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DAVID ROSMAN: Protect mid-Missouri's American Civil Liberties Union chapter

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:16 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

There are a few things out in the real world that seem to upset individuals for no particular reason whatsoever. There are people who dislike others just because they can’t agree on politics, religion, the law, the Constitution or which high school is better.

For example, some see the American Civil Liberties Union as a bunch of wild-eyed liberal lunatics who only protect lesbians and gays, criminals and hate groups. I can see where they get that position, but these same men and women do not seem to know what the ACLU does.

OK, most members, but not all, are liberal, but they all are patriots.

From the national website, the ACLU explains that it is “our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.” This includes First Amendment rights, equal protection and due process and a citizen’s right to privacy.

Yes, the ACLU represented Nazis and other hate groups. But these lawsuits also allow the anti-abortion groups to protest outside of Planned Parenthood facilities. The ACLU represents those who want school-sanctioned prayer eliminated, while protecting one’s right as an individual to pray in school. It also fights to keep from censoring LGBT websites in the Camdenton R-III school district on school computers, which would allow full access to tea party activist sites.

As a member of the ACLU, I believe it does a lot of good. I do not always agree with the ACLU’s position, but its work is, without question, patriotic.

One issue coming up to vote next Saturday at the annual ACLU of Eastern Missouri meeting in St. Louis concerns the survival of the mid-Missouri chapter as a viable group. A proposal made by Executive Director Brenda Jones would strip the chapter from having its own board of directors, thus ending its autonomous status and possibly removing the chapter’s right to participate at board meetings. This action would apply to the mid-Missouri chapter, not the student chapters within the ACLU of Eastern Missouri district. This would affect almost 325 members in central Missouri, and only those 325 members.

It is actions such as this that create a greater tiff within an organization. Republican moderates are seeing the same type of action being forced upon them by the conservative activists who now appear to be running the GOP: Get rid of those who do not agree. By any means necessary.

Why does the ACLU of Eastern Missouri chapter want to take this action? Dan Viets, president of the mid-Missouri chapter, said in a May 13 letter that there was no apparent reason. Viets wrote, “That has been no significant disagreement between the Chapter and the Affiliate. …” And if Viets’ position is correct, that means the ACLU of Eastern Missouri wants to all but disenfranchise the chapter’s 325 members and the mid-Missouri board does not want that to take place.

So what is the action plan? On June 18, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri is having its annual meeting to elect board members and to change the bylaws. The mid-Missouri chapter will be carpooling to St. Louis to attend the meeting. The purpose is two-fold. First, the mid-Missouri chapter has a slate of candidates for the board elections who support the mission of the mid-Missouri chapter to maintain their independence. The second purpose is to defeat the changes in the bylaws removing the chapter’s autonomy.

Viets and the members of the mid-Missouri chapter are understandably quite upset and want you to help the ACLU of Mid-Missouri to defeat this attempted demise of the Chapter. Although last Saturday’s meeting of the local chapter had about 20 people attend, it is your voice the ACLU of Eastern Missouri needs to hear. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and tea party activists all must speak up.

If you are an ACLU member, please join Dan Viets and others for the ride to St. Louis. If you are not a member, call Brenda Jones in St. Louis and tell her the proposal to remove the chapter’s autonomy is wrong. Remember, the constitutional rights the ACLU protects are not limited to liberals, criminals and hate groups, but they are for all – liberals, conservatives, anarchists and moderates alike.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.

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Comments

Paul Allaire June 15, 2011 | 1:41 a.m.

That sounds like quite a power play and seems most uncharacteristic of the organization. The organization obviously would be hurt by the action, which leads me to think that one or a few people have decided to put their own interests first.

I suppose more details could be forthcoming.

If you can find out more, please add the information.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 15, 2011 | 7:31 a.m.

More information would be good here. It could be something as mundane as consolidating to cut expenses. Non-profits tend to take a beating in slow economic times.

DK

(Report Comment)
Maggie Taylor June 15, 2011 | 11:11 a.m.

I agree with Mr. Allaire, this seems very uncharacteristic. I am an ACLU member and got an email recently about this meeting. So after seeing this article I went to the website and read up on the changes to the bylaws and it all makes perfect sense to me. The allegation that the chapter will be dismantled is just not true! I'm wondering why this author didn't call the ACLU or even check the website??? That is very irresponsible. There is a rationale published for the chapter structure change along with a FAQ. All the information is there and clearly shows that chapters aren't being dissolved but just the structure is changed to allow the ACLU to be more effective and to expand further into MO. This seems to have nothing to do with Mid-MO in particular. I suggest you all read for yourselves and not fall into the web that appears is being spun by someone who is more concerned about his individual sense of power and importance then the organization as a whole. I feel very mislead by the Mr. Rosman and Mr. Viets so I will be driving to St. Louis on Saturday and voting against his candidates and IN SUPPORT of the bylaw revisions. I encourage others in Mid-Mo to do the same because I now have very serious doubts about the trustworthiness and motivation of our Mid-MO leadership. I care about the work the ACLU does, that is why I joined. These changes are clearly aimed at making the ACLU work smarter and better and to be more effective. Read for yourself: http://www.aclu-em.org/events/calendar/

(Report Comment)
Thomas Hayde June 15, 2011 | 11:54 a.m.

