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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why is There Turmoil on the Douglass Alumni Board?

"I think it boils down to people who wanted to be elected to office in the recent Alumni Board election, were not elected to office, and now they are doing everything they can to disrupt the Douglass Alumni Association Board and its meetings."

Those words from Douglass Releford, who resigned his post partly in frustration, at the Douglass Alumni Association meeting on August 1st.

The dispute apparently started at a board meeting on June 13th of this year.

According to the minutes of that meeting which were published the next day on the Douglass website, Board member Virginia Hankins made a motion to "amend the Alumni Association by-laws (Article 5, Section 2) to allow the election of new officers by the existing board members PRIOR to the Reunion within the Body of the Board itself, and then present the new officers to the Alumni at the Memorial Service on Sunday." The motion was seconded by Pam Sensabaugh. There was no discussion, and after the vote, the motion passed, with Wallace Ross, Jr. abstaining from the vote.

The by-law that was suspended, calls for the "election of officers" process to be AFTER the Reunion, and once a by-law is suspended, according to Roberts Rules of Order, any provisions within that by-law are also suspended as well.

Meanwhile, adhering to the board's vote of the 13th, at the board meeting on the 27th of June, the committee formed to coordinate the election, passed out ballots to board members, and after filling them out, the results of the election were announced. The new officers elected were:

President: Douglas Releford
Vice President: Lillian Leeper
Correspondence Secretary: Pamela Sensabaugh
Treasurer: Sandra Wilmer
Recording Secretary: Thelma Watterson
Chaplin: Louetta Hall
Sergeant-At-Arms: Andra Watterson

Permanent positions:
Webmaster, Public Relations Manager: Calvin Sneed
Food services: Van Dobbins, Jr.

The election was approved by a majority show of hands of the Board members present, and a quorum of members was met at the meeting.

But questions have now arisen from three members of the board about the validity of the election, although it does not appear to have violated any rules of the Douglass Alumni Association charter, or Roberts Rules of Order.

"It seems that some people on the board have a different agenda than the other board members," Releford said recently, "and it's been going on for some time. I think challenging something the board already discussed and voted on, is only going to keep turmoil going. Sometimes it's hard to get alumni to serve on boards and committees, but the Douglass Alumni out in the community and in the other cities just don't know what we've been going through."

At the Board meeting of August 1st, "we had three Board members who kept arguing about the rules and by-laws, but we have been operating this way for years, in accordance with or charter and Roberts Rules of Order," says Releford. "The way that we elect officers for the next two-year term is the way they have been elected for years. This year, board members voted to move the election to before the reunion, instead of after it. And we have always had a committee to elect officers, bring their names to the board, the board votes on it, and it has always stood. Despite that, at this particular meeting, that was challenged."

Minutes from the meeting show, Wallace Ross, Jr. challenged the election, and made a motion to have the election thrown out.

The motion was defeated. The election still stands, and the officers have not taken office yet.

But the resulting dispute over the election, plus personal attacks on himself, prompted Releford to resign his position as president of the Douglass Alumni Board.

"I feel like my job as president was being challenged for the simple reason that somebody else wanted the office," he says. "In one of their arguments to challenge, they were determined that I wasn't going to serve another 'year' which is incorrect. Douglass Alumni officers do not serve in 'years,' they serve 'terms,' and each term is two years long. If the three people who challenged the election did not like the way it turned out, they had plenty of opportunity to bring it up and challenge it at the meeting when the election by-law was suspended, and then, the meeting when the ballots were passed out and the election was held and the votes counted. The same people that are questioning my office, are the same people who voted to put me IN the office."

"The only thing I can figure out is, that they just wanted someone else to hold the executive offices."

"My health is my main concern," he says. "I felt uneasy, nervous and stressed as that meeting went on, and then being harrassed and insulted, along with my health problems of the past, I did not want to keep myself in the situation of having to deal with that."

As it was left, the installation of those new officers is still on the future agenda of the Douglass Alumni Association Trustee Board, Releford says. "Right now, what I feel is a useless challenge to something the Board has already decided, is distracting the Board from doing its work. Those officers have to be installed, so that the IRS sees, that we are following the federal law. We also have community responsibilities that our 501 (c) 3 non-profit status requires of us, and this is holding us back. It is jeopardizing that non-profit status."

Would Releford want to come back to the Board as its president, and would he?

"Yes, absolutely," he says. "We went through so much to get the non-profit status having to do it without an attorney, and I feel that I and the other two people who worked on it, need to follow it through. The dispute brought by these three Board members, is distracting and getting us off-track. There is philanthropic work that this Board and this Alumni Association need to be doing right now. Some people were not in favor of getting the non-profit status, but the majority of the Board saw how the 501 (c) 3 designation holds us to a certain standard, it imposes many rules that make you accountable, and they saw the need for that. The audits the government routinely does on how the agency spends money, routs out fraud and people who may have financial ulterior motives."

"I do feel that the alumni from Knoxville and Chattanooga and Nashville, Atlanta and even out in our local community, need to come to our meetings and experience what the Board itself has to go through. Their opinions need to be heard, too. Many of them have questioned before how we ever get things done, through questions and debates that they think, are meaningless. They definitely need the insight. Many of them hear through the grapevine what goes on, and the only word they all share is SHOCK. Even an outside mediator would be helpful to moderate our disputes, an attorney or a judge would be acceptable, too. We need to show them the legal things we are doing, and then some of the obstacles that we face trying to put them into motion."

"I have checked other websites of alumni associations whose schools are still open, and they even have by-laws that say, 'if you haven't paid your alumni dues, you are not a member of the alumni association,' much less a board member. We have never enforced that, because sometimes it's hard to get folks with difficult schedules to attend meetings. But some of our folks who used to come to meetings, have said they've been scared away from all the disputes we go through. And the one thing they bring up, is that most of the disputes are useless."

"It's time we have harmony on that Board," Releford says. "or else, the Douglass Alumni Association will just fade away. It will cease to exist. Things will have to get better, hopefully with more input, more attendance, and more participation from Douglass Alumni to keep us together."

To the out-of-town, and out-in-the-community Douglass Alumni, Releford has an invitation that he says, is made out of desperation.

"PLEASE come to the meetings," he says. "You don't have to participate. Just come and watch and listen. Maybe the folks who cause the disharmony and disunion will see you there, and know that other people are watching them."