OTW 2013 Election update

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The following post was written by Elections Officer Eylul Dogruel to bring OTW members up-to-date results for the election in 2013 and on decisions made by the OTW Board in response to the lack of candidates standing.

Open seats and candidacies

The OTW Board of Directors is elected by the membership of the OTW, with one-third of the nine Board seats up for election every year. Thus, for 2013, there were three seats up for election. Two of these seats are held Ira Gladkova and Kristen Murphy, who will be completing their three-year terms at the end of this year. The remaining seat is currently vacant; it was previously held by Francesca Coppa and Maia Bobrowicz.

There is also a fourth vacant seat, one previously held by Julia Beck. Since this seat was last up for election in 2011, it will be up for election again in 2014.

All eligible OTW staffers received a message in early September, which notified them of their eligibility for Board and encouraged them to run. The deadline was the end of September, which was then extended by two weeks, at the end of which no candidates had come forward.

Is the OTW in trouble? Is there something going on?

The answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second question is somewhat involved.

One reason for the lack of director candidates this year is the eligibility requirements. The main requirement for eligibility to run for the Board of Directors is nine months' prior service as an OTW staffer. This requirement naturally limits the number of potential candidates.

Adding to the previous issue is that the OTW has been going through some long but needed transformations in its staffing process over the last year. The volunteer intake process has changed radically, and is now much more in line with non-profit best practices. Unfortunately what this also means is that there were no new staffers inducted for an almost six-month period from 2012 to 2013, and that even now many committees are understaffed and working on preparing to recruit, recruiting or training new staffers. These are very positive medium- and long-term developments, but in the short term they mean that experienced staffers are in especially short supply this year. As a matter of fact, several eligible staffers expressed interest in running for the Board in the future, but were concerned that leaving their committees or projects at this point would be too damaging.

Can't you relax/revise the eligibility requirements?

The Board considered this question in August 2013 after seeking input on it from OTW staffers. The conclusion that they came to, after considering staffers' opinions, was to leave the eligibility requirements in place. (However, they did clarify them so as to fit the revised staff and volunteer intake processes.) The OTW is a large and very complex organization that is very different from many other non-profits, and less than nine months' service on staff is simply not enough time to become familiar enough with the OTW's structure and workings. The decision was that allowing candidates to run for Board with less than that amount of experience and proven commitment would be detrimental to the Board and to the OTW as a whole.

Board decision and next steps

The Board of Directors has decided to make appointments to fill the three full term seats as candidates become available. In line with the previous board decision earlier this year concerning vacant seats, the fourth seat that has one year remaining will not be available for appointment. It is the consensus of the Board that appointing anyone to less than a two year term does not give them enough time to become familiar with the workload and expectations of being an OTW Director, and would be unfair both to appointees and the Board.

The Board is currently anticipating a more detailed process of introducing appointees to the OTW membership than with previous appointments. More details on this will be forthcoming soon. In the meantime, the Board encourages any staffer who is eligible for Board now or who will be eligible in 2014, and is thinking of running for a seat or who would like to be considered for an appointment, to reach out to the Elections Officer.

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Would it be possible to get an understanding of what work was or has been done by the Elections Officer/Board in this process to try to get a full slate of candidates aside from "We sent out a couple of e-mails around the time the election was supposed to happen"? I mean, we externally knew that recruiting was closed so obviously those within the organization knew as well. Was there any planning or discussion during that? When the new Elections Officer was appointed, were there any discussions or any planning about how to cultivate candidates knowing that this might be an issue?

It really seems like the OTW Board keeps saying "We don't have candidates because recruiting was closed" which honestly seems like a poor excuse considering that there was time to work on a solution (and the fact that I personally know some people who are a part of the OTW staff that have indicated other issues - the Board environment, the attitudes of specific Board members - that also contribute to their unwillingness to serve at this time). One of the responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors is cultivating new members of the board and it really seems like a disservice is being done for the members - especially those who pay for membership being promised a voice (albeit a small one) in the direction of the organization through the election process. At a time when the OTW has been making a lot of decisions that have polarized members and people who interact with the organziation, it is striking that the Board seems content with the idea of just selecting their own successors without giving members the opportunity to be heard in the one direct method available to them.

This comment has me thinking - if no one meets the eligibility requirements is willing to serve, you all are going to have to appoint people who don't meet the requirements anyway. Why not relax the requirements just for this election while the org is in transition and at least give members some say in who is on the Board? The org could certainly benefit from a contested election and it might help restore some faith in the OTW as a whole. It's also a more transparent way of operating and is more compliant with your bylaws (which do not specify the requirements above so those are actually an area where you have more flexibility than just skipping the election the bylaws state should happen annually).