Information is sorely lacking from this column. Mr. Rosman apparently prefers misinformation, speculation and vague innuendo.
Mr. Rosman writes: "And if Viets’ position is correct, that means the ACLU of Eastern Missouri wants to all but disenfranchise the chapter’s 325 members..."
Mr. Viets' position is inaccurate. Mr. Rosman casually asks “Why does the ACLU of Eastern Missouri chapter [sic] want to take this action?” Mr. Rosman recklessly suggests, without any support, that it is to purge political adversaries; then in the next breath admits Viets himself says there is no disagreement afoot, then he carelessly leaves that most important question unanswered.
As current Vice-President of the Board of Trustees of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, and a committee member of the Bylaws Task Force that studied this issue over several months and recommended the changes to the affiliate Board, I can help to clear up the record.
Most importantly, the 325 ACLU members who live in the greater Columbia area will not be “disenfranchised.” They are now, and will continue to be, members of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri (“ACLU-EM”). Anyone living in the geographical boundaries of the ACLU-EM and who joins the national ACLU organization automatically becomes a member of the ACLU-EM.
The Mid-MO Chapter will live on. It will no longer have its own separate governance board responsible for fundraising, budgeting and a whole host of other administrative duties. It will instead have a Steering Committee–much like the Board it has now–that will, working with the ACLU-EM affiliate staff and Board, help to set direction and prioritize the agenda for the protection of the Bill of Rights in mid-Missouri.
This is not the proposal of a single person. Last fall, the ACLU-EM Board–32 individuals elected by the affiliate membership to have the responsibility to protect and promote the ACLU’s mission in eastern Missouri–created a task force to study whether changes to the Affiliate bylaws should be recommended to the membership at this year’s annual meeting. The task force met monthly. We studied papers on what are considered best practices in board governance, in particular non-profit governance. We studied the bylaws of most of the other state affiliates of the ACLU across the nation, many of which have already taken the very action proposed here to improve the ACLU’s work and promote flexible growth throughout all areas of their own states. We vigorously debated the merits of each of the proposed changes, and adopted them as our report. In April, the task force presented its report to the Board. Over two meetings and several hours of debate, the Board adopted the task force’s recommended changes by overwhelming majorities.
The picture painted by Mssrs. Viets and Rosman is inaccurate and unfortunate. I urge anyone who is interested to review the materials available at the affiliate website, at http://www.aclu-em.org/events/calendar/.

(Report Comment)
Dan Viets June 15, 2011 | 7:10 p.m.

This has nothing to do with the budget. Despite being promised a staff person years ago, it has never happened. We receive almost no money from the Eastern Missouri Affiliate in St. Louis.
The official ACLU/EM site is very misleading. In fact, according to a staff Memo published in March, if these changes pass, the Mid-Mo Chapter will no longer have a Board, as Tom Hayde points out in another comment here. What he does not say is that our "steering committee" would be chosen solely by the Exec Director in St. Louis! We would no longer have our own Bylaws nor would we even set our own agenda. The ED will dictate our actitivies. We will be reduced to a "programmatic unit".
However, because the University, and most colleges, will not allow a student group to be run this way, the ED now says that student chapters, like the one at the MU Law School, will retain their independence, but not non-student Chapters!
Another proposed Bylaw change would deprive all ACLU members of any vote on future Bylaw changes. If that passes, the EM Board will be able to do away with membership election of Board members. Like many non-profits, the Board could become self-perpetuating. The membership will have no way of vetoing any such change. I call that significant disenfranchisement!
The stated goals have absolutely nothing to do with the proposed means of achieving them. It does not gain anything for the ACLU to destroy its most active Chapter's autonomy. There has not been any serious disagreement between the St. Louis Board and ours, until now!

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 15, 2011 | 7:29 p.m.

That sounds like quite a power play and seems most uncharacteristic of the organization. The organization obviously would be hurt by the action, which leads me to think that one or a few people have decided to put their own interests first. (refrain)

Thanks for the more information. Now I would actually like some speculation.

Why do you suppose the ED is doing this?
Who is the ED?

(Report Comment)
John Coffman June 15, 2011 | 8:52 p.m.

How in the world can the ACLU justify stripping its members of voting rights? How hypocritical. They shold practice what they preach. I usually agree with the ACLU, but this is beyond the pale.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Hall June 15, 2011 | 11:42 p.m.

