtherance of the Society’s aims…” (Section Eleven)
• Draw the organizational map for SPJ and “shall determine the boundaries for regions.” (Section Two)
• Can remove any officer, including the president, for failure to perform the duties of the office. (Section Twelve)
While the executive director reports to the president and the board (Article Twelve, Section One), he/she serves “at the pleasure of the board,” which sets his/her salary and benefits (Article Twelve, Section Two).
The balance of power tips heavily against the president and toward the board.
Beyond that, let’s examine the committee-approval proposal in practical terms.
The SPJ website currently lists 12 committees with 117 volunteers working in those committees.
Does the board really want to take on hiring and personnel management of 117 (or more) volunteers? The president would have to have his/her entire committee roster chosen before the board meeting at the close of convention. That meeting would, potentially, be devoted to review and discussion of 117 resumes and backgrounds at that board meeting. What if there wasn’t a quorum? Would we not have committees until April, the next board meeting? Then, during the year, what if someone wasn’t pulling his/her weight? Would the board establish progressive discipline for committee members? Issue warnings? Fire volunteers?
The board never would get anything else done.
Ask any current board member if he or she wants to take on all this additional oversight. Anyone considering board service would turn down the opportunity, because he/she would become a personnel officer instead of a leader of the Society.
I don’t think this idea is practical or in the best interests of SPJ.
REPRESENTATION at CONVENTION.
I agree that there is a problem with convention representation, but I come at it from a completely different position from Michael.
The current system uses delegate totals based on chapter membership. This is a representational system, designed to parse participation by size of chapter.
There is one big problem, though: According to HQ staff, somewhere between 40 to 50 percent of our current membership does not belong to a chapter.
In other words, those members are not represented at convention.
I think this needs changing, in the best interests of SPJ. We adopted one member, one vote as our method for election of national officers and at-large board members in 2011. We need to extend one member, one vote to other decision-making.
This is not a change we can or should take lightly. It would change our basic governance. It would change the nature and purpose of the convention. It has financial overtones, since the convention is a revenue stream, and this might change the number of attendees. There likely are other concerns I’m not stating here. But I would like to start work on that process now.
This change will require amendments to the SPJ bylaws. And according to the SPJ bylaws, at Article Fifteen, Section One (a), any proposed change to the bylaws must be submitted to all chapters 60 days before the start of the annual convention. The 60-day mark is this coming Friday, July 4, so it is too late to vet a proposal properly and get it to the delegates at EIJ14 in Nashville.
That actually gives us time – time to put it on the table for discussion and to consider all the potential ramifications. The bylaws committee can determine the ramifications of removing the delegate system from our governance. The HQ staff can assess the financial impact, including any loss of revenue. In other words, we have the time to do our homework and do this right.
We are making an experimental move this September, when two advisory questions, one on adoption of the new Code of Ethics and the other on changing the name of the Society, will be on the ballot along with the various candidates for office. The delegates at convention, who will make the call on those questions and others, will have the benefit of all members’ opinions, including those not in chapters.
I suggest we take a similar advisory poll in the spring, before the April board meeting, to ask our membership their opinions about a one member, one vote change in governance. Assuming they support the idea, the board can use that information and have an educated discussion about the proposal and send a recommendation to the delegates for their vote at EIJ15 in Orlando. If the delegates support it, the new system would start at EIJ16 in New Orleans.
Here is a message for Michael:
You have stated at your website and in messages to members that you hope to lose the election and that you do not want to be president of SPJ. I do want to be president, because I want to see the Society be the best national organization for journalists. I want to see SPJ assert its strong voice as an advocate for journalists and journalism. I want to see a new Code of Ethics properly phased in, a task which likely will come on the watch of the person elected in September. During the past year, I have held an office without much of a job description – for a look at what I’ve done with it, please click on the “Secretary-Treasurer” tab above.
We can spend our time for the next two months on a race that you say you don’t want to run or win. Or we can spend our time working together to lay the groundwork for the one member, one vote proposal in the next year. I would welcome the latter opportunity, along with your creative ideas and your energy.