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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.


  1. What - if any - is the process to impeach the president of an (this) organization? Is there direction on this matter in the by-laws? I must admit, after observing the meeting last night, it became clear that Mr. Nelson should step down, if for no other reason than the collective benefit of the organization. I realize everyone in the organization is a volunteer, and Mr. Nelson should be recognized for his dedication; however, in order for the Saints to progress, the organization will need new leadership and a new vision (the beauty of this is, the organization has grown so exponentially, it's now demanding a more formal structure and vision!). Is a petition with a certain percentage of signatures from the membership a way to encourage (demand?) Mr. Nelson to step down? There is too much contamination and mistrust going on within the organization to be optimally productive at this point. The bigger question is, does the membership have members w/in the organization that can - and are willing to - provide the type of leadership the organization requires at this point in its growth and development, and fragmentation?

    As a complete aside, in regard to remarks made about not having meetings monthly due to "Snowbirds", etc., there is so much technology now (i.e., Skype, speaker phone) that members of an organization can participate in meetings no matter where they are, as long as the organization is open to making the meetings accessible, on all levels. Additionally, ordinarily the meetings do not have the caliber of presenter such as a Robert Falls, hence, having a smaller contingency present would not be offensive, as asserted by Mr. Nelson. And, if meetings are opened up to the membership via other forms of technology, the attendance could increase exponentially.

    I would be happy to post this response in a more "neutral" setting, but I'm not aware of where else to post this response. Hence, feel free to cut and paste this note to any other, potentially more neutral website.

  2. You want to see BJ step down?

    If I had to pick only one Board Member that needs to step down, I'd say it's Andy.

  3. I too was astounded by the convoluted check-in procedures that were in force at the last membership meeting. I was also amazed to find out that membership meetings are considered "private" affairs. I had often encouraged people interested in the organization to come to a meeting to "check us out". Even one current board member I spoke with was under the impression that the meetings are open. So I'm not certain whether I was misinformed or the "rules have recently been changed".

    I found the whole idea of having to sign in at one desk & then go stand on a ridiculously long line & wait while the secretary verified your eligibility in the official Saints membership database so you could get the appropriate sticker idiotic , inefficient & insulting. If they were so gung-ho on verifying membership, why not print up a couple of copies of a listing of current members as of that day, & give that to the folks who were manning the sign in tables. It appears as if the Secreatary didn't "trust" anyone but himself with the listing of members. Then because it was after 7 & there were still dozens of people waiting to be vetted by Andy, various board members started to go through the line & sticker folks who they "knew to be current members" (although inexplicably the Coordinator Liasion wasn't going to sticker the long time coordinator of one venue). They also apparently didn't know the "rules" that had been given to their "rent-a-cop" (couldn't just have a sticker it HAD to be on your badge). So if the sticker wasn't on your actual badge, this "guard" (because the Saints are such a violent group that security is necessary)proceeded to try & pluck the sticker off of your person & put it on your badge. Even the TSA agents at the airport, screening for terrorists" have to ask your permission before they lay hands on your body. Not so, Mr. Rent-a-cop. I find it surprising that the Saints are no so flush with funds that they can hire security for their meetings.

    When the board was asked why there was a security guard present they first said to ensure that patrons coming to see a performance in the other theatre weren't in the wrong place (Ok, we're Saints, this is what WE normally do, couldn't a member have been posted at the door to incquire if folks were here for the Saints meeting or performance?). Then the rationale was changed to that they were concerned that "Deanna Issacs & her gang" would show up & disrupt the meeting. All of this because in her blog, she mentioned the meeting date & time (which are posted on the public portion of the Saints website) & encouraged folks to attend the meeting. I read that posting & it was clearly directed at Saints members . Apparently the board is confused about what the role of a reporter is. It is to "report the news" not "be the news". The level of paranoia of the board astounds me. This is someone who reports on the Arts. Their credibiltiy would be totally shot if they in anyway disrupted a well-known member of the Arts community making a presentation at an event to which they were invited. The vast majority of the folks reading/commenting on the Deanna Issacs blog threads are more than likely Saints members themselves (board opinion, nonwithstanding, folks do read that blog & this blog, some are saints, some are not).

