District Director Report
By Bob Heller, email@example.com
Kansas City — The resignation earlier this year of CEO Robert Hartman moved everything else down a rung on the priority ladder, making 2017 a different kind of challenge for the Board of Directors.
As president, moving business along expeditiously is a priority. We want to act quickly but very seriously, studying options, doing all due diligence, but with the knowledge that no matter how cooperative our CEO is in his final weeks with the league, his sights are set on his new job and challenges. Furthermore, it is unfair to all of our employees – and membership – to have mostly absentee leadership for too long a period. Although Robert has been putting in 40-hour workweeks for the ACBL, only about one-quarter of his time is physically at headquarters in Horn Lake.
He made time to lead a strong contingent of league employees to Gatlinburg, to show support not just for the tournament but also for the area, which continues its recovery from devastating wildfires of November and December. Robert had a very strong bond with District 7 through his tenure, which began in November 2011, and his final visit to a regional will be Greenville, where he will attend our annual Goodwill banquet and celebration, partly on his personal time.
One always hears critics, but I remain convinced that the selection of Jay Whipple, the District 9 board rep, to head the CEO selection process will stand as one of my best decisions of the year. His connections and reputation led to commitments from Bob Blanchard and Sylvia Moss, well known businesspeople and bridge players, to serve as the “outsiders” on the selection committee that otherwise was made up of five board members. I was one, but without a vote.
You are learning of this now, because I’m hopeful that a new CEO will be hired soon, and we can concentrate on telling you about him in the next District 7 News. Regardless, every ACBL member owes a debt of gratitude to Jay, Bob and Sylvia for their expertise, countless hours of work and overall contributions to the process. The gold-plated atta-boy goes to Bob Blanchard, who was on the 2011 search committee and knew exactly what he was getting into. His intense commitment was obvious from the beginning.
Board members who added this significant assignment to their regular responsibilities were Georgia Heth of Illinois, also chair of Appeals & Charges; Sharon Anderson of Minnesota, chair of Governance and also on the 2011 search; Dennis Carman of Michigan, on two key committees in addition to Bridge and the Competitions & Conventions Committee; and Sharon Fairchild of Ohio, chair for the past several years of the CEO Review Committee, from which all voting board members were chosen.
All about governance.
Other than selecting committees and their chairs, one of the few “powers” of the ACBL president is that he may (within certain parameters) set up the meeting schedule. We tried something fairly radical for the board, trimming the meeting from four to three days.
First, I felt this was sufficient time for a Spring meeting (which generally has the lightest agenda), and second, it saved about $10,000.
In spite of this decision, after consulting with some of our committee chairs and management, we tried something that has not been done in 10 years: We brought in a facilitator to help us become a more effective and more efficient board.
Such moves have been unpopular, but colleague Paul Cuneo of Houston, among others, thought this was the time to do it. He convinced a fellow Shell Oil retiree to help us out (pro bono, as it turned out). The board took most ideas and discussions seriously, breaking into four smaller groups and evaluating our performance after the meeting. More than five hours were dedicated to this program on the first day we met, and we will repeat the breakouts and evaluations in July in hopes that we can make more progress. If this works, bridge and the league will benefit.
I move that . . .
A common complaint from board members, regardless of general philosophy, is that our group is too “motion-driven,” that in order to get something done it must begin with a motion. With mixed reaction, here’s what we’re trying.
First, the number of committees and number of people on each committee were reduced — dramatically. Instead of the two dozen or more committees of the past few years, we have seven basic committees with meeting time at NABCs: “All things bridge,” Finance, Appeals & Charges, Governance/Board Operations; Strategic Planning; CEO Review; and Audit (if necessary). To be fair, “All things bridge” includes several subcommittees that have been stand-alone committees. One chairman, Russ Jones, clears all motions. He also is in charge of masterpoint issues.
I hope this streamlined approach works. It should be right for effectiveness and efficiency, but it has hurt some feelings, because of our history and culture. New board members would hear that every committee chaired was worth an extra star for his uniform — which, of course, kept the door opened as wide as possible for politics and personal favor swapping.
