What The Heck Is The ARRL Board Thinking?


About a month ago, I received an email from the ARRL. Attached were minutes of a Special Board Meeting of the ARRL Board of Directors (http://www.kb6nu.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Minutes-of-Special-Board-Meeting-ARRL-Board-of-Directors-1.pdf) held by teleconference on Tuesday, November 14, 2017. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but after reading the minutes, I thought to myself, “What heck are these guys thinking?”

What the minutes document is the censure of Dick Norton, N6AA, for “criticizing publicly the collective action of the Board of Directors adopting said Code of Conduct[sic] and drawing the Board’s collective decision making into disrepute.” I won’t quote the whole thing here, but you can find the text on my website at http://www.kb6nu.com/heck-arrl-board-thinking/.

So, what is this ARRL Code of Conduct? It’s official name is the ARRL Policy on Board Governance and Conduct of Members of the Board of Directors and Vice Directors, and the board adopted this code at the January 20-21, 2017 board meeting. You can find this code on the ARRL website at http://www.arrl.org/files/file/ODV/ARRL Code of Conduct.pdf.

To be fair, this document does include some good things, such as acting responsibly when it comes to ARRL financial matters and treating ARRL staff with respect. What seems to be questionable, and the reason for N6AA’s censure, however, is Section 8 Support of Board Decisions. I won’t quote the entire section here, but basically what it says an ARRL board member must accept and publicly support board decisions, even if they voted it against it. If they express any dissenting opinion about a board decision, they can be censured, as N6AA was in this case.

In effect, this is a gag order on a director if he disagrees with a Board decision. Not only that, this section seems to say that once someone gets elected to the Board, his allegiance to the Board is more important than the views of the amateur radio operators he represents.

One of my Twitter followers put it this way, “Where else can those ostensibly in a position of representation of the organization’s members be punished for publicly criticizing the organization’s rules? US Congress? Parliament of the UK? No, and no. @arrl board is looking more like North Korea than a representative body.” Seriously, can you imagine if the U.S. Congress had such a policy in place?

What did Norton actually do?

I emailed Norton to find out what he said exactly to bring on this censure. Understandably, he was a little hesitant to speak to me directly. I then asked if I could see the supporting statements.
I then received two emails. The first was from Mark Weiss, K6FG. His email contained the text of an email he sent to the ARRL Board of Directors. A second contained an email sent to the board by Tim Duffy, K3LR, the owner of DX Engineering. Both emails supported N6AA, noting that he stated that he supported the board action and that any opposition came from the audience and not from Norton.

So, I go back to my original question. What the heck is the ARRL Board thinking, first in passing this draconian ARRL Policy on Board Governance and Conduct of Members of the Board of Directors and Vice Directors, and second in using it to censure a director, who, according to several accounts, didn’t commit the infraction in the first place? Are they so insecure in their decision-making that they have to resort to gag orders like this? Don’t they see that taking actions like this brings them more “disrepute” than an honest dissenting opinion?

If this situation angers you as much as it does me, I encourage you to contact your director and make your feelings known. One of my blog readers suggests that your message be “short, non-aggressive, and
to the point.” He suggested the following:

Dear [your director’s name here]

I am unhappy with both the ARRL Policy on Board Governance and Conduct of Member of the Board of Directors and Vice Directors (aka the “Code of Conduct”) and the N6AA censure.

I want to freely discuss issues with our directors. I want our directors to tell me where they stand, not where the board stands.

I want the directors to be free to express their opinions and to know how they voted.

I want directors to not fear censure.

Therefore, I urge the following immediate actions:
1. Modify the Code of Conduct to allow the above.
2. Revoke the N6AA censure.

[Your name and callsign go here.]

I hate to say this, but this is only the beginning. Some ARRL directors are planning to propose changes to the League’s Articles of Association and By-Laws at the board meeting in January 2018. These changes will make the ARRL even less democratic and more authoritarian.

As reported by CQ magazine (http://cqnewsroom.blogspot.com/2017/12/changes-proposed-to-arrl-governing.html), if these changes are enacted “the board of directors will be able to revoke League membership ‘for cause’ and to remove board members by revoking their League membership; lesser disciplinary actions against board members, such as censure, will be allowed without the member receiving advance notice or an opportunity to respond to allegations.” Another change will grant voting privileges to the president and three vice-presidents, even though these are appointed positions.

Again, I ask, what the heck is the ARRL board thinking? Do they really think that this is going to make the ARRL a stronger organization and a better advocate for amateur radio? If so, I’d like to hear their reasoning. ARRL membership has been declining for many years (as a percentage of licensed radio amateurs), and these moves are only going to accelerate that decline. I have already heard from many hams that they plan to let their ARRL membership lapse.

Please consider contacting your director today. It may already be too late to save the ARRL.

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