When leaders fail to lead.


Three years ago a controversial bylaws change was suggested for the American Occupational Therapy Association that granted the Board of Directors powers to revoke memberships based on complaint of other members and a finding of 'cause.'  This issue was fully discussed and documented in this blog at the time of the release of the proposal.

As is the rule for all Bylaws changes, they need to be voted on by the membership, which happens at the subsequent Business Meeting.  That meeting happened in Chicago at the annual conference and is summarized in these minutes with a synopsis of the specific issue at hand following:



President Stoffel recognized Dawn Sonnier, Chairperson of the BPPC, to present a summary of the proposed Bylaws revisions. Chairperson Sonnier moved to adopt the revised Association Bylaws. President Stoffel opened the floor for discussion. The following members rose to speak to the motion:
  • – Reggie Campbell (TX) spoke in opposition. Nicholas Hantzes, Legal Counsel, clarified the definition of cause for revocation of membership.
  • – Carolyn Baum (MO) asked that the BPPC provide an opportunity to adopt each proposed revision separately. Legal Counsel clarified the process.
  • – Mary Evert (CA) requested extension of time for voting based on member concerns, and Chair Sonnier outlined the extensive communication methods and timelines used for member feedback on the proposed revisions.
  • – Barbara Hemphill (MI) spoke against the motion and requested that the revisions be voted on separately. Legal Counsel clarified that the rules of the day prohibited such a vote.
  • – Marc Schaeffer (OH) called the question to close debate. The motion was unanimously adopted.
  • – Director Hildenbrand provided a point of clarification that electronic and other recording devices are not permissible during the meeting.
  • – The motion to adopt the Bylaws revisions passed by hand vote 57 to 54.

This is only a partial accounting - it was a contentious issue that many members in attendance were upset about for the reasons I posted on in the previously linked blog.  By the time this issue came to the floor the time for the business meeting was already over and many people began leaving the room.  When the hand vote was conducted, many people were upset about the possible inaccuracy of that voting method in the confusing context when people were moving about and leaving the room.

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We can fast forward to 2018, and a member submitted a motion to have the Representative Assembly speak  on this issue - and this became known as Motion Five that was placed on the agenda for the Fall 2018 meeting.  It is the responsibility of the RA members and the leadership team to help shape and guide motions so that they are in a good state for the meeting.  The member who submitted this motion received feedback that technically the RA could not re-write the Bylaws but that the issue would be placed on the agenda so that the RA could discuss it and provide a recommendation for the Board of Directors to consider.

In fairness, the RA Speaker attempted to clarify this motion several times and did so in a relatively clear fashion but repeatedly the RA members failed to understand her clarification.

Only 18 members of the RA even bothered to discuss this topic - a participation rate of only 24%.  This is shameful and those RA members who did not bother to engage the topic should be called on to resign as they are clearly not taking their duties seriously.

12/18 of those participating members were struggling to understand the motion - 66% of them just did not understand the Speaker's clarification and did not seem to understand the issue that was framed in the motion.  That is disappointing, but at least they were trying.

ONE MEMBER asked SPECIFICALLY for the KEY INFORMATION that was needed to clarify the entire matter.  She wrote:

Point of Information 1:  Can someone familiar with the original by-laws change provide some context to the rationale and intent of that change as well as clarify the intent of the word “cause” at the time?

This was an excellent question and could have led to a full discussion.  Certainly this was easy to answer because there were some people on the current RA who were in that room in 2016 and knew the controversy, lived through that meeting and its controversial vote, and FULLY UNDERSTOOD what this motion was attempting to do.  At least FIVE of the current RA members were in that room - and probably more.  Several of them now hold the highest leadership positions in the AOTA.

But not a single one of them spoke up to answer any questions or provide any context.

They instead sat in silence and let representative after representative misunderstand, and remain confused.  For this reason those individuals ESPECIALLY should resign their positions. 

When a leader knows something and then remains silent and allows others to misunderstand, they are not being a good leader.

A member had a concern, and that concern had merit.  It deserved the serious attention of the Representative Assembly.  That member took all the correct steps to address the concern in a constructive way.

Then that concern was disregarded.  And people who hold themselves out as leaders refused to step up.

The motion appears to be headed for defeat this weekend, as RA members barely participated in a discussion and the few who tried were thwarted by the negligent and improper actions of people who knew better and could have facilitated an honest discussion.

Of all the disappointments with the process of Representative Assembly meetings, this should be of highest concern because it represents a real culture problem among those who call themselves leaders of the occupational therapy membership association.

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