There is a payoff: At least in Kansas City, we were able to save plenty of time for full board discussion sessions. These enable a topic — which could be a motion at the next meeting — to be examined by any member before the motion is even written. There also is no pressure to reach any kind of conclusion; it’s a chance for everyone to feel views can be aired without an imminent action.
Ken Monzingo, my predecessor, did a fine job of working these into the agenda, and I’m trying to have even more. In Toronto, there already are three such 90-minute slots on the agenda.
Speaking of Toronto, the board is making another significant change in its schedule. We meet Wednesday through Saturday rather than Monday through Thursday. Board members will not be allowed to play Friday or Saturday, the first two days of the NABC, and this schedule should save the treasury up to $20,000.
While some meaty issues did come up in Kansas City, it was an unusual set of meetings, with a lot of déjà vu and deferrals.
The issue of international competition and the cost of paying for our participation have been longstanding — since before I joined the board. Only now has it become a particularly contentious one.
The reason? For seemingly the first time, the players — the very people for whom the programs exist — have been asked their opinion. First, there was a scheduled full board discussion led by Ken Monzingo, then we opened the president’s suite to any board members, World Bridge Federation representatives, United States and Canadian Bridge Federation officials and the ACBL’s elite, the night before the NABC began. Among the attendees for a spirited and revealing discussion were Jeff Meckstroth, Eric Rodwell, Eddie Wold, Steve Weinstein, Bobby Levin, Brad Moss, Brian Platnick, Howie Weinstein, Marty Fleisher (new USBF president) and Nader Hannah (CBF).
Every year, the ACBL either directly sends funds or indirectly enables others to support North American players to the tune of about $450,000. By the end of this year, my eighth on the board, the total will be more than $3.5 million — which has directly benefitted about one-half of 1 percent of today’s members.
The WBF was roundly and harshly criticized by our top players, which surprised our representatives to that body. It was taken to task for its soft position on ethics and cheating and its lack of consistency and organization in running world championships.
All of this was against the backdrop of a board motion ultimately deferred to Toronto that would have the league get out of the dues-paying business ($1 per ACBL member per year) to the WBF and transfer that burden to the USBF and CBF (with a small, proportional amount to the Mexican Bridge Federation).
The short-term Band-Aid (a compromise, putting off a vote) affects this year’s payout. The ACBL cut its $167,000 check to the WBF only after the USBF sent $50,000 to the league, in theory, for part of its share. A longer-term change is to be discussed and voted on in Toronto.
As one of the more consistent critics of the WBF, I was thrilled with the turnout of expert players in the suite at Toronto, impressed with their passion and consistency of criticism of the status quo, and embarrassed for some of our representatives being so out of touch.
Let’s hope we can work together toward getting this important part of bridge fixed, not only for financial reasons but to be proud of our involvement and influence on the world stage.
Book it, Danno.
As you can tell from reading some of the above, we are trying to trim the costs of governance. Board meetings scheduled at the Fall NABC next year at Honolulu are gigantic pieces of low-hanging fruit.
The BOD, however, voted in Orlando against changing the venue of Fall 2019 meetings from Honolulu to Horn Lake, or suburban Memphis relatively close to league headquarters. The Board of Governors exercised its right to force the Board of Directors to reconsider the motion.
Colleagues came up with some pretty creative reasons for why it was so essential for the league to pay for 26 volunteers to fly to Honolulu and the roughly $225 a night it will cost at the host Hilton Hawaiian Village. Additionally, any people elected to join the board in January 2019 would be present, and three or four extra staff members from Horn Lake would be needed.
Even though this was an opportunity to save a quick $50,000, the board defeated the move to reconsider 8-17. I was joined in the minority by neighbors from Districts 9, 10 and 11. The original vote in November failed 10-15.
A related, earlier reconsideration on a motion to have all Fall meetings in early November near headquarters rather than on-site over Thanksgiving, failed 7-18. Annual savings probably would be $30,000+. I was in the minority on that as well.
