Olympia Film Society


Notes from the special membership meeting

So the vote just happened, with the proposal to begin electing the Board failing by about 9 votes of over 200 cast. (It had a majority, but needed two-thirds.)

The vote was very close, and if the insurgents had brought a slightly more polished proposal, they might have swung a few more votes their way. For instance, there was no mention of length of terms, or provision for staggering terms, in the proposal. This added to people's nervousness about the change.

Some folks were upset about the meeting's procedures -- that people could show up, vote and leave, rather than participate in the discussion and then vote. On the other hand, folks who didn't have time to sit through the meeting would have been disenfranchised otherwise. A tough call, that appeared to have been made in good faith. It did appear, however, that the existing Board's supporters made a sustained effort to turn out "their" voters who were assured they could vote-and-run, so some dissatisfaction with the process is perhaps inevitable.

I came in pretty undecided, and as usual ended up voting with the losers. The discussion I heard swayed my vote, and I personally prefer a process that requires participation in order to vote. So it goes.... My overriding impression, based on the meeting, but also based on conversations with lots of folks -- many of them with extensive involvement as volunteers, former employees and/or board members -- is one of systemic dysfunction. Of course, that's about par for the course with nonprofits in Olympia. Still, you've got a situation, as it was explained to me, where:

1. A self-selecting Board was unable to fill its own ranks to the level required by the by-laws for a quorum;

2. That Board brought on new members specifically to get them "legal" quorum-wise (as I understood one commenter's remarks), in order to terminate an employee, without letting the new members vote, and without explaining to the other new member who stayed in the meeting (the one needed to make the vote legal) that the consensus decision-making model would have allowed that member to block the firing;

3. The Board had apparently discussed the possibility of terminating this key employee for several years, but took the step in such haste that new members could not be trusted enough to be up to speed, which is why they weren't allowed to vote;

4. And most amazingly of all, the Board, despite years of consideration of the issue, terminated their key technical employee, who knew about and was primarily responsible for virtually every aspect of the technical functioning of the operation (projectors, sound, electrical, etc.), without already having a replacement, at least an interim replacement, already lined up.

This is prima facie evidence of severe organizational dysfunction. I'm not saying the Board is responsible for the dysfunction, but it obviously hasn't fixed it, and the trend line is going the wrong direction. Now, I've been on boards or volunteered for dysfunctional organizations before, so I know how difficult it can be, but at a certain point sometimes anything a board does just seems to contribute to the problem, and you really need a clean sweep.

That's what scapegoats are for, anthropologically speaking. Blame the old guard for everything, and put a new crew in place. Re-write the by-laws, spend a two-day retreat hammering out a new mission statement that you'll never look at again, hire a different executive director, and hope for a rush of new volunteer energy that had been scared off by the vibe of the old regime, whatever the actual source of that bad vibe. It often works.

OFS is blessed with lots of volunteers and lots of caring members. However, there has been a long-standing problem with participation at the board/policy/planning level, and many volunteers and potential volunteers have reported feeling unwelcome (including being "unwelcomed" by staff at the heart of the current personnel dispute). Between now and the membership meeting, which the Board promises will be sometime next Spring, we'll all have a chance to see how the personnel changes, and the reactivated spirit of the membership by this whole mess, translates into renewed energy for the Film Society.

My suspicion is that there will be festering ill will between now and then, and the membership will approve a motion at that time to begin electing the Board. The ill will is not entirely about this one personnel issue, either. There is more than one strong and occasionally off-putting personality involved here, and more than one source of strife and controversy. I fear that the real question facing us over the next six or seven months is whether OFS can survive the hemorrhaging of volunteer support that we may experience as a fallout of today's decision.

I fear for our precious Film Society.


Given the neo-definition of that word, I don't think it's very accurate or very fair of you to use that word to describe people who are expressing dissent. If it was me being called that, I wouldn't feel very welcome in any kind negotiation or debate with you. The fact that you used it in the second sentence of your post probably means that most of the people who are on the "other side" either stopped reading at that point or started reading through a biased lens, which completely clouds any logical point you are trying to make and turns it into a "yeah, but..." conversation, when what we need is a "yes, and..." conversation.

No harm intended

I used the term "insurgents" somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as a simple shorthand characterization. I'm sorry if it was interpreted otherwise. Of course, since I tend to see insurgency as a positive thing, that no doubt kept me from seeing the possible negative connotation to the term. My apologies. I'm confident, however, that other readers are as capable as you are of reading past a possible misuse of the language to grasp the overall intent of my post.

a lesson we learn and some

a lesson we learn and some have to keep relearning (myself included) is that on a blog you can't see what the other person's tongue is doing while they type. A lot of big useless arguments start with jokes or smart-alecry or other shenanigans.

As far as what others can or will grasp, I'm not confidant enough to even venture to guess what another person will read when they see your words.


fwiw, I got the meaning. I think a lot of us feel a certain affinity for insurgency.

Thank you

Thank you for writing up your notes and sharing, much appreciated.