American Mensa Elections – 2015

(Skip down to a summary of my intended votes and recommended ballot if you prefer a tl;dr approach.)

Today is tax day, but it’s also the day that members of American Mensa will receive their ballots. (If you haven’t already, set a filter in your inbox so that mail from “noreply@directvote.net” pops to the top and is not sent to spam. That is the address that your ballot will come from if sent via email.)

American Mensa has been a wild ride for me over the past 12 months or so. I’m pretty much at a point where I feel done with the organization as anything but a member getting the most she can out of her life membership so it’s not an entirely wasted investment. I’m at that point not because American Mensa contains a few assholes; I’m at that point because the current board majority prefers to encourage and support those assholes at the expense of members and volunteers that actually add (or added) value to the organization. I’ve met some wonderful people via the org, and I still believe strongly in the power and value of those wonderful people. They give me hope. Ultimately, it is because of that belief that I feel this election is important and worth discussing here; that’s why I’m bothering to take the time both to vote and to write about voting.

I want the organization of American Mensa to be worthy of its wonderful members and volunteers. I want it to be an organization I once again feel proud to support with my money, time, and energy. If you are a candidate who gets elected, whether I supported you or not, I ask that you consider how important it is that a social organization not feel hostile to its members, that it not be a place where people hesitate to lead or volunteer in any capacity because of the near-inevitable harassment they will suffer online and in person. I ask that you put measures in place to protect the privacy of leaders and volunteers as well as take action against those who misuse Mensa resources (including but not limited to mailing lists, directories, gatherings, and online forums and groups) to harass and bully members in ways both internal and external to the organization. I ask you to gather and review data about the membership, take ownership of it, and be transparent both internally and externally about what it indicates about the health and diversity of the organization both at a point in time and over time. Of course, there’s more than this, but this is my main/top voting issue for the election, because I think it’s the most important issue we’re facing.

In making out my ballot, I considered a lot of information. I considered candidate sites. In some cases, I asked candidates for their opinions directly, where their site or prior actions or posts didn’t make it clear. I considered the recommendations posted here; I trust Robin’s opinions strongly, and I think that post is worth a read. I considered recommendations posted by others on Facebook and elsewhere. And finally, I considered the statements posted by candidates and the content of the amendments under consideration.

How Mensa Elections Work

For offices where more than two candidates are running, you will rank the candidates. You are not obligated to vote for more than one candidate for each office. Your second (and third or fourth, if applicable) choice will be used in the case of a run-off. Robin explains this better than I can, so I’m quoting her post here (with permission):

There is a rule that you must vote in the first “conceptual” election of the preferential election. There is no rule that you must cast a vote in all three or four. Effectively, you’re opting not to vote in the second and third elections if it came down to a run-off.

So say I really want Alice to win, and Bob is a decent second choice. I’d shoot myself if Charlie wins, so I vote 1 for Alice, 2 for Bob, and not at all for Charlie. Turns out Alice came in third in the first round… now what?

If Alice came in third, then it’s between Bob and Charlie in a second round of counting, and Bob gets my second preference choice/vote in that round of counting, in that “run-off” election. ?In this instance, my lack of a preference for Charlie would not come into play until a third round of voting if they couldn’t achieve 50%+ in the second round.

If I only see value in Alice (and not the other two candidates) and Alice doesn’t make it to a second round of voting, then neither Bob nor Charlie gets my vote in that counting. Voting only for Alice might inadvertently help Charlie simply by not boosting Bob’s votes higher.

My votes, as you will see below, consider this voting schema. You will notice that I am intentionally only voting for a subset of candidates in some cases, and I’m providing my preferred ranking where applicable. Explanations of my votes follow. (You can skip down to a summary if you prefer a tl;dr approach.)

Chair – 1. Nick Sanford, 2. Deb Stone (No third selection.)

First, don’t vote for Dan Burg. Just don’t. Not even as a second or third choice. There are many, many reasons that I don’t support him, but at the very least, he’s the leader that has gotten us where we are now. There is no reason to keep him in office. Between Nick and Deb, I support Nick. I considered not even putting Deb as a second choice. Why? I’ve heard many great things about Deb, but she has stated clearly that she thinks bullying and harassment is the problem of the victim, not the perpetrator. She seems to be voicing the “have a thicker skin” approach, which is quite honestly both naive and reductive. It’s also basically the system we’ve had in place for years now, and it isn’t working. On data alone, it should be dismissed. The only reason she is getting my second rank vote is that I don’t want Dan back in office.

