Shortly after arriving in Bellingham almost 50 years ago I was appointed by the university president to serve as the university representative on the Board of Directors of the local poverty program called the Whatcom County Opportunity Council. The Board was composed of 1/3 public service agency bureaucrats, 1/3 elected officials and 1/3 persons representing populations in poverty. I was a bureaucrat. I quickly saw that the organization needed some serious changes and, I felt, one of the first was to get rid of an officious, incompetent and grossly insensitive Executive Director.
Well, the chance to do something about this came shortly as there was to be an election of officers for the Board of Directors. Most of the board members representing the poverty populations had become friends of mine and they wanted me to run for President against the person nominated by Rabi XXX, who was a one-person nominating committee. The Rabbi was very upset when I declared that I would stand as a candidate for the office of President and not accept his recommendation that I be listed as a candidate for Vice President. I was breaking precedent and this was deemed inappropriate by many of the politicians and agency bureaucrats on the board. To resolve the issue three of the ‘influentials’ that had a lot of impact on how the organization was run called me to a meeting with them at a local restaurant.
I was asked what it would take to get me to ‘back off’ and not run against the official candidate. I responded that I would do so if (a) the board agreed to have a consulting firm come in and conduct a training session on how to operate as an effective board of directors and (b) the official nominee would have to walk up the street to the office of the organization and tell the Director that he would be fired regardless which of us were elected. The official nominee for the position of President of the Board of Directors was called and within 30 minutes did just as he was instructed so when he then joined us at the table and told us what he had done I accepted the position of Vice President on the official slate. At the next meeting of the Board of Directors all hell broke loose when the official ballot was distributed and those who supported me for President found out I was not running against the official candidate. My buddies thought that I had sold out. The new slate was voted in and the first order of business was to begin the process for removing the executive director and the second order of business was to plan for a retreat for a week-end of board training.
When the board members gathered for the retreat the new Board President felt that there would be too much conflict in the room as many of the members were angry that he was the President rather than me. He felt he could not handle the conflict that was going to occur so he asked that I chair the gathering, which I did. I began by iterating the order of the day, how we would proceed with the training program but was interrupted by a Native American board member who stood up and asked in a loud voice why I had ‘jumped ship’ and allowed myself to be bought off by the conservative old guard. He wanted to know what kind of dirty back-room shenanigans were going on. So, with the Executive Director who was on his way out of the organization not in the room I explained what happened. “So what?” he responded, “The Executive Committee hasn’t really changed, it is still a bunch of white bureaucrats.”
“Well”, I said, “Let us see if we can change that. With the new board now in place we need a nominating committee to prepare for any board vacancies so I name you Tom (Native American), Don Jose (Hispanic) and Mabel (welfare mother) as the new nominating committee. “This is all a sham” was the response. “There are no vacancies to fill!” “Oh yes there is.” I responded. “I herewith resign as Vice President of the Board of Directors” and as I said that I turned around and on a large sheet of newsprint on a pad attached to the wall in front of the room I wrote my letter of resignation. I gave it to the new member of the official nominating committee and told them that by the end of the day I wanted their official nominee and we would vote on it immediately so the position could be filled before we went home. That is how the organization got a Native American as Vice President. He moved on to the Presidency the next year and did a good job. The training session went smoothly after that brief interlude.