Against the Proposed San Francisco
Regional Mensa Bylaws Revisions

Kevin Langdon

Voting on Bylaws revisions has been delayed due to difficulties in meeting
certain requirements imposed by the AMC. A revised version of this document
will be made available when it is time to vote on the next version of the revisions.

 

The August 2000 issue of the San Fransisco Regional Mensa Intelligencer contained a draft of a substantial revision of SFRM's existing Bylaws, offered for an all-or-nothing vote. I believe that a "no" vote is the better choice at the present time. I will explain my reasoning below.

Many of the proposed changes contained in this revision of our Bylaws are sensible and unobjectionable, and I believe that they have been drafted and presented to us in good faith, but there's a problem with some of the provisions of this document: they erode SFRM's tradition of democracy and member rights in several places (specifics below).

The idea that officers should act as policemen, judges, and juries is a pernicious one, in my opinion. No man should be given power over another; all power over individuals should be exercised collectively. This means that representative government is unacceptable when it comes to doing the organizational dirty work of disciplining members.

This draft, on the whole, moves us farther along the road to centralized, top-down governance, and thus I urge a "no" vote. Let's make some changes, along the lines indicated below, and get it right next time.


Detailed commentary:


Text being deleted is shown by strikeout type; text being added is shown in boldface.

> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                            San Francisco Regional Mensa Bylaws

[Article I and the first few sections of Article II are not reproduced here; I see no problem with them.]

        Article II. Membership, Privileges, and Responsibilities

                                                .   .  .

        Section 4. Responsibilities

        A. Every Mensa member participating in SFRM activities, and every member of SFRM, shall, at
        the Ombudsman's request, cooperate fully with any investigation by the Ombudsman.

I do not believe that any duties whatsoever should be imposed on members in our Bylaws. Mensa exists for its members, rather than the other way around. (However, if this stupid provision is retained, deleting the word "fully" is a step in the right direction.)

        Section 5. Problems

        A. No member shall be subject to Hearings Committee discipline until at least three (3)
        separate complaints about the member's behavior have been filed with the Ombudsman.


This doesn't make any sense. Suppose there's only one complaint--and it's for attempted rape!

        Behaviors that shall be grounds for complaint may include but shall not necessarily
        be limited to:

        i. Drunkenness or druggedness.


What people do to alter their awareness is none of Mensa's business unless objectionable behavior results or others are placed legally at risk without their consent.

        ii. Criminal behavior such as assault, theft, drug dealing, vandalism, etc.

        iii. Persistent aggressive social behavior which has been previously rejected by another
        member of either the same or opposite sex, or a guest (of either the same or opposite
        sex) of a member.


This is clumsy: "Persistently aggressive social behavior directed toward another person after being informed that this behavior is unwelcome."

        iv. Personal hygiene issues to the extent that the member offends the sensibilities of
        other event attendees.


This is what, in a different context, would be called "unconstitutionally vague." There must be some reference to a standard of reasonableness.

        B. Each complaint must be in writing and must include acknowledgment that a false
        accusation shall be considered an act inimical to Mensa and any member intentionally
        making a false accusation may be subject to action by an SFRM or a national Hearings
        Committee and by the AMC.

        C. On receipt of the third complaint about the same behavioral trait, the Ombudsman
        shall notify the other elected officers that a problem exists.


And here's where the real trouble begins. The officers are put in the position of passing judgement. I do not believe that we should give any individual or small group of individuals power over individual members; it is antidemocratic and demeaning.

It is especially troubling that the Ombudsman is involved in this process. A member accused of misconduct is particularly vulnerable to possible irregularities affecting his membership rights, and therefore needs to be free to avail himself of the services of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman must not have a conflict of interest in these matters.

Also, it makes little sense to weigh the gravity of complaints by counting them.

         i. A majority of all of the elected officers, excluding the subject of the complaints if s/he
        is one of the elected officers, shall tentatively (cf. Article II.Section 5.E) appoint a five (5)
        member Hearings Committee to investigate the complaints and recommend suitable action.