  4. Part 2 - Apparently there's a character limit to this blog :-)

    During the ensuing Q&A that the board was forced to provide (it was hard to ignore the 50 folks who stayed in their seats), the board seemed surprised that folks wanted to discuss business at a membership meeting. It's not clear to me, just when we can do that if not not at this meeting. We're not permitted to speak at board meetings unless the board president grants us permission(if there's actually room for you in the Saints office - suggestion bring your own chair). The members forum function of the clubexpress hosted website isn't up & running so we can't go there & we're apparently not allowed to talk amongst ourselves unless it's to sign up to usher (so to those of you who sent me birthday greetings, beware, you're violating Saints policy unless you also signed up to usher for my latest show - but thanks for the warm wishes).

    So I can only conclude that that the board expects folks to just email them any questions they may have. So perhaps if the entire board received dozens of emails all asking the same questions, they would get the point that "Yes, Virginia, some of us do want to be able to discuss business at our membership meetings". The meetings shouldn't just be social affairs or opportunities for early signup. As a coordinator, what's my incentive to attend if I'm not desperate to hear the speaker? I may want to know what's going on within the organization & not be limited to the occasional highly abbreviated/censored postings that may appear in the Spotlight.

    I admit that I have not had good attendance at membership meetings, mostly because at least half of them are up in Skokie & it's difficult & a very long drive for me to get up there from work (I am not retired like many on the board). But apparently, my commitment has got to change. So folks, do we want the membership meetings to include a business portion (perhaps before the guest since they no longer do new member orientation then)? If you do, I suggest that you email the board & respectively request that they add a business portion to the meeting. Perhaps by having it prior to the speaker, it would help to limit the duration of the meeting & not appear so challenging to some on the board. HOWEVER, if they are to do that, then the board needs to stop this ridiculous screening of folks eligibilty to attend membership meetings. What do we have to hide? The process implemented at the last meeting should not & cannot continue unless the board's desire to actually DISCOURAGE attendance at membership meetings & then use that as justification for only having one a year (to accept nominations for the board). Some of the boards recent actions (officially & otherwise) can only be described as "unSaintly" as well as those of members who feel the correct way to accomplish anything is to engage the board in shouting matches either at board or membership meetings.

    Can't we all just get along & "usher together nicely"?

  5. As I see it, the last membership meeting had four distinct segments.

    Part one was a joke. To have the attendees stand in line to be screened and have identity stickers placed on their Saints badges after Andy Lingras exercised his "duty" as board secretary in confirming their membership was totally uncalled for. Apparently the objective was to prevent the Reader reporter from getting in. Laughably she got a tag and walked in, right by the two heavy-weight guards, one of whom was paid for with Saints money authorized by some Board member.

    Part two was Bob Falls excellent presentation. He held everyone's interest, answered all kinds of questions, and probably ran over the time that had been allotted, particularly considering the unnecessary delay getting people into the theater.

    Part three was the simultaneous rush of many attendees out of the theater to sign up for ushering and the attempt of about fifty attendees to open a discussion with BJ, and later, Andy and Linda, Board members, in an attempt to introduce into the meeting a dialog with the board. I thought the objective was perfectly logical, bringing up Saints business at a members meeting. The board members there didn't seem to understand that.

    Part four was a fiasco. When it was discovered (at the end of the Q & A session) that Ms. Isaacs was in the audience, and had a recording unit (which reporters frequently use now in lieu of or in addition to a note pad) the Board people and the guards confiscated her recorder. They pointed to the sign at the theater entrance that stated that no recording or photography was permitted in the theater.

    Apparently a one person majority on the board thinks Saints just want to usher and/or take advantage of theater perks...and as I heard BJ say, "they just don't care."

    I care.

    Paranoia prevails.

  6. As a director, I would apologize for what happened at the September membership meeting, but as the decision was not made by the board (only a part of it) and I was not asked and was not able to vote against this action, what good would my apology really do?

    But I pledge to the membership our best efforts to change this small group acting alone approach to your organization. Please stay involved as there is still much work to do, and very exciting changes anticipated. We do great work; we deserve as great a leadership team. And we will have it.

  7. On another note...

    The Saints grant program is funded, in part, by the proceeds from the annual raffle. As the benefit team is reaching out, your support of the raffle will be directly felt by our performing arts groups through our grant program. Last we gave $40,000 in grants, and a $1,000 gift to the Auditorium's elevator fundraising project (something from which not only the patrons but the ushers will certainly benefit.) If that isn't reason enough, the raffle prizes (typically donated by members, local businesses, and arts venues) are generous with many, many winners. Please consider donating prizes and buying raffle tickets.

    Thank you!