Where should I begin? After not being allowed to express myself for such a long time, it is very strange starting to write and hopefully communicate with the membership of an organization that means so much to me. I am no longer a member of the organization because I wrote an e-mail and sent it to the Saints Board of Directors, the usher coordinators and committee chairs.
This e-mail contained suggestions to open up dialogue, and enable the membership to know more about their board. I arrived at a scheduled board meeting (which had not been posted on the website or announced to the membership in the Spotlight) on June 9, 2009. I hadn't received an agenda, which we often receive late, and had come straight from the airport. There were many agenda items that I had proposed, and I was looking forward to my first real meeting with the new board.
Two members had requested that they be allowed to observe the meeting but were told to arrive after the actual start time. The board meeting began with a motion to revoke my membership and ban me from the organization. The vote was split, 4-4, and our newly elected President broke the tie. I was absolutely stunned. I walked out the door and greeted the observers who had just arrived. Some people on the board were commenting on what a great job I had done with membership.
The reason that I was banned was because I had used the e-mail addresses that are published in the Spotlight to send an e-mail without first obtaining permission from the President. I truly didn't think that what I was doing was wrong. I thought that the "Privileged Information" statement on the back page of the Spotlight was to stop people from giving ushering information to non-members, or using people's addresses for sales. I never dreamed that it would be inappropriate to send an e-mail to the people who are basically running the Saints Organization.
The unedited letter, which I am posting below, should speak for itself.
To: Saints Board
CC: Coordinators and Committee Chairs
I am writing to you, the Board, as a member of this wonderful organization with some recommendations that I believe will make the Saints an even better organization than it already is. Those of you that know me know that the performing arts community is very important to me. In fact, I can’t think of very much that is more important to me. I live and breathe theater all the time, and most of my friends know that I spend all of my spare time attending performing arts events, reading, writing and talking about the performing arts. I do my best to connect with others who already love the performing arts and expose others to the performing arts. There is plenty to experience and more than enough to keep so many of us busy and intellectually stimulated.
I have been a member of the Saints for almost twenty-five years and I am very grateful for the opportunities that it gives me to support the performing arts community and at the same time “feed my habit.” I love meeting others who share my passion for theater, and I also like trying to bring new people into the fold.
There are a few things that are even more important to me – and that includes the concept of free speech and having the opportunity to express my beliefs and opinions. So, I am writing to all of you as a member of the Saints, and expressing my freedom of speech by making some suggestions that I think will make the Saints an even better organization that it already is.
Some of my suggestions are the following:
· Open Board Meetings (with the exception of executive sessions that are sometimes necessary) that are in a space where there is sufficient room for members to observe our Board in action – perhaps at a theater when there is no performance
· Agendas that are posted and e-mailed to the membership so that they will know what issues will be addressed
· Timely posting of minutes on the Saints website – the minutes would include all motions that have been made and each member’s vote – this would be most helpful when people are making decisions as to whether they want to run for the Board or who to vote for.
· A 20-30 minute Q&A session at the end of each membership meeting so that members have a chance to ask the board questions and make suggestions to the board
· Encouragement of communication and participation of the membership – this can be done through establishment of committees, encouraging dialog and correspondence between membership, coordinators and board members
· Making it possible to vote by mail or electronically so that the process is easier and more inclusive
· Frequent use of surveys to poll our membership about controversial issues such as how we want our money spent, whether we want to continue the printed Spotlight subscription option, whether we want to reinstate student memberships, etc.
Your feedback is welcome and if you want me to drop your name from my e-mail list, I will be glad to do so. I obtained your e-mail address from the Spotlight and think that it is appropriate that I write to all of you since your name is published and I am a paid up member. I hope that I have set a precedent for dialog and have made a small step toward opening up the organization. It is my belief that the Saints organization belongs to all of us, and we don’t want to put too much power into the hands of a few members. Experience is valuable but so are new ideas and perspectives.
I will write more soon but want all of you to see the document that resulted in my being banned from the organization. In addition, I want to encourage all of you to hold the Saints Board accountable to the membership. And right now, especially with the new Bylaws (which some of us believe were not legally passed), the Board has all the power.
The minutes are not posted or easily obtained (in addition, they are incomplete and often inaccurate). You currently have no way of finding out what motions have passed and how each board member voted. The old Bylaws are no longer on the website. You have not received a financial statement for two years. You must ask permission to observe a board meeting, and the Saints Board can call an executive session and meet in secrecy whenever they choose. In addition, there are no written guidelines as to when a Saints member can have their membership revoked or be banned, nor is there any way to appeal whatever consequences are imposed by the Board.
This is very serious and it is your responsibility to ask questions and get answers.