Peak & Prairie
October / November 1998
Should Sections Get an Ex-Com Vote?
We are leading activists in some of the largest Sierra Club groups in Colorado. We urge a yes vote on the bylaws amendment granting voting status to sections. Sections are a new concept in the state of Colorado, but they have a long and honored history in the Club elsewhere in the country. Some of the most effective activists in the organization in other states got their starts in outings sections, photography sections, and others.
We know that some fear that giving votes to sections will somehow dilute the vote of the existing groups. In the 1980's we started forming small groups in places like Evergreen, and Summit County, and Durango, and now have 14 groups statewide, fighting for Colorado's environment at the local level, community by community. And some of our smallest groups have been our most effective groups, winning lawsuits, defeating ski area proposals, saving wild rivers from inappropriate dam projects. We didn't express any fear then that the vote of the four large existing groups would be diluted by giving the smaller groups on the western slope and elsewhere an equal voice in our councils. Nor do we think it is appropriate to express that fear now. We should value the contribution of activists, wherever they are located and however they choose to become active. It doesn't matter whether it is in a group of a few hundred members in an area of the state hostile to environmentalists, or a section headquartered in the largest city in the state. We should give a voice, and a vote, to those activists, in shaping the policies of the Sierra Club in the state of Colorado.
When marking your Sierra Club ballot this fall, we urge a yes vote on our bylaws amendment.
Ramon Ajero, Fran Baxter, Judy Bolin, Ann Bonnell, Rick Eckert, Judy Gee, Chuck Hachmeister, Laura Hoeppner, JoLynn Jarboe, Bill Kossack, Susan LeFever, Dann Milne, Mike Mueller, Diane Neumann, Jan Oen, Charles Oriez, Joe Rook, Art Smith, Jean Smith, Don Thompson, Bob Tipton, Shari L. Ulery, Will Walters, Karen R. Wharton
The Rocky Mountain Chapter has a great opportunity to expand its base with the recent approval of the Gay & Lesbian Section (GLS) by its Executive Committee in July 1998.
An associated ballot proposal relates to whether this Section should, or should not, have the full voting privileges of a geographically centered Group. [Currently, the Chapter has 14 groups with representation and 7 At-Large delegates serving on its Executive Committee (Board of Directors)]. After considerable thought, it is my belief that this Section should have a voting delegate to the Chapter.
First, for a two-year period, this Section has adequately shown its support within the Chapter membership. Second, the Section will enlarge the Chapter's group of activists and volunteers. Third, the Section becomes the first non-New York/California GLS, and this is, in my view, a great step forward toward civility in the conservation movement of Colorado. Finally, this Section, even with its short history, is rapidly growing and is as effective in promoting conservation causes throughout Colorado as many of our smallest groups have ever been.
Voting status recognizes the renewed strength that this Section can instill into our organization. I urge all Sierrans to support the ballot proposal included in your voting materials.
Amendment to the Chapter By-Laws--Please Vote!
"Shall Sections 2.1, 2.13, and 4.7 of the Chapter bylaws be amended to permit each section in the Chapter to have a voting delegate on the Chapter Executive Committee?"
Proposed Amendment to the Chapter Bylaws Explained
The members of the Rocky Mountain Chapter are being asked to vote on whether the Chapter bylaws should be amended to permit sections to have a voting delegate on the Chapter Executive Committee (the "Ex-Com"). Amending the Chapter bylaws requires a two-thirds vote of the Chapter Ex-Com and a two-thirds vote of all ballots cast in an election by the membership, followed by approval of the Sierra Club Council. The proposed amendments to the bylaws were approved by a two-thirds vote of the Ex-Com at its quarterly meeting in July.
Sections are entities within the Chapter already authorized by our bylaws. The Chapter currently has one section, the Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, which had existed as a committee until it was approved as a section by the Ex-Com this past April. As described in our bylaws, sections may be formed by subsets of Chapter members interested in working together for Club purposes or in special activities, subject to regulations of the Ex-Com. As examples, sections might be formed around common social interests or around common interests in activities.
The bylaws do not currently give to sections the right to have a voting delegate on the Chapter Ex-Com. The proposed amendment would give sections that right.
In order to ensure that sections are a fully functioning, vital force ready to contribute to the Chapter with a vote on the Ex-Com, the Ex-Com also adopted a formal policy setting forth criteria for the conferring, and continuation, of section status. The criteria require that the proposed section be committed to and capable of furthering Chapter and Sierra Club goals, such as recruiting volunteers, engaging in conservation work, and fund raising. The criteria also include measurable standards such as having at least 25 members, quarterly meetings of Steering Committee and members, annual elections of officers, and quarterly publication of a newsletter. (These criteria are unique to our Chapter. Such criteria are not applied to sections in other chapters where sections do not have voting delegates on the Chapter Ex-Com.)
In order to encourage attendance of delegates at Ex-Com meetings, groups that fail to send a representative to three Ex-Com meetings may be placed on non-voting status. The proposed amendments to the bylaws would also apply that measure to sections.