Many of the arguments advanced by Mr. Viets and Mr. Rosman are very misleading. As a member of the Board of Trustees of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, I would like to clarify a few points.

First, the Bylaws Amendments were not proposed by the Executive Director as they claim. They were proposed by the Bylaws Task Force and endorsed by the Board of Trustees. The repeated assertion that the ED proposed these amendments is simply inaccurate.

Second, the proposal does not affect “only those 325 members” living in mid-Missouri. The amendment would restructure chapter rules for the entire ACLU-EM. It is true that the Mid-Missouri chapter is our “most active Chapter” and it is the only non-student chapter that would be affected by the proposal. That is because it is the only non-student chapter in existence! Our current rules are so cumbersome that no non-student chapter has been created in decades. After forty years of failing to create a non-student chapter, I think it’s time to try a new approach.

So let’s be clear about what the proposal would and would not do. The amendment would remove a lot of bureaucratic hoops. Forming a chapter would no longer require a minimum number of members, approval from the Board, the creation of bylaws, or the election of an executive committee. The proposal DOES NOT require the ED to “solely” choose the chapter’s leadership or “dictate” the chapter’s activities, it DOES NOT treat student chapters differently from non-student chapters, and it DOES NOT bring about “the demise” of any chapter.

The old rules are so complicated I can’t list all seven subsections. But the new rules are so simple I can quote them in their entirety: “Chapters are programmatic units created to advance the ACLU’s work in communities and enhance its state-wide presence. They are organized upon approval of the Executive Director and work under supervision of the Affiliate.”

This proposal allows maximum flexibility. You want a chapter, but you don’t want to deal with bureaucratic nonsense? No problem. You want a chapter with only 20 people? No problem. You want to start a chapter quickly? No problem. You want a chapter that operates differently than others? No problem. This is a diverse state, and we live in a fast-paced world. We can’t afford to be burdened with unnecessarily rigid rules that inhibit our progress.

Mr. Viets and Mr. Rosman are right about one thing: there has been no disagreement between the chapter and affiliate. This reform is not about anything that petty. The amendments are an attempt to build flexibility into a cumbersome, arcane, and failed process so that the ACLU-EM can expand its reach and impact throughout the state. I encourage the membership to approve the new plan. Hopefully, with a new, flexible process, we will have more success at creating chapters in the next four decades than we have in the last four.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 16, 2011 | 12:46 a.m.

"Chapters are programmatic units created to advance the ACLU’s work in communities and enhance its state-wide presence. They are organized upon approval of the Executive Director and work under supervision of the Affiliate."

That sounds like quite a power play and... (refrain)

Gee, I would really be interested in being part of a programmatic unit created to advance the work of the ACLU and work under supervision of "the Affiliate". Can you hear me? THANK YOU SIR MAY I HAVE ANOTHER!!!

"This proposal allows maximum flexibility. You want a chapter, but you don’t want to deal with bureaucratic nonsense? No problem. You want a chapter with only 20 people? No problem. You want to start a chapter quickly? No problem. You want a chapter that operates differently than others? No problem. This is a diverse state, and we live in a fast-paced world. We can’t afford to be burdened with unnecessarily rigid rules that inhibit our progress."

Then why have ANY supervision? Something is missing in your smooth smooth explanation.

"Mr. Viets and Mr. Rosman are right about one thing: there has been no disagreement between the chapter and affiliate. This reform is not about anything that petty. The amendments are an attempt to build flexibility into a cumbersome, arcane, and failed process so that the ACLU-EM can expand its reach and impact throughout the state."

That's funny. I seem to read a whole lot of disagreement here. Let's see. Mr. Viets is an advocate for the elimination of most petty laws that pertain to drugs and sex, among other things. I'm supposed to believe that, aside from that, he is intent on stifling his own organization with a "cumbersome, arcane, and failed process"?

Possibly you can explain to me why he would want to do that.

I'm going to throw our one of your most possible answers before you give it... "Mr. Viets does not understand the proposal."

However, Mr Viets is a lawyer and a fairly competent one at the minimum, and a concerned one as well. So I guess that he has read the proposal and that he is more than capable of understanding it. If this was all ice cream and cake like you just painted I'm sure he would indulge.

Something is missing. And I'm not counting on you to divulge what that is.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 16, 2011 | 6:38 a.m.

More heat than light?

(Report Comment)
John Coffman June 16, 2011 | 6:54 a.m.

I wish that the comments here would directly address the main issue at stake: voting rights. It is not only the Mid-Missouri Chapter that would lose its voting rights. If the proposed amendments to the bylaws pass, then the entire ALCU of Eastern Missouri membership will lose the right to vote on any future bylaw changes. The elimination of these rights are proposed for an organization that usually fights for voting rights and stands up for 'local control'.

