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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

General Membership Meeting - NSCPA

This evening, there was a general membership meeting with approximately 200 members present. I will leave comments to those of you who attended but let me comment that our speaker, Robert Falls, was excellent and answered our questions for over an hour.

Much to my surprise, there were security guards in uniform at the doors of the theater where we were meeting. They had been hired by some members of the board. As a Board member, I wish to go on record indicating that I was never asked whether I approved this expenditure nor would I have approved this expenditure. It was a waste of our money, and an additional indication of the fear of dissent and new ideas. If our meetings are not open to non-members, then it should have been announced ahead of time. We have been in the practice of posting the meeting date and time on our website's public calendar, and this meeting was announced in that fashion.

Upon entry, I was asked to sign my name and pass through a checkpoint where a sticker was placed on my Saints badge. The sticker was not handed to me but placed on my badge without explanation. It felt inappropriate and like an invasion of my personal space. I was most uncomfortable and did not understand the reason for this action.

After Mr. Falls' engaging presentation and willingness to candidly answer many of our questions, most of the members went out to do early signups. There appeared to be concern about losing out on ushering opportunities, and some of these people did return but most left the room to sign up and went home. Approximately 50 members remained inside the theater to ask the Saints President, BJ Nelson, questions. As time progressed, and it became clear that this group was not going to leave without an opportunity to ask a number of questions, two of the other officers, Linda Berg (Treasurer) and Andy Lingras (Secretary) also stood at the front of the room and started responding.

I will leave it to tonight's attendees to comment on their experience of the meeting and their interaction with the board officers. For me, tonight was a memorable evening for both positive and negative reasons.

I encourage you not to post anonymously.

Also, vote on the three survey questions to the left of this posting.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Working Group to Review Bylaws

An invitation to members was e-mailed to members via the Saints' Cyberline at least four times during the past two weeks. Members were invited to be part of a "Working Group" to review the current Bylaws. The deadline to sign up was 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, September 27, 2009. Interested applicants were advised to send their names to an anonymous e-mail address.

To the best of my knowledge, neither the board at large nor the membership has been advised of who will be part of this working group. Once an announcement has been made as to who will be part of this group, I will post it on this blog. Stay tuned...

Below is the text of the President's invitation and the guidelines for the "Working Group".

The Board is inviting Saints members to be a part of a Working Group to review the current Bylaws.

(a) There is no set limit as to how many members can join this group - any one who is interested (other than current Board Members or their relatives) may join.

(b) The first group meeting will be at the Saints Office and after that the group can decide if they wish to continue to meet at the office or wish to meet at another more convenient place. You will also determine the meeting schedule.

(c) The Group members may elect, from within themselves, a Facilitator or a Leader or a Spokesperson or may choose to work in any other manner that they agree on.

(d) The Group will be responsible for reviewing the current bylaws and providing the Board a report with the Group's suggestions for specific changes with the rationale behind the suggested change (e.g. "this statement is awful" is not acceptable, rather, "the statement (X) should be substituted with statement (Y) for reasons (P) and (Q)" is what would be expected.). Or "this statement violates the law and should be replaced" is not acceptable, rather, "Statement (L) Violates Illinois law (D) and should be replaced with statement (M)" is what would be expected.

(e) The report is due to the Board no later than November 30, 2009, and has to be signed by all the members to show their consensus of agreement.

(f) The Board is currently in the process of hiring a legal firm to review the bylaws. The above input from the Working Group will be provided to this legal firm for evaluation as well. The end result will be presented to the membership for approval.

If you are interested in being a part of this important work, please send in your names to by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, September 27, 2009.

If you have any questions about the above please send your questions also to .

Thank you,

General Membership Meeting

The first general membership meeting since June 1, 2009 is scheduled to be held tomorrow evening at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts.

The following e-mail was sent to the membership:

Join us Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 7:00 PM, at The North Shore Center For The Performing Arts In Skokie, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, for our fall Saints Membership Meeting..

Our presenter will be Robert Falls, Artistic Director of The Goodman Theatre.

Coordinators will be present to take your signups, so remember to bring your date books, as well as your Saints Badge.

Free parking is available behind the theater. Plan on attending this exciting event. We look forward to seeing you there..

