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Presidential highlights from the 2014 conference and AGM in Ottawa
This past weekend, 30 AEBC members -- some of them new members, some of them recent members, some of them members from 20 years ago -- gathered in Ottawa for the 2014 conference and annual general meeting. In this blog post, I will touch on some of the highlights of the conference, for those who were not in attendance and who were not listening to the live stream. (We had as many as 20 listeners to the stream, a record since we began offering this service a few years ago.)
First, exhibitors exhibited, and more!
On Friday afternoon, approximately a dozen -- and I won't attempt to name them lest I forget someone -- exhibitors, ranging from the Ottawa Public Library to technology companies, had tables and booths to present their wares and services. AMI ran a series of sessions to illustrate and exhibit described video programming, and I ran a session to introduce members to the basics of Robert's Rules of Order, which we rely on to govern and keep order during our meetings.
That introduction would have been more effective if more than 3 people had appeared, one of whom was my wife -- but I will make my presentation notes available and perhaps deliver it again by teleconference at some point in the future. Are you interested in learning how to participate in a meeting, how to run one, how to take minutes, or how to be the chair? Let me know if you are, and we'll see what we can do to set that up.
Second, talents were demonstrated
The conference began on Friday night with, among other things, a talent show where a number of people showed off their penchants for writing poetry, playing instruments, and singing. Recordings from the talent show will be available on the web site in due course, but depending on workloads it may take a few weeks to make that happen.
In the end, Dar Wournell and Richard Marion both won $100 for their wonderful and inspired entries. Congratulations to the two of you!
Third, awards were awarded
Chantal Oakes of the Kelowna chapter is this year's Volunteer of the Year award winner! Her nominator, Denise Sanders, had this to say about Chantal:
Chantal has been involved with our organization since its formal beginnings in 1994 and has remained a member for the past twenty years. She remained as our Kelowna chapter president in 2013 when we did not have another member to fill this position. This year, she has been a representative for our chapter at meetings and attended the BC Affiliate in Vancouver on our behalf. She is participating in the BC white paper consultations and is keeping the chapter members informed of these meetings. Chantal continues to keep the chapter alive by communicating with our members on a regular basis. She hosted our summer social at her home where we had a wonderful lunch, games and camaraderie. Chantal's encouragement has kept our chapter together.
Albert Ruel, AEBC's former National Equality Director and a long-time member of the organization, was awarded the 2014 Council of Canadians with Disabilities Award. His nominator, also Denise Sanders, had this to say about Albert:
He has been an AEBC member for over 15 years, attended several of our national conferences, and participated in several of our issues. In 2007, we were fortunate to hire Albert as our Equality Director to assist the national board, committees and chapters with advocacy, public awareness and fundraising. For the past four years, he has assisted persons with all disabilities obtain equipment to assist them with their employment goals. Prior to this position, he travelled throughout western Canada, organized and provided computer training sessions for blind and partially sighted people. Albert worked for CNIB for 14 years as District Manager in Prince George and Victoria, as well as a management position in fund development. During this time, he managed staff, volunteers and boards of directors; developed and maintained budgets over two million; and was responsible for the operation of these districts. His community involvement has included being an active member of various Lions Clubs for over 22 years. He has given several presentations on the abilities of blind persons and eye safety programs. He has also found time to participate with several community agencies to bring awareness to the issues blind and partially sighted people face such as BC Ferry Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Seeing Caucus, an Advisory Committee to the BC Provincial Equipment and Assistive Devices Committee. He has strong interpersonal skills, a very positive attitude, and a passion for the issues we face.
I would like to personally thank both of these wonderful, inspiring people for their tireless efforts on behalf of the blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted community. Let's all congratulate them on their accomplishments, and wish them well with all of their future endeavours.
(And in the case of Chantal, speaking of which...)
Fourth, your new board of directors was elected
When we began the weekend, we were only aware of two people who were considering running for positions on the national board. By the time Sunday rolled around, there had been approximately ten nominations and more than half a dozen people eventually standing for election in one capacity or another. When the dust settled, the following board of directors emerged for the 2014-2015 year:
- Anthony Tibbs, from Montreal, as President (one year remaining)
- Dar Wournell, from Halifax, as 1st Vice-President (for 2 years)
- Chantal Oakes, from Kelowna, as 2nd Vice-President (for 1 year)
- Sharlyn Ayotte, from Ottawa, as Treasurer (for 2 years)
- Jennifer Jesso, from Vancouver, as Secretary (for 1 year)
- Stephen Ricci, from Toronto, as Director (for 2 years)
- Maryse Glaude-Beaulieu, from Ottawa, as Director (for 1 year)
I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank our outgoing board members, Charles Bailey and Lui Greco, for their tireless service to the organization over the last number of years. I am sure that you are both "gone, but not gone," and look forward to your continued involvement in AEBC.
Fifth, resolutions were passed (or, a very few were, anyway)
Six resolutions or proposals were brought before the membership for consideration, and only two were ultimately adopted. In summary:
- The proposal to increase the number of proxies that a single person can hold from five to ten was defeated. You can still only carry a maximum of five proxies to an in-person AGM.
- The housekeeping amendment to clarify the definition of 'partially sighted' in our bylaws was adopted. Our definition is now comparable to the definition of legal blindness used in other contexts.