Sure democracy is messy sometimes, but the ACLU loses its moral authority when it fails to act consistently with its own democratic values.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 16, 2011 | 12:17 p.m.

That's odd. The voting rights must be insignificant. Otherwise Matthew Hall, Thomas Hayde, or Maggie Taylor would have been sure to mention it.

Right?

But I didn't read about it in any of their discussions. So voting must be an unimportant thing to those who are concerned about civil liberties.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 16, 2011 | 12:49 p.m.

"The allegation that the chapter will be dismantled is just not true!" says Maggie Taylor.

I just lifted this from the "questions and answers" portion of the link she provided.

Read below:

1. Question
How will chapters function when they are no longer governed by a chapter board?
Answer
The Board of Trustees will create a new policy detailing the purpose of chapters, how they are formed, operation standards, chapter leadership, and the affiliate’s relationship to chapters.
2. Question
Will this redefinition dissolve existing chapters?
Answer
No. Existing chapters would remain in place and operate according to policies developed by the Board.
3. Question
Can’t the goals intended by this change be met within the existing structure?
Answer
No. The goal of building a cohesive presence throughout Eastern Missouri is incompatible with the current model in which chapters operate as “mini-affiliates” and may or may not agree to work on the Affiliate’s priorities. In order to meet its ambitious program, membership, and financial goals, the Affiliate needs authority to organize chapters around specific priorities and set standards for operations.

Isn't that nice? Now a board of trustees will detail for everyone what is the purpose of each chapter, how it is formed, it's leadership, and "the affiliate's" relationship with the chapter. That will relieve everybody of their responsibility for critical thoughts!!! Someone should have done that a long time ago!

And I see from further reading that not only will the existing chapters be allowed to still exist, they now will be allowed to operate according to the policies that are to be developed by "the board". That sure causes me on hefty sigh of relief!!!

And this part here is so important that it bears repeating...

"Can’t the goals intended by this change be met within the existing structure?
Answer
No. The goal of building a cohesive presence throughout Eastern Missouri is incompatible with the current model in which chapters operate as “mini-affiliates” and may or may not agree to work on the Affiliate’s priorities. In order to meet its ambitious program, membership, and financial goals, the Affiliate needs authority to organize chapters around specific priorities..."

Remember that everyone needs to sacrifice a little freedom (or a lot) in order to meet "it's ambitious program and goals" The "Affiliate" needs some authority. And gawd knows that authority is what civil liberties are all about.

Right?

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 16, 2011 | 12:58 p.m.

And it just now occurred to me that it didn't mention what the "specific priorities" of the affiliate actually were.

No matter?

Who are the small players to concern themselves with such petty things as the reason why they volunteer?

I can hear the creature speaking now from under the rock.

"Trust Me"

"TRUUUST MEE"

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 16, 2011 | 1:18 p.m.

Is there an ACLU of Western Missouri that the Columbia chapter could affiliate with instead?

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 16, 2011 | 8:21 p.m.

ACLU/EM BYLAWS

Section 1

C. AFFILIATION. The ACLU/EM shall be the affiliate of the ACLU in the geographical area served by the ACLU/EM, retaining however, full independence of action.

D. JURISDICTION. The geographical jurisdiction of the ACLU/EM will be roughly the eastern half of Missouri, the exact boundaries to be determined by the Board of Trustees in conjunction with neighboring ACLU affiliates and National ACLU.

Section II

A. INCLUSION. All dues paying members of the National ACLU within the geographical area served by the ACLU/EM shall automatically be members of the ACLU/EM...

So then John, it looks like the answer is "NO".

It is interesting to note that in section I. C. that the writer of this felt it was important to specify that the ACLU/EM retains "full independence of action." That is a stark contrast with what is specified for the local chapter.

"Can’t the goals intended by this change be met within the existing structure?
Answer
No. The goal of building a cohesive presence throughout Eastern Missouri is incompatible with the current model in which chapters operate as “mini-affiliates” and may or may not agree to work on the Affiliate’s priorities. In order to meet its ambitious program, membership, and financial goals, the Affiliate needs authority to organize chapters around specific priorities..."

Obviously independence of action is desirable on the level which this set of changes to the bylaws was written. It is just not acceptable on any lower level. Obviously the Executive Director knows what is best for all the members.

Someone should move to have Brenda Jones impeached. Then they should do the same with Thomas Hayde. Then they should do the same with Matthew Hall and the rest of his board of trustees.

Flexibility, my foot. POWER GRAB.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 17, 2011 | 10:00 a.m.

And please don't think that I forgot about poor Maggie Taylor. What I gathered from reading her snippet is that she is, was, and never will be important enough to be impeached. I will, however, consider recommending her being sent.... to IRAQ!!!

(Report Comment)

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