Mr. Wolfe Goes to Washington


Elections and conspiracies

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31 July 2005, Des Moines, IA

Elections are again a subject of discussion at our region conference. I recall being somewhat baffled by CSI elections in my early years as a CSI member. Why were so many nominees unopposed? I'm sure many of our members can answer this question, but for the benefit of new members, or anyone who may have asked the same question, let's look at why our elections - and those of most volunteer organizations - are so different from the public elections with which we are all familiar.

Contested elections

Even though most candidates enter politics with good intentions, the need to get re-elected often interferes with their original goals. The office becomes just a job, and keeping that job becomes a priority. In addition, public offices are positions of real power, which may be an attraction in itself. In contrast, offices in volunteer organizations require a lot of work and offer no tangible return. Yes, there is a certain amount of prestige, and perhaps a little power, but they are of little consequence outside the organization.

And, even though our officers are volunteers, we expect them to fulfill all the duties of their offices. We ask that they commit a significant part of their personal time, and often neglect to completely reimburse their expenses. Before they volunteer, they must seek permission and support from their employers and families. Understandably, members are not knocking down the doors to fight for these positions.

Moreover, while candidates in public elections have markedly different views on a number of issues, most of our candidates agree on most things. Some may see one issue as more important than another, but there are rarely significant differences in their goals. In most cases, candidates will run against a friend or a person with whom they have no quarrel. Even in today's world of "no winners or losers", there will be a loser. Is it worth the potential embarrassment, or even loss of a valuable member, just to have a "real" election?

Good old boys and conspiracies

Each level of our organization has nominating committees, charged with finding candidates for each election. With the lack of volunteers, they are too often faced with a dilemma: leave the office open, let the current officer run again, or ask an officer whose term is ending to run for the open office. And, for the reasons noted above, many nominating committees do not actively seek more than one person for each office, though they do not prevent any member from running.

Unfortunately, this gives the impression that there is a "good old boys" network, controlling all the power, and preventing others from getting involved. In fact, nominating committees spend countless hours looking for candidates and trying to convince members to run for office. It is all too common for the committee to call on a member who has expressed displeasure with the way something is done and ask that member to run for office, only to be told "I don't have time."

We do want to have representatives from many chapters, the fact is that few members express interest in region or national offices. It should be no surprise, then, that large chapters are more likely to have volunteers than small chapters, and active chapters more likely than inactive chapters.

If a given chapter or region happens to have volunteers interested in several offices, is that evidence of a conspiracy to take over the region or the Institute? Or does it simply indicate that few are willing to do the work? Chapters that are both large and active are fertile ground for developing the interest and commitment we need from future leaders, but that should not be seen as an obstacle to members in other chapters.

One of an Institute director's responsibilities is to seek out potential leaders for region and Institute positions. So if you or someone you know is interested in serving as an officer, on a committee, or on a task team, be sure to contact your Institute director. There is plenty to do, and, to paraphrase the Marine advertisements, we're looking for a few good members!

2006 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, 

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