Lorraine Edelstein
Saints Board
Program Chairman

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Exercise Your Vote - Don't Become Complacent

If you check the Home page of the Saints' website, you will see that there is no telephone number or e-mail address listed for Jim Venskus or Deborah Granite, and Hugh Spencer's contact information is not there at all. At least, there is no longer an attempt to intercept my e-mail, but it is obvious that we still don't have open government. Directors are being treated differently if they are not part of the "selected board."

I am pleased to see that many of you are reading this blog and contacting me directly. Stay tuned. No one can stop you from reading what is here, even if some board members make it difficult for you to contact us or for us to contact you.

Express your opinion by voting on the survey question that is posted to the left of this posting. There are only a few more days that you can express your opinion about this question. It is my contention that there is a potential conflict of interest if one is both a coordinator and a board member.

A coordinator controls whether you can be signed up for a specific show, and can also stop you from future ushering at the venue where they schedule ushers. There currently are no guidelines as to what actions may cause a coordinator to make a member "persona non grata" (no longer able to usher) at a venue, nor is there an appeal process. As long as these guidelines don't exist, and as long as we hear of inconsistent application of this status against members, we know that a board member might abuse their power as a coordinator. Having such a strike against you can also jeopardize your "member in good standing" status and disqualify you from being a candidate for the Board.

Perception is almost as important as practice - and many of you have expressed fear about your ushering privileges being taken away or negative consequences for expressing a "dissenting" opinion. Speak up and vote on the survey. Post comments. Let the board know how you feel.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Board Reinstates Granite's Membership

This afternoon, I received official notification that my membership has been reinstated by the Saints Board of Directors. I am not sure what this means at this time, and am in the process of making some personal decisions as to how I want to proceed. I am not sure what the sudden change in the Board's position means.

Important Comment: It does not please me to report this but there has been tampering with my e-mail address on the Home page of the Saints website. On the afternoon of Thursday, September 17, someone changed my e-mail address so that e-mails that someone wanted to send to me went to the office e-mail instead (an e-mail address which I can no longer access). Mysteriously, the e-mail was changed back about eight hours later. I was alerted to the "dirty trick" by a fellow Saints member, and saw it myself. I strongly recommend that people be very cautious when using addresses that are being published right now - you might think you are communicating with a person and actually be sending your e-mails to someone else.

You also should note that there is still no contact information for board member, Jim Venskus. In addition, Hugh Spencer's name does not appear at all on the public contact list. I don't like to make people afraid but there is still strong evidence that one must be very cautious and not let their guard down. If you want everyone on the board to know about something, please send it to the entire board. Do not depend on board members to share information with each other because it might not happen.

It is most disappointing to write this but it is not time to celebrate. There is still a need to hold the leadership accountable and get answers to many questions.

A number of Saints members have asked whether the reinstatement of my membership means that I have been reinstated to the board. It is my contention that I never left the board, and the board is aware of my position. The President, BJ Nelson, received a letter with copies to the rest of the board, in July that is still unanswered. In that letter, I asked that they either immediately allow me to continue in my elected role or have their actions reviewed by an attorney. Had they answered my letter, I would not have needed to create this blog or make my concerns public.

I want to encourage people to continue coming to board meetings, requesting minutes and financial statements, and communicating with the board. It will help the organization if more of you step up your involvement. Don't allow my reinstatement to make you complacent, and remember that it was your letters and voices that have already resulted in some significant changes.

This year, only 250 people voted. I am hoping that we will see the number of members who vote increase now that people see how much their vote can matter.

Last night, there were nine observers at the Board meeting (I was not there). Perhaps some of them will post what they observed on this site, or comment on the direction that they hope the Board will take. I am hoping that people will continue being active in the organization and realize that their opinions matter.

I want to thank many of you for reaching out to me and spending time trying to understand all the issues. Some of you disagree with me, and that's fine. I learn from hearing other points of view, and hope you feel the same way about hearing mine. I am available to answer any questions that you may have and ready to listen to your feedback (positive and negative).

People have worked hard to make some changes, and some of them are already quite measureable. But there is still a great deal of work to do. People are still afraid to communicate freely. Many members know that this is about far more than revoking my membership in order to work around the Illinois Not for Profit Act and remove me from the Board - it is about members having the right to express opinions without fear of reprisal. It's about an organization that will be richer for recognizing that there are many points of view. It's about treating members fairly and with respect.