I’m not going to say or claim that Nick has a proven track record on this issue; he doesn’t. But, I don’t fault him for not acting on it as Treasurer. That’s not part of the Treasurer’s duties. What he did as treasurer was increase transparency and consider issues based on data, and if he does similar behavior regarding this issue, I’m convinced he’ll do well for the organization. When asked about plans, Nick said honestly that he didn’t know what the right approach might be but that he agreed it was a key problem and issue. He has a code of conduct and enforcement of such in his “unvetted ideas”, and I think that’s exactly the right place for it for an unelected chair.

Nick Sanford has my absolute and firm support. My vote for Deb in second place is a vote against Dan, should there be a run-off.

1VC – Mary Lee Kemper

One of the concerns about Nick as chair is financial; some members have concerns that he will be too spendy or too willing to spend on outside vendors vs. using Mensa volunteers. (I am actually in favor of using trained staff and vendors where they have more expertise or can be more efficient. I think Mensa financially undervalues the cost of volunteers.) If you have that concern about Nick but share my concerns about Deb, vote for Nick and vote for Mary Lee as 1VC to both keep finances in check and strongly represent the view of using volunteers.

Re: Heather, among hearing things from others, I also saw several cases where she supported AMC actions I disagree with and has written statements in support of amendments I oppose.

2VC – John Neemidge

Honestly, this is more of a vote against “status quo” than anything else, because both are good candidates. LaRae represents the status quo, but I do think under a different chair and with a supportive board, she’d make good decisions. I have met John briefly, and I’ve heard terrific things about him. I worry that he may rely too much on volunteers (see my notes under 1VC), but I think he comes in with the right experience set and a good outside perspective. He has held leadership in a strong and well-functioning local group. I think that’s the equivalent when it comes to pros and cons of a governor running for office vs. a senator. I will also say that, like Mary Lee for 1VC, if you have those financial concerns about Nick, John will balance those out.

Secretary – 1. Lori Norris, 2. Nancy Farrar (no third vote)

This is another toss-up, at least between the two I’m selecting. Both are excellent candidates. I’m leaning for Lori because of her firm reliance on data-based decision-making. Regarding Andrew, he has supported decisions within the board and signed his name to statements from the board that I disagree with, when others chose not to. It’s another case where, with a better chair, he might be great, but he also represents the status quo. Nothing I read from him made me suspect that he would do anything more than keep the same thing going.

Treasurer – 1. Rob Salkin, 2. Ken Silver (no third or fourth vote)

There are four candidates in this election. I’m voting for two. If neither of them win, I honestly don’t care between the other two. I support Rob as a candidate because I know him personally, and I know he’ll bring a desire for data-driven decisions, frugality, and membership focus to the job. I support Ken because his statement is spot-on; he’s a bean counter who will be good at diving into the details of the task. I support Rob over Ken because it’s a voting position, and I think Rob’s POV more closely aligns with my own.

As for the other two candidates, one has no experience (not even local group office) and the other is reportedly a bit too “shoot from the hip” for this particular role.

RVCs

I’m voting for SueAnn Gilmore in my region, because I think she’s best for the job. She has certainly taken a more active approach to the election than her opponent, and everything she has said convinces me that she will act in the best interests of the organization. She was also the target of online harassment as a result of her nomination and thus has first-hand experience with how prevalent and damaging it can be.

As for other regions, even though I have no vote, I do have opinions. I would vote Tasha “Taz” Criss for Region 6, as she and I agree on many issues. I would vote Thomas G. Thomas in Region 10, mostly as a vote against his opponent. His opponent tacitly, if not explicitly, supports and endorses harassment in the AMF/AMH groups and is firmly in the “suck it up and deal with it” mindset. Thomas’ opponent also advocates separating Mensa into subgroups (separate but equal?) as a strategy to deal with what he views as differing opinions but which most reasonable people view as harassment and bullying. I think that’s a band-aid that fractures the membership rather than bringing us together as a community.

Amendments
Holy crap, there’s a lot of this. 🙂 I did read through all of them, and it’s amusing to read through the statements for each if nothing else. I’m going to voice a few opinions here on what are the key issues for all of these amendments and check the summary for votes associated with these opinions.

