Let me state here, for the record, I have no objection to reducing the number of councilors at-large or the number of division and chapter councilors if evidence can be provided as to how those reductions would benefit council or the membership.
Some background info:
I am an ALA Councilor at Large.
Sean Reinhart is the California chapter councilor. He feels we have too many at-large members in proportion to chapter/division representatives
I do not have an opinion on whether or not we should reduce the size of council. I do have an issue with the framing of Mr. Reinhart’s arguments.
The tl:dr version:
Sean Reinhart feels that council does not function the way he believes it should and is therefore “broken”. It is broken because there are too many councilors and the solution is to reduce the number of at-large councilors.
Reinhart fails to state exactly how council is broken, how reducing the number of councilors will fix that, and why that reduction should come from the at-large pool of councilors.
The long version
Email sent to Council listserve on 2/17/2013 by Sean Reinhart states:
By comparison, ALA has only 61,000 members but its Council has 170 seats, 100 of which are filled by councilors elected at-large. Only 70 councilors are elected by the constituencies in state chapters, divisions, and round tables. This imbalance is an anomaly in professional associations of ALA’s size. No other association of ALA’s size has this many at-large delegates. No other association has more at-large delegates than it does chapter/division representatives.
It also includes this visual comparison.
Ok I am convinced that ALA has a much lower ratio of delegates to constituent than any other profession.
What I’m not convinced of is that this is a BAD thing. Perhaps it is a good thing. What evidence is there that at higher ratio is better? That those institutions are “more democratic” than ALA? Is there any empirical evidence on what is more effective? What is best for membership?
Reinhart claims in a February 17th email to the council listserv that:
when ones takes into account that the 100 at-large seats only represent 100 individual members’ points of view with no real accountability to any constituency except themselves. Whereas the 70 seats filled by chapters, divisions, and round tables represent those constituencies, which number in the tens of thousands. That kind of imbalance is not democracy; one might more accurately consider it an oligarchy.
Let’s look at the first issue – accountability.
I am not sure what kind of accountability Reinhart is looking for. Speaking personally ALA members can contact me via email, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. The email addresses of all councilors are listed on the ALA website. I also proposed last Annual that councilor badges be a distance color so that member who see us at conference can identify us instantly, and hopefully be willing to approach us.
Constituents can also not vote to re-elect any councilor.
I am not clear on how 70 councilors (which is a number Reinhart proposed) will be more accountable than 100. I would need a much clearer and data driven explanation that reducing the size of council will increase its effectiveness. I also need to know how we are measuring the effectiveness of council now and how we would measure it in the future.
Now let’s look at the middle of that statement in which Reinhart indicates that 100 at-large seats is disproportionate to the number of chapter, divisions, and round tables. It only works if one agrees with Reinhart that at-large councilors only represent themselves and not every ALA member. I would argue that each at-large councilor is responsible to all 57,719 members of ALA (from last council report on membership).
Finally the last section the one where he refers to the high numbers of at-large councilors as an “oligarchy”
1 : government by the few
2 : a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes; also : a group exercising such control
Selfish purposes? Such as? ALA gives no conference discount or travel assistance to council. There is no financial compensation. Reading council documents takes a huge amount of our own time and we miss much of what happens at ALA because we are in Council meetings.
Rather than an oligarchy ALA council is a democracy, one where elected officials are trustees elected by their constituents to act in favor of the common good and professional interest. ALA members elect the councilors they believe will best represent their interests, those councilors then vote in the way they see fit. This is a democracy.
It is also worth noting that most political science scholars acknowledge four basic criteria for a democracy, yes it is a bit of a stretch to apply them to ALA but I’m going to based on Reinhart’s assertions.
- free and open elections – check
- virtually all adults have the right to vote – yes all members may vote
- rights and liberties are protected – think freedom of speech, association, press, etc. check. ALA members (and non-members) are plenty vocal in the criticisms.
- elected officials have the true authority to govern – check.
In another email Reinhart states
With 100+ names on the ballot, it is impossible for anyone to even know who all the at-large councilors are, much less keep track of what they do in office after they are elected. No one is expected to know and track 100 members of the US House of Representatives, but everyone is expected to know their local Representative, and hold them accountable. That’s a big difference, and a big flaw in the way ALA Council is structured.
First, there are not 100 names on the ballot. There are 33 seats open and 76 candidates running this year.
Second, again I ask – how would 70 be more manageable?
Third, impossible is a pretty big word here. I don’t believe it would be impossible. It might be time consuming. Clearly more time than Mr. Reinhart wishes to spend. Is it really reasonable to assume that all members WANT to keep track of all 100 councilors? I would hazard a guess that most members just keep track of the people they voted for. Or, referring to the previously mentioned trustee model most members elect their councilors in good faith based on what they know of them and assume they will do right. Much as they do their national representatives in the House and Senate. There are many tools for Americans to use to track their representatives, most don’t use them. Why would we assume people would track ALA councilors?