What happens when a complaint has to do with the actions of the officers collectively?

It is a very bad idea to have the officers passing judgement on whether members' conduct warrants a hearing and appointing members of the Hearings Commitee, because this shouldn't be in the hands of the officers in the first place and because having these two functions in the same hands creates a conflict of interest. This in itself is sufficient reason to vote "no" on the proposed Bylaws revision.

        ii. The elected officers making the tentative appointments shall verify that each appointee
        shall be available to carry out the duties of the Hearings Committee before making the
        appointments.

        D. The accused member and all complainants shall be notified in writing within five (5)
        calendar days of the tentative appointments, such notification to include at a minimum:

        i. What the subject of the complaints is accused of.

        ii. Who the complainants are.

        iii. The proposed membership of the Hearings Committee.

        iv. Rights and obligations of the accused and all complainants with respect to the matter
        at hand.

        v. Deadlines.

        E. Any of the proposed members of the Hearings Committee may be challenged by either
        the accused or by any of the complainants for bias or other good cause.

        i. Challenges must be filed in writing with the LocSec and/or Ombudsman within fifteen
        (15) calendar days following notification of all parties involved as specified in Article
        II.Section 5.D and must be considered by the other members of the Hearings Committee
        within five (5) calendar days of receipt.


What does "and/or" mean in this context? This section is ambiguous.

        ii. Committee members successfully challenged shall be excused and a replacement shall
        be appointed within five (5) calendar days by those elected officers making the initial
        appointments. Replacement appointments may not be challenged.


This artificial terminus to recourse is most unfortunate.

        F. The Hearings Committee shall meet within seven (7) calendar days of finalization of its
        membership to begin consideration of the matter. Such meeting may be held electronically
        if it is feasible to do so and if all parties agree to such a venue.

        G. Meetings of the Hearings Committee shall be open to the accused, all complainants,
        witnesses, and guests explicitly invited by the accused or any complainant.


Why stop there? These hearings should be open to any member of SFRM.

        i. Invited guests, if present, shall function only as observers and shall not actively participate
        in the proceedings.

This is crap. Everyone should be permitted to say his or her piece.

        ii. Any person creating a disturbance or otherwise obstructing the work of the Committee
        shall, at the discretion of the Committee, be subject to removal and barring from further
        participation.


        H. Each complainant shall be permitted up to fifteen (15) minutes in which to present any
        corroborating evidence, including witnesses, documents, etc., not already present in his/her
        written complaint and not already presented by another complainant.

        I. The accused shall be allowed up to one (1) hour in which to present counterarguments,
        witnesses, and/or other refuting evidence, documents, testimony, etc.


If there are more than four complainants, this is unfair to the accused.

        J. All oral testimony must be presented at the Committee's initial meeting.

        K. The Hearings Committee shall render a decision as soon as possible after its initial
        meeting, but in no case shall it take more than thirty-five (35) calendar days to do so.

        i. The Hearings Committee may permit or require additional documentary evidence to be
        submitted.

        a. It shall subpoena such materials, preferably at its initial meeting, but in no case not
        more than three (3) calendar days   thereafter; such materials must be delivered to the
        Committee within ten (10) calendar days after being subpoenaed.


Or what? This provision is appropriate with regard to official records of SFRM and an invasion of privacy with regard to anything else.

        b. The Committee shall then disseminate copies of such evidence to all parties and shall
        allow up to fifteen (15) calendar days thereafter for filing of responses.

        c. If no additional evidence is permitted or required, then the maximum time allowed for
        rendering a decision shall be reduced accordingly.


This is confusing.

        ii. The Committee shall then have up to seven (7) calendar days in which to consider all the
        evidence presented and render a final decision.

        iii. During this time, additional meetings may be scheduled by the Committee. Such
        meetings may be held electronically if feasible and agreeable to all Committee members.