  • Role of Ombudsman/Powers of Ombudsman – Wow, the board really screwed up with this. Again, Robin summed it up pretty well. All I really have to add is that if I were in any way inclined to disempower the Ombudsman, this would not be the year or time I’d do it. The board does not have my trust right now, and they need to earn it back before removing power from a role designated to be a balance on the system. Further, in a group where personal behavior causes issues, the role of the Ombudsman has never been more important. Ultimately, the membership is seeing a lot of dirty laundry in this election because of a personal spat between some members of the board and this one particular ombudsman. Reacting to that by making large changes to the role is the wrong reaction.
  • Trust in the board – Your vote on a lot of these amendments will come down to whether you trust the current board or not. I don’t. If you do, I suggest you do your own research here rather than relying on mine, because we may differ. But, nowhere is the shadiness of the current board more apparent than in the Amendment 1 “omnibus” where they try to bury substantive changes along with functional ones. I’m sure our by-laws need updating. I’m willing to wait for a different board to do it for the minor stuff. It is telling that breaking up the omnibus was requested, and Dan Burg shot it down. Dan Burg has relied for years on the apathy of the membership. He knows a lot of members will blindly accept something that seems clerical. Prove him wrong.
  • Whether appointed officers should vote – This is a tough one. I agree with points made on both sides. However, ultimately, I don’t agree with the chair’s nominations having voting power in this way. Imagine if the secretaries of state, defense, etc. voted in the Senate. Now, imagine that they carried 1/5 of the vote. On one hand, I completely agree that they’re experts on critical issues and should have a voice. I don’t think that voice should be a vote. I believe their role is to contribute their expertise vocally, and it’s the role of the board to listen to them and act on that considering multiple factors.
  • Past Chairs as AMC members – This practice of Mensa’s–the continued “office” of past chairs–is a terrible one. It stagnates the organization, and it’s not worth our money.
  • Election procedures – I think reform is needed here, but I think removing the NomComm entirely is an overstep. It has value for finding candidates, but I do agree that once a candidate is put up, the value is done. It should not be called out or matter further who came from NomComm vs. petition. I’m mixed on the change for number of signatures, but honestly, I think name recognition and statements will balance out “any old Joe Schmoe” running for office. As for reducing the time between NomComm and election time, heck no. There is absolutely no reason to do that except to cut off the time for petition candidates and to reduce the time for the membership to hear views and meet the candidates (virtually or in person). As for requiring 1VC and 2VC to have AMC experience, the point of the 1VC and 2VC positions largely is to let them get experience in preparation for being chair. Oh, and if this board has taught us anything, it’s that we need a recall procedure. As for increasing the petition signatures, I’m not sure it’s necessary, and even if it is, there’s too many other things that interweave with this for it to be something I vote in favor of right now.
  • AV Recording of Meetings – Knowing what is happening at an AMC meeting shouldn’t be a privilege left to the few who can afford the time and/or money to attend. It again speaks to the failings of past leadership that this isn’t already happening programmatically. The event should be streamed and available for review on YouTube or similar.
  • Notice of dues changes – to quote Rob Salkin’s Pro statement, “This is an amendment that shouldn’t be required, but it is.” Mainly, it’s required because the current board has abused the vague wording.

Ballot/Voting Summary

AMC Positions:
Where preferential voting is permitted and no rank is given, I am not voting for the person (even as last ranked choice).

  • Chair – 1. Nick Sanford, 2. Deb Stone
  • 1VC – Mary Lee Kemper
  • 2VC – John Neemidge
  • Secretary – 1. Lori Norris, 2. Nancy Farrar
  • Treasurer – 1. Rob Salkin, 2. Ken Silver
  • RVC6 – Tasha “Taz” Criss
  • RVC8 (MWW/Seattle, i.e., the one I vote in) – SueAnn Gilmore
  • RVC10 – Thomas G. Thomas
  • Other RVCs – No clear preference from me

Amendments:

  1. The “Omnibus” replacement of by-laws in entirety – NO (too broad, needs to be broken up)
  2. Non-Voting Membership of AMC (appointees can’t vote) – YES (but I’m torn on this)
  3. Voting Membership of AMC (removal of past chairs from AMC) – YES
  4. Recall elections – YES
  5. Eliminate NomComm – NO (good thought, too broad)
  6. Election Signatures (increase to 250) – NO (not the right time, insufficient support data)
  7. Candidate Selection Timing (reduction) – NO
  8. Nominees for 1VC, etc. (must have AMC experience) – NO (perpetuates old guard/stagnation)
  9. AMC meetings (communication of) – NO (good intention, not good practice
  10. AV Recordings (of AMC meetings) – YES
  11. Duties and Responsibilities of Ombudsman (AMC’s amendment) – NO
  12. Restore Powers of Ombudsman (increase ombudsman power) – YES (but I’m torn on this)
  13. Annual Dues (notice of changes) – YES

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