If one should wish to track the councilors ALA provides a roster list right here and a voting record. Might one have to spend a little time with Excel to make a handy dandy spreadsheet? Yes. It’s data entry and not particularly fun or glamorous but it would not take more than a couple of hours initially and even less to maintain thereafter. It is most certainly possible. A better suggestion might be that ALA make it easier to track councilors by providing the data in Excel so that copy and pasting would be fast and easy, then it would take only a matter of minutes to assemble the data and one would analyze to one’s hearts content.
I should confess that, I too, often feel that council spends time on issues that would be better spent elsewhere, but as Karen Schneider wisely pointed out on Council listserv (2/14/2013)
One person’s real issue may be another’s non sequitur–and that is particularly true for a body as large and diverse as ALA Council.
In a February 18th email Reinhart said:
But did you know that there are also 100 councilors who are elected “at-large”? That’s nearly 50% more “at large” representatives than all the chapter, division, and roundtable representatives combined!
I still fail to see the significance or importance of this ratio. In fact I think it is a good thing.
In the same email Reinhart states:
Did you know that these candidates can and do self-nominate for these at-large seats, and all that is required is 25 petition “signatures,” which are often collected on the Council list serve by — you guessed it — other self-nominated at-large councilors? Some of these candidates even collect their “signatures” on Facebook.”
Facebook? No way! Gasp! Ok honestly – so what? What on earth could possibly be wrong with gathering signatures on Facebook? How is that any different from gathering signatures via email or on council floor?
They can self-nominate and only 25 signature required to run? Sounds like a true democracy to me! Councilors may self-nominate but they certainly are not self-elected and they certainly don’t self-represent. (I sense some prejudice here). As a self-nominated, but not self-elected, councilor who signs ALL petitions of other councilors I can say I do it because I think that in a democracy anyone should be able to run. Not everyone will win, that’s what voting is for, that is how a democracy works.
Finally Reinhart states :
Does that seem balanced to you? Is this right and fair to the chapters, divisions and roundtables?
Yes, yes it does. Those 100 councilors represent all 57,719 members, but I think perhaps as a chapter councilor it does not seem fair to you, Mr. Reinhart.
I am completely disregarding Reinhart’s comments that
Fully half of the people in room are completely disengaged from the proceedings at all times — people checking email, posting to social media, online shopping, even playing video games for entire meetings is a common sight.
That half the people are disengaged is strictly opinion. There is no support of this, no definition of what constitutes engagement. Additionally there is no way to know how many of those Mr. Reinhart considers disengaged are chapter or division councilors. This may also be an indication that Mr. Reinhart does not appreciate the diversity of abilities, learning styles, and listening styles of his fellow councilors.
I can think of legitimate reasons to post to social media – Thank you councilors who Tweet! I know your constituents appreciate it! Ditto for email. As for the rest, as I said, learning and listening styles are quite different. Can I play a game and listen? No, but I know that for some people this type of digital doodling helps them focus on what they are hearing.
But Reinhart goes on to state in a February 18th email
I don’t really blame them, because the proceedings are tedious, and the comments from the floor endless, filled with tangents, irrelevancies, and self-aggrandizement by individual councilors.
Welcome to the political process Mr. Reinhart. As was suggested on the listserv perhaps you are not cut out for council, and should consider stepping down or not running again. It’s ok. I’m not sure I will be running for a second term. But I have the deepest respect for those who serve on council and enjoy the political process.
I would agree that some of the comments are a bit off topic and tend to go on too long. Would I insult my fellow council members as you have chosen to? No. Do I know that many of the comments that are off topic and long-winded are from the chapter/division members you seem to hold in much higher esteem than us lowly, self-aggrandizing, self-nominated, tech friendly, councilors at-large? Yes.
In the ALA (Awesome Librarians Associated) Think Tank page on Facebook Reinhart has repeatedly called for this issue to be taken directly to the membership allowing them to vote on the issue. This is a strange attempt to circumvent the processes in place. This is troublesome because at this point Reinhart is proposing that we take an issue directly to the membership based solely on his opinion that council is too large. He has presented no empirical evidence that council is “broken”, that reducing the number of councilors would fix what is “broken”, or that that reduction should come from the pool of councilors at large rather than say chapters and divisions. He has stated that by refusing to take this vote to the public the vote is being blocked. The kind interpretation of this behavior is that he does not understand the process for proposing a resolution and with some time may present some data that supports his claims. The less-than-kind interpretation is he a bully trying to railroad his personal preferences through the system.
In the end I have conclude that Reinhart believes council is “broken” and the solution is to have less at-large councilors. But there is no evidence that A) council is indeed broken, or at least broken in the fashion Reinhart believes B ) that reducing the number councilors would fix any of Reinhart’s perceived problems C) that the reduction should come from the pool of of at-large councilors. Mr. Reinhart is entitled to his opinion and to post it to both the council listserv and Facebook. He has presented no empirical evidence to support his claim or his proposed solution.
He is also entitled to work to change what he perceives as broken. What he does not have a right to do is hijack the system and demand a vote be taken directly to the voting membership based on his opinion.
I am open to reducing (or even increasing the number of councilors) if: A) a clear definition of how council is broken is provided along with a method of measuring improvements, B) evidence is provided that reducing (or increasing) the number of councilors will solve the presented problem, and C) evidence is provided on where those cuts (or increases) would be most beneficial to council and the membership. So far I have not seen any of these.