Holding the line on NAPs.
The Board of Governors requested that another item from Orlando be reconsidered: A $200 subsidy be provided to all third-place NAP district final individuals in Flights B and C and $100 to each fourth-place individual who qualified for the NABC finals.
This was a close vote the first time, and the motion to reconsider failed 11-13-1. As one who believes in doing everything possible to support North American Pairs and Grand National Teams, I wanted us to reconsider. No other players are as fortunate as those in our district, where all participants at the NABC receive $900, whether the funds come from the ACBL or the district’s Grass Roots Fund.
Play six? Pay six.
One of the more controversial entry fee increases took effect in Orlando: If any event at an NABC awards the full number of masterpoints to every member of a 5- or 6-person team, then every member pays the full (rather than pro-rated) entry fee. There was a motion to rescind that action.
It no longer is considered cynical to say that our business and our currency is masterpoints. They should cost the same, regardless of the number of boards you play. The motion to reconsider failed 3-23.
(Please note: This has no effect on regionals and sectionals, where sponsors set fees. The league regulates entry fees only at NABCs.)
More proof: Masterpoints for dollars
The lion’s share of our NABC attendance drop has come in regional events. In trying to create incentive for folks to play in those games, which cost $16 a session at NABCs, a motion was made to adjust the masterpoint formula so that regional events at NABCs award 14.3% more points than the same event at a regional.
This passed 14-9-2. As much as I want better attendance at NABCs, I do not believe this is a good approach. We should concentrate on better marketing of the restricted-masterpoint events that are unique to NABCs (0-1500, 0-2500, 0-5000, 0-6000, 0-10,000) and try to build attendance through competition not available anywhere else. Why create a disadvantage for regionals, which are having their own attendance problems?
These won’t even cost you.
Masterpoints sometimes can rain down without your having to pay another penny. Here is a case where fairness matters.
It was moved that club games with more than one section might issue overall awards comparing all the sections. Club games with a single section exceeding 15 tables also may issue overall awards.
Awards may not exceed 4.00 for Open clubs, 3.20 for Invitational clubs and 3.00 for Newcomer clubs. Second place would be 75% of first, third 75% of second, etc., through a maximum of six places.
The proposal passed 23-1-1. The previous limit was 2.50 points, very low for a huge game. These come into play only in old-fashioned “vanilla” club games, which are few and far between in some locales. Instead, they run all enhanced-masterpoint games, where such limitations never were an issue.
The bottom line.
The Finance Committee, with the assistance of CFO Joe Jones, successfully worked through several changes in the annual budget since initially approved in November. After all adjustments, motions were forwarded showing a 2017-18 operating budget of revenues over expenses of $62,479 and a capital budget of $339,847.
More than $500,000 is allocated to help rebuild our reserves, and the revenue assumptions are realistic, reflecting recent attendance trends at regionals and NABCs. Both budgets are aligned with our strategic priorities: Membership growth, technology and volunteerism.
There was one dissenting vote on the operating budget; no reason was given.
Please hesitate . . .
The Competitions and Conventions Committee has been considering this for some time: Do away with the “stop card.” A motion was filed, and it looked like it easily would pass the board, until well-known Laws Commission member and former Appeals Committee Chairman Adam Wildavski threw out his personal “stop.”
He wanted the committee, as well as the full board, to consider a proposal he made more than a decade ago that would save most people’s least favorite red card.
Adam gets a lot of respect, because after a motion was made to defer this one, after hesitating about 10 seconds, the deferral succeeded 17-7-1. I was against the deferral, because I believe in recycling all stop cards as soon as possible. My experience has been they are more a negative than a positive; they can wake up partner as well as alert opponents; and it does no good in emphasizing that left-hand opponent is supposed to hesitate several seconds before taking any action. Further, if the cards didn’t exist, there never would be an issue with a player who was inconsistent with its use. This should be settled in Toronto.