There is a general membership meeting planned for Tuesday, September 29. The speaker will be Robert Falls, the Goodman's artistic director. The meeting will be held at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts at 9501 Skokie Boulevard from 7pm to 9 pm. Please make sure you attend.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grants Committee Chair Vacant

The Saints now have a vacancy for one of the most critical roles in the organization. If you check the contact information on the Saints website, you will see that the name of Bill Fireside, former chair of the Scholarship Committee, and last year's chair of the Grants committee is no longer listed. An e-mail from BJ Nelson has been sent seeking individuals who have "leadership abilities and would consider taking on this position."

Does anyone want to comment on what might be going on? This committee granted approximately $40,000 in grants to the performing arts community last year, and did a stellar job. Does anyone want to comment about this new and serious development?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Saints Board Member Shuts Down Facebook Page and Posts New One

Breaking news: Effective September 7, 2009, a board member has changed his Facebook page so we cannot view his list of "friends" anymore. Prior to September 4, when he shut down his site for apparent revision, he had over 75 Saints members listed as "friends." I have a print out of this list.

The list includes names of Saints members who are listed in the spotlight as well as many who are not. Some individuals have advised me that they were sent invitations and chose not to accept them. Others felt somewhat obligated or curious about their invitation. And some probably were "friends" or wanted to be "friends" with this Board member/Coordinator.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no harm asking people to join one’s Facebook page. The procedure is such that individuals may accept, ignore, or refuse a Facebook invitation. I did receive comments, however, that make this action somewhat questionable. Some members were reluctant to turn down the invitation since this board member is a Coordinator that handles sign ups for a venue that fills quickly. Some members were worried that they might experience difficulty getting those "hard to get" ushering opportunities if they turned down the request to be "friends."

My question is, "why am I being singled out for disciplinary action?" To date, no action has been taken in regard to this board member inviting members to be "friends" on his Facebook page. Prior to this board member reconstructing his Facebook page, the invitations and signing up of Saints members were brought to the attention of the board’s President, BJ Nelson. It was raised both in writing and in conversation. No action was taken.

If you read my June 2 e-mail (unedited copy appears in a separate post below), you will see that it is related to Saints’ business. In addition, I advised recipients that I would be glad to remove their name from my address book if they did not want to receive future communications. My e-mail was sent to the entire board of directors, including the President, BJ Nelson, and others who were listed in the Spotlight. Despite having the e-mail addresses of many members who ushered at Lifeline Theatre or attended orientations, I only sent the e-mail to those members whose addresses were published in the Saints' newsletter.

If the board’s action (5-4 vote) was truly not because of the content of my e-mail, and solely because I neglected to ask the President for permission before sending it, I want to know why the Saints Board has failed to take action against this other individual. I know of many members who have sent and received e-mails that were not for the express purpose of ushering. Until June 9, I assumed that this was not forbidden, nor should it be.

If allowed to participate as the Board member that I contend I still am, I would not vote to take disciplinary action against this board member, who had over 75 Saints members on his facebook. I would, however, have suggested that he discontinue the practice of asking members to join as long as he was a coordinator and/or a board member. Members, however, could have chosen to ignore or reject the Board member's request to be "friends" (some individuals did) just as people could have deleted my e-mail or asked to be taken off my mailing list. So I guess it depends on how paternalistic, or controlling, the Saints Board of Directors wants to be.

By the way, there are no Saints, and never have been any Saints, on my Facebook with the exception of my son, Zack, who was a Saint before going to college in Denver.

The first paragraph of the President’s letter, which was sent to all members of the Saints, states the following:

On June 2, 2009, Deborah Granite sent many Saints' Coordinators and Committee Chairs a copy of an email addressed to the Saints' Board. This resulted in her membership being revoked and her being banned from the Saints organization. The Board thought that it was important to inform all of you of the rationale that formed the basis of this decision. The reason for this action was that in sending that e-mail, she violated the “Privileged Information” notice explicitly stated in the Spotlight. The contents of Deborah's e-mail letter was not the issue in this case and had no influence on the Board's decision.

He concludes with the following:

We all, irrespective of whether we are Coordinators, Chairs of Committees, Board Members or Saints’ Members with no other responsibilities are expected to abide by one set of rules. There are no exceptions. No member of the organization is above its rules. Members of the Board of Directors, the Saints governing body, are fully aware of all Saints rules. When a Board member violates the rules, and violates them in a defiant manner showing no remorse, it is an even more serious issue and as a result deserves the strictest of consequences. The action the Board took was guided by the above facts and was necessary to maintain the integrity of our organization.