The sections of the Chapter bylaws that need to be amended in order to provide for voting by section delegates to the Executive Committee are:
by Kevin Knapmiller, Blue River Group delegate
|Points in Favor
by Peggy Malchow, Chair; Greg Casini, Karen Wharton, Committee on Section Issues (majority members)
by Kevin Knapmiller
There is near unanimous agreement that having and encouraging sections is a good idea. The bylaws state "Chapter members interested in special activities consistent with the purposes of the Club, such as natural history, rock climbing, or skiing, or in promoting activities consistent with the purposes of the Club which are particularly appropriate for subsets of Club membership, such as juniors, students, singles, young families, or senior citizens, may form Sections within the Chapter for the encouragement and pursuit of these activities."
The fundamental disagreement has nothing to do with having sections in general, or any section in particular, but has to do with amending the chapter bylaws to give each Section a VOTING seat on the Chapter executive committee (Ex-Com). The proposed bylaw amendments would radically alter the basis for representation within the Chapter. Section members ALREADY have the same representation as every other Chapter member, and in fact are especially well positioned to have their leadership run for, and win, the at-large seats on the Ex-Com. Having an interest in a special activity should NOT give an EXTRA vote for each interest that one has. Committees have voices not votes. It is ridiculous to suggest that for a Section to have a voice in the Chapter we must give them a vote. The conservation and political committees have a substantial voice in the chapter. They don't have votes but they are heard.
This bylaw amendment will NOT encourage sections. Because of the many potential problems that voting status will create, the executive committee has passed rules that severely limit the formation of any new sections. These rules are not part of the bylaws. The bylaws are essentially the constitution of the chapter. By changing the bylaws we will create a right to specific extra representation. Limiting others from having this same representation will only encourage conflict.
Other chapters have sections, but those other chapters do not allow their sections to vote in the Ex-Com, for good reason. Our chapter is now proposing to do so without any substantial consideration or discussion by the full executive committee. Out of the lengthy discussions at the last two meetings, less that 5 minutes was spent discussing the implications of the bylaw change. Because of these time constraints, all committee members did not have the opportunity to express their concerns before a vote was taken. The motion passed by only a single vote. When additional concerns were heard, at least one member who voted for the motion asked to change their vote. A re-vote of the executive committee was not allowed, therefore the motion is now in front of the membership for your vote.
If this bylaw change is approved, it will be practically impossible to ever reverse it. To make such a radical, untried, irreversible change to the governance structure of our chapter without any substantial discussion of the pitfalls may result in long term damage to our Sierra Club Chapter. Please allow an opportunity for the executive committee to further discuss the proposed bylaw changes and to reconsider our decisions. Please vote NO on the proposed bylaw change.
Discussion in Favor
by Peggy Malchow, Greg Casini and Karen Wharton
As three of the four members of the committee appointed to consider giving sections a vote on the Chapter Ex-Com, we are presenting our conclusions supporting sections voting.
Sections are potentially a dynamic element in the Chapter, which can further our conservation work, attract volunteers, and give valuable input on the Ex-Com. While many environmentalists work effectively in geographically-defined groups, other activists are more comfortable working where they find connection with others with common interests or circumstances. We need energetic people on the Ex-Com, whatever their chosen avenue of activism.
We recognized, however, that sections, as traditionally characterized in other chapters (groups of members with common interests), would not necessarily provide the cohesiveness and environmental thoughtfulness expected from entities having a vote on the Ex-Com. Therefore, we recommended that sections vote on the Ex-Com, but that, in our Chapter, standards for granting section status be high, to ensure that sections make a strong contribution.
The criteria adopted by the Ex-Com as a formal Chapter policy require that section status be given only to those whose members:
One significant effect of these standards is that new sections would be rare, because meeting the standards requires substantial energy and commitment, and because these standards give the Ex-Com a strong tool for approving potential sections.
Many arguments have been made about the possible effects on fair and proportional representation on the Ex-Com. Because sections are Chapter-wide entities, each section member is also technically a member of a local group, and therefore has a voice in selecting the group's delegate to the Ex-Com as well as the delegate of any section the member belongs to. Some argue that the effect of giving sections a vote is to give section members a "double vote," and some are concerned that unethical people might use this voting power to their advantage.
The committee has several responses to these concerns. First, as a practical matter, most members who are active through a section will not also be active in a group, and will only vote for officers of the entity in which they know the candidates.
Second, selection of delegates is one step removed from membership voting. Members of sections, like groups, elect an Executive Committee, which then appoints the group's delegate to the Ex-Com.
Third, our Chapter already has "double" voting, and more, for delegates to the Ex-Com, because our membership directly elects seven at-large delegates.
Fourth, unethical people are a valid concern in any context, but they are counteracted by getting enough committed activists to distribute power fairly. The price of apathy is that the unethical gain control, no matter how an organization is structured.
Finally, it is impossible to measure proportionality of representation. In our Chapter, large groups already argue that their representation is diluted because small groups have the same representation -- one delegate -- on the Ex-Com. Small groups already say their voices don't carry the weight of larger groups.The reality is that those who come forward with energy, ideas, and commitment are those whose voices are, and should be, heard. If members choose to pour their energy and time into the Chapter's work through sections, then that should be the way their voices are heard.
Bringing new energy and ideas to the Ex-Com by including sections in its deliberations is a visionary step in the Chapter's growth. We must move in new directions to meet the environmental challenges that we face in Colorado. We urge a yes vote to amend the bylaws.