        L. In addition to publication of its findings in the newsletter after the appeals period has
        expired without an appeal being filed or after all appeals have been processed, actions/
        decisions may be any of the following (not necessarily an exhaustive list):

        i. The subject was falsely accused and that no action should be taken against him/her. This
        should include a recommendation as to whether or not a complaint should be filed with
        SFRM or the AMC against the complainants.


This is a mischievous notion. Members should not be in fear that their legitimate complaints will get them in trouble with the higher-ups. Let the accused decide whether to file a complaint, then consider the testimony of the members of the Hearings Committee.

        ii. The complaints are valid but that no action should be taken against the accused.

        iii. Recommendation of suspension of social privileges for a specified period of time.

        a. Such suspension shall not prohibit attendance at Business Meetings and shall not
        prohibit the accused's right to vote.


This is very bad English: ". . . Meetings. The accused shall retain his or her right to vote."

        b. Other members of SFRM shall have the right to ignore such recommendation and
        explicitly invite the accused to events held in their own homes.

        iv. The accused and each complainant shall have the right of appeal to the elected officers
        of SFRM and, after them to the national Ombudsman.

Giving the complainants the right to appeal constitutes double jeopardy for the accused.

        a. Appeals must be in writing and must be filed within seven (7) calendar days of the
        Hearings Committee's filing of their recommendations.

        b. The elected officers shall then have fifteen (15) calendar days in which to review the
        report of the Hearings Committee and either uphold or overturn its decision.

        c. A simple majority of all of the elected officers shall be sufficient to decide either in favor
        of or against the appellee.


An "appellee" would be someone who is appealed. The correct word is "appellant." (This error is appalling and repellant. ;-) )

        v. Filing of a formal complaint against the accused with the AMC for action by a National
        Hearings Committee which may, if it considers the accused actions sufficiently serious,
        recommend expulsion by the AMC (the only body within AML with the authority to expel
        a member).


These kinds of star-chamber proceedings are an unacceptable violation of members' rights. Members have a right to have their cases heard by their peers, not a bunch of losers who have nothing better to do with themselves than to put in long hours on Mensa business. This provision should be deleted entirely.

        M. The document APPENDIX 5: Policies and Rules Governing the Conduct of Hearings,
        available upon request form the national office, shall be used as a guide to resolve questions
        not explicitly addressed in these bylaws.


I can hardly wait to see what strong protections of member rights are contained in this document. ;-)

The fact that a document is incorporated by citation but not displayed to the voters invalidates the election. If the revisions pass a protest of this glaring omission of what is required for fully-informed voting will have to be filed. (It would be naive to expect that more than a tiny fraction of the electorate would actually request "Appendix 5," wait for it to arrive in the mail, and then cast their ballots.) Here, again, is sufficient reason to vote "no."

        Article III. Requirements

        Section 1. Records

        A. SFRM Officers shall maintain records of their Mensa Business activities , including both sent
        and received e-mail messages
.

A good addition.

        B. No SFRM business except as provided herein shall be confidential from SFRM members.
        All SFRM files except as provided herein shall be available for examination by any SFRM
        member on reasonable notice. Except as noted below, this shall include but shall not
        necessarily be limited to e-mail messages.


Here it seems that our right to know is being chiseled away.

        i. Exceptions shall be:

        a. Records of the Ombudsman and those of the newsletter editor Editor insofar as they pertain to
        names withheld from publication.

Why should anonymous publication be permitted or protected?

        b. Cases where the source material is protected by the California journalist source shield
        laws.


Let the law take care of itself. Who needs this provision?

        c. Personnel actions relating to employees and matters involving litigation to which SFRM is
        or may become a party. In these cases, meetings shall be conducted by the Elected Officers
        acting as an Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole. The majority vote of such committee(s) shall
        empower SFRM to act through such committee(s).


This is a lousy idea. We ought to conduct all our business in the light of day. If that's sometimes disadvantageous from a legal-strategy viewpoint, so be it. And, no, I don't care that it's almost universally done this way.

[Remainder of draft snipped.]

Please vote no on the proposed Bylaws revision. We need more direct democracy and much stronger protections for the rights of members.

 

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