- The housekeeping amendment to the bylaws to remove the 250 word limit from proposals intended to amend bylaws was adopted. If a bylaw amendment is proposed, all of the incidental changes can now be handled in a single proposal rather than being limited to 250 words.
- The proposal that we hold conventions only once every three years was defeated. Indeed, a member attempted to amend this to limit conventions to every two years, and the amendment failed. As a result, conferences and conventions will continue to happen, in some form, every year.
- The proposal that we vote on proposals and the election of board of directors after the conclusion of the meeting (so that people not in attendance could vote by phone or Internet) was defeated. We will continue to vote on resolutions and board of director elections at the AGM, using proxies as necessary for those not in attendance.
- The proposal that the AEBC board not necessarily be bound by the almost 200 resolutions was defeated. The board will have to find a better way to manage those resolutions.
The outcome of these votes reflects a theme that was echoed several times throughout the weekend, that being that these conferences and face-to-face meetings serve a very important purpose for members of AEBC. The opportunity to meet, to socialize, to discuss, to debate, and to physically interact with other human beings reinvigorates us and recharges us for the work of the next year. While there are expenses associated with these meetings, they are (in the mind of the membership) a critical part of our operations and, as a board, we need to find ways to make them happen, and to allow more people to actively participate.
If you are a member of AEBC and you have not been to a conference or AGM before, make it a personal goal to attend the next one. You will not be sorry that you did and there is much to be gained from the experience. It isn't all business, but even when it is, we try to have some fun with it.
Sixth, Paul Edwards gave us something to think about
Joining us for the second year, albeit via Skype rather than in person, Paul Edwards, past president of the American Council of the Blind (ACB), delivered an inspired and motivating address, speaking to the challenges and opportunities associated with increasing the number of members in AEBC.
Without attempting to summarize his presentation, I will say only that from his words, we can deduce that other voluntary organizations in the United States and Canada are facing similar challenges as AEBC in terms of membership recruitment, retention, and involvement. There are opportunities, but we need to, in part, find ways to give "value" to members in order to attract them in the first place.
In the discussion that followed, there was a suggestion that a membership committee be struck to start looking at and investigating these issues. The Board will do that. Please contact any of us if you would like to help, and we'll put you in touch with the necessary people.
Seventh, necessary business was concluded
A member appeared at the conference to appeal the ruling of the Board of Directors from November 2013 to expel him from the organization due to incidents arising from the 2013 national conference and annual general meeting. The membership sustained and made permanent the decision of the Board of Directors to expel this individual from the organization.
I thank everyone involved for their candid thoughts, respectful demeanor, and generally positive approach to what was in many respects a most difficult matter of business.
Eighth, we've still not got the voting process perfected!
This year, in part because there were more proxies represented than votes in the room, and in part because there were serious divisions between the votes of those proxies, it became necessary on several proposals to take a counted vote. This was conducted by going around the room, and asking each person to indicate how many votes (for their proxies and themselves) they had in favour of a proposal, and how many votes (for their proxies and themselves) they had against the proposal.
The effect of that method was that those who did not carry any proxy votes and had only one vote to cast were not afforded the same secrecy and privacy as those who had multiple votes. If a person had 4 votes and cast 2 in favour and 2 against, it would have been impossible for those listening to know who voted in what way. If a person had no proxies, then their one vote would clearly be their own vote, and so any semblance of privacy was lost.
That lack of privacy is not in and of itself a problem. It is quite normal and reasonable (and indeed conventional) for votes to be taken by way of a show of hands which, in any other organization, would be tantamount to disclosing your vote on each proposal. But for us, that isn't quite true because only a subset of our members have enough vision to see whose hand is in the air or not. And so there is unfairness in that respect. But what is even more of a problem is the discrepancy and differential treatment that such an approach causes, where those carrying proxies are afforded a greater level of privacy than those without proxies.
This represents a procedural challenge to be solved by the next AGM. Expect a Town Hall somewhere along the way to discuss methods of voting as we explore our options for voting secretly, trying to balance the right to privacy with a certain degree of efficiency in the process.
In the meantime, if you have any thoughts for a "perfect voting system", please -- do share. I'm all ears.
Ninth, next year's AGM will be... somewhere.
The question of where the 2015 AGM will be held was referred back to the board for determination. It may be that it will be in Halifax, as was rumoured previously, but interest was also shown for it to be held back in the west (British Columbia). Montreal and Winnipeg were also suggested, but these are unlikely.
Stephen Ricci has taken on the task of investigating some options and reporting back to the board on possibilities for next year. More information will be forthcoming.
And tenth, your President's Report
On Friday evening I delivered a short and sweet President's Report, summarizing our activities for the year and highlighting our future direction. What I said, which may or may not have been verbatim to a tee, nevertheless largely tracked the thoughts in this written piece.
My 2014 President's Report has been posted to the web site, in text form, at the following URL for you to read: http://www.blindcanadians.ca/publications/presidents-report-2014-conference-and-agm
If you were there, please comment on this blog post and share your impressions of the conference. I am not going to send out a formal survey per sé, but please also consider sending me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any comments, positive or negative, that you might have about the conference, the workshops, the hotel, or your experience in Ottawa. We take that feedback into consideration each year when we plan the next conference, so do not be afraid to suggest something.
If you were not there, try to be there next year. We'd love to meet you. AEBC is nothing without its members!