The President may call it defiant, however I do not feel any remorse about sending my e-mail to the board with copies to the Coordinators and Committee Chairs. Their addresses were listed in the Spotlight, and I viewed them as “middle management” of the organization. I still don’t believe that I was in violation of the Saint rules, and my e-mail was an effort to express the importance of freedom of speech, my right to express my opinions, and suggestions for more open communication. I stated that free speech was something that was even more important to me than my love for the performing arts. During the campaign, all candidates had been limited to the 150 words that appeared in the Spotlight, and all additional campaigning was forbidden.

My June 2 e-mail to the Board, Coordinators and Committee Chairs was drafted in response to a brief June 1 special board meeting held at Steppenwolf Theater while members were signing up to usher. I had requested that we hold the meeting at a different time so I could mingle with the new members and participate in the social part of the general meeting, but the majority of the board voted against my request. At that brief meeting, Jim Venskus and I, who had not signed the confidentiality agreement (printed below in one of the comments), were told that we could not hold office, could not attend executive sessions, would no longer have access to confidential information and that I could no longer serve as a usher coordinator for Lifeline Theatre. This was followed by the election of officers.

The following day an announcement was made of the election results and our names were removed from the website that night. In addition, we no longer had access to membership information, financial information or board documents which included minutes of past meetings, the bylaws and the standing rules. My June 2 e-mail was sent out of concern about the future of the organization and a futile attempt to restore the organization to a democracy.

My concerns are even greater now. The board has disenfranchised the membership. I was re-elected in May and received 13 votes less than the President. The board, however, revoked my membership and banned me from the organization. I believe that my removal from the board is illegal and am seeking legal counsel in regard to this.

The board has also hindered Jim Venskus, another board member, from fulfilling his duties by excluding him from executive sessions and information necessary to make informed decisions. It is highly unusual to ask board members of a not for profit to sign a confidentiality agreement, and the agreement is so broad as to be considered "unenforceable."

The public and members, who are unfamiliar with how to log into the "members only" part of the website, cannot e-mail Jim Venskus and Hugh Spencer because their names have been removed from the Home page. A new board member has been appointed with no announcement to the membership, and he was not one of this year's candidates. All committee members, even those on the benefit committee, are being asked to sign the revised confidentiality statement (kind of sounds like a loyalty oath, doesn't it?).

Dissenting opinions on the board are being silenced. I am very sad about making these concerns public but there is no other way to inform the membership than through the media and writing on this blog. You all were informed of my dismissal but you were not provided a copy of my e-mail or all the facts. In addition, you were given speculation as to the reasons for my e-mail which contradicts what I have written and told people.

The President's e-mail has increased fear about communicating freely. I have been the subject of personal attacks. I have not been given an opportunity by the Board of Directors to present my side of the story. The board certainly is not transparent nor have they made it easy for you, the membership, to know what is going on.

I invite people to e-mail me by clicking on this link and to post comments on this website. I also want to encourage you to attend board meetings as observers (arrangements must be made in advance with the President) and general membership meetings. The next board meeting is scheduled to be held at the Saints Office, 2936 N. Southport, on September 14 at 7:30 pm.

Friday, September 4, 2009

New Policy Regarding Minutes

To keep this blog interesting, we ask that you post your comments.

There have been some positive developments this week.

The Saints Newsletter, Spotlight, which is mailed or available online to all members of the Saints summarized the highlights of the July board meeting. In addition, it provided a little bit of financial information. It's a step in the right direction.

There was also an announcement of a new policy - we will print it below and leave it to you for comments.

Board meeting minutes and financial reports are available to members for viewing in the Saints office by appointment only.

Please send your request to the secretary at . Highlights of board meetings are also published in the Spotlight.

There still has been no formal announcement to the membership about the new Board Member, Martin Frank, who was appointed at the August Board Meeting. Perhaps they are waiting until they approve the August minutes to make an announcement even though this individual's name appears on the public portion of the Saints' website. Two of the current board members, Hugh Spencer and Jim Venskus, no longer appear on that public page. Perhaps a board member can comment on why their names have been removed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Unedited Letter Sent on June 2 to Board, Coordinators and Committee Chairs

To: Saints Board
CC: Coordinators and Committee Chair

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.

Thank you.

Deborah Granite
Saints Member