The Board has no plans to appoint a candidate that doesn't fulfill the eligibility requirements. The crux of the problem is that we have people interested in running but that cannot leave their current projects and positions in time for the election. It doesn't mean that these people will not become available in upcoming months (some of them sooner).

I understand the frustration of the lack of candidates. However, it is also important to remember that candidates coming forward doesn't necessarily result in a contested election. If there were 3 or fewer candidates who came forward, there would still have been no contested election. What we are currently planning is to have the appointed candidates announced in advance in a way that is more similar to election periods that were not contested, rather than doing a straight appointment and announcing that.

I also would like to clarify that the election process did run as required by the bylaws: no candidates coming forward is a possible outcome, one that we are facing for the first time (and hopefully the last!), and most certainly not an outcome that any of us wants. The Board's current focus is to ensure that the process following this result can run with as much transparency as possible.

Can you explain the purpose/process of announcing the candidates before they're appointed? I see that's been done with Anna Genoese with no real explanation of how the process is working (which seems really strange and confusing). Is the purpose for people to ask questions and the Board will consider those questions and answers in making their final decision? Is it just a formality where the Board is just announcing the individuals ahead of the final appointment just to give people notification of an impending appointment? Would members, staff, volunteers, or others be able to or encouraged to contact the Board with their thoughts regarding a potential nominee before the Board votes? Also in the post with Anna's manifesto it says the vote will happen BY December 21, which seems very noncommittal in terms of a timeline, so if the point is for people to be able to question and offer feedback, then the date should probably be specific rather than vague to ensure that people actually get their input in before the vote takes place.

It probably would have been good to have a post that actually explained how this process is working as was promised at the end of this very post:

"The Board is currently anticipating a more detailed process of introducing appointees to the OTW membership than with previous appointments. More details on this will be forthcoming soon."

Our main goal in introducing the candidate in this way was to allow
the public to get to know them, both by providing information about
her and also by offering a period of time in which people could ask
questions. In addition, if people wish to make comments privately and not directly to the candidate, you can send them to
elections-chair@transformativeworks.org, and I will pass them on to
the OTW Board.

You are right that there is a vagueness on the date of voting, as well
as some of the processes, for which we apologize. Our main concern was to get information out as soon as possible in terms of what the OTW's situation was this year in terms of an election, while also coming to agreement internally as how this should be dealt with. Given that this was a circumstance that previous boards had not had to confront, this has caused additional delays and we realize that OTW members have been frustrated with the lack of news. There was also initially a question on what would be the end of the term for the board this year, and thus, how much time could be put between the nomination announcement and the vote and when a candidate could be expected to begin serving.

Many of these details have been sorted out now. The vote will
definitely take place on Dec 21st. As such, if anyone wants to give
board additional comments on the elections and candidate, these should be sent in by Dec 19 to give Board time to read them and factor those comments into their decision.

Eylul Dogruel
OTW Elections Officer

Of course. Several directors and I have been talking to various staffers whom we thought might be potential candidates, or people who did show interest in candidacy. Staffers were also encouraged to approach us if they were interested. We did have concerns that we were facing an election period for which we might have seats remaining vacant. However, based on our conversations with staff, we entered this election period thinking that we had at least some candidates. Due to existing projects taking longer than intended, and to several of these staffers taking on additional unforeseen work within the OTW, they were not able to commit to candidacy within the deadlines. Given these facts, we had to figure out a solution that didn't involve having these seats remaining vacant for three years. We are actually still in contact with several potential candidates. The appointments idea wasn't born in a vacuum: we're very invested in having eligible staffers who are considering becoming Directors join us.

To answer the second part of your question: in addition to being time-intensive, Board work can also be very stressful and challenging at times. This affects the number of people who might consider putting forward their candidacies (or coming to us to discuss a possible appointment). The time commitment in and of itself is a major obstacle: most of our staffers are currently involved with several projects across different committees, and it is a very difficult decision to add the responsibilities of joining Board on top of those. We are working on changes to make commitment more manageable. In the meantime, however, we particularly need Directors with energy and time available to help each other along this process, all the while keeping the OTW running as efficiently as possible.

With regards to the lack of candidates, this is a situation that we as Board are also concerned about, and have been trying to come up with solutions to. Unfortunately, the main thing we can do in this stage of transition is to give our support to committees as they invest energy in recruiting and training new staffers, and completing their projects, as well as documenting the Board's day-to-day tasks and procedures to better prepare candidates for what the workload will involve.

That graphic with a check in the 'Make Your Voice Heard' box followed by a post telling us we don't have one? Might want to reconsider that kind of thing in the future...

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