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A view from the LAB minority on the constituency model of elections

Andy Norris, one of the 3 person minority on the WBAI LAB who voted against the constituency model last week argues for a unified elections policy at Pacifica.


What to do? Apart from the obvious - assisting the LAB and iPNB members by voicing your opinion, I feel there is a need to amplify the discussion at the national level about the implications of a local autonomy as proposed in the 11/8/02 document. Aspects of the bylaws relating to members need very careful consideration, and uniformity is advised. Adoption of those parts of the 11/8/02 proposal I have discussed should be strongly discouraged. [ from below post ]

From: Andrew Norris
Date: Sun Nov 17, 2002 1:43 pm
Subject: WBAI Unity Caucus By-laws Proposal 11/8/02

This is based on an email Bob Lederer (see below) addressed to Larry Romsted and "anyone else who is confused". I am not Larry Romsted, and I don't think I am confused, but I read Bob Lederer's email nonetheless. They both raise some points that are at the heart of the debate and of interest to me. These concern

(a) the responsibility of the LAB/LSB (Local Station Board), and
(b) the method of election of same.

I will deal with (a) and (b) separately.

(a) LAB/LSB Responsibilities

The "WBAI Unity Caucus By-laws Proposal COMPOSITION OF LOCAL STATION BOARDS (Local Autonomy) 11/8/02" http://www.wbai.net/gov_constit_revised11-9-02.html (this is the version Bob Lederer gave the WBAI LAB on 11/9/02 and that he also gave Rob Robinson of the Pacifica national Bylaws Committee) states for the first time a very important aspect. I'll quote the relevant words:

"... each Local Station Board (and for the first implementation, each Local Advisory Board) shall develop an electoral mechanism designed to achieve the following goals:

1. That the minimum of 50% of the Delegates be people of color and a minimum of 50% of the Delegates shall be women; and

2. That the overall group of Listener Member Delegates include a diversity of those who are disenfranchised based on race, nationality, immigrant status, class, disability, sexual orientation, age, and any similar category for which representation is identified as important to fulfilling the Foundation's mission.
5. The Local Station Board may choose to establish categories of seats based on particular geographic areas within the signal area and/or based on representation of community issues that are important to fulfilling the Foundation's mission.

6. The Local Station Board may choose to require Listener Members to register in the categories of Delegate seats in which they intend to vote."

(the quotation is adapted from the version of 11/802 subject to a clarification from Bob Lederer on 11/12/02 )

Over the past 7 months many people had asked the question: Who selects the groups or constituencies? (these are now termed "categories of seats". I am interpreting "categories of seats" as equivalent to what has been described as "constituencies"). The 11/8/02 proposal unambiguously ascribes this responsibility to the LAB/LSB.

This concerns me as a LAB member who would be responsible for defining these constituencies. Furthermore, item 6 above gives me as a LAB member the ability to tell WBAI supporters that they must register in some way.

I find both of these aspects very troubling. I do not want to become involved in defining "categories" of listeners. Nor do I want to tell listeners that they have to "register" or identify with some arbitrary grouping or assortment of groups that I participate in defining.

Not only do I find these proposed responsibilities incompatible with my view of my role as a LAB/LSB member, I believe they leave me open to legal challenges. If the above bylaws language were adopted I think it would put me in a position where listeners can justifiably make the case that I am changing their membership rights without their approval. This is the crux of one of the lawsuits currently under court order, and a central theme of another, and I can't believe that now at the 11-th hour we have a proposal that if adopted could open up another series of lawsuits. It could also reopen the lawsuits that are currently on hold pending agreement among the opposing parties.

If the iPNB adopts or suggests language like this for LAB approval, I would consider it highly irresponsible.

(b) Election method

Bob Lederer points out that in his response to Larry Romsted (below) that according to the 11/8/02 proposal "..seats would be elected by Listener Members." However, despite the explicit wording and Bob Lederer's arguments, I am not convinced that the method proposed is not essentially one of appointment. Let me explain.

The 11/8/02 proposal, while specific on some points is short on others, so I will use two citations from an earlier and lengthier 9/19/02 document:

"... polling places will be set up at the station and several locations throughout the signal area on several days during the three-week voting period, staffed by volunteers. Waivers will be available for prisoners and people with disabilities or transportation problems. Registered voters will have to show identification (not necessarily picture IDs.), and will then receive ballots for the constituencies in which they are registered." .... and ... "Prospective candidates for the Station Board from Constituent Categories One and Two (i.e. non-staff), must produce legible nomination petitions with printed names, addresses and signatures of at least fifty (50) Registered Voters, who are both from the station signal area and already registered as a constituency member of the candidates specific sub-category." from CRITICAL ELEMENTS OF THE PROPOSED "CONSTITUENCY / INCLUSION" MODEL WBAI Unity Caucus 9/19/02 http://pacifica.org/governance/bylaws_wbaiunity.html

These two quotes indicate to me a scheme that is unworkable and unstable. It requires polling places where the voters will be asked to provide some evidence that they are validly registered in the constituencies they select. The requirement to attend the polling place is a major disincentive in itself. The prospect of having to provide proof of "category" is further reason to stay away, in my opinion.

The nomination system proposed would, I believe, disincline most people. First you have to solicit at least 50 Registered Voters in the category you are interested in. In order to make this effective would require at the very least publication of the lists of Registered Voters with each person's Categories, which I would advise against.

Apart from the issues of the nomination and voting, which I believe would generate mass apathy, if not outright rejection, there is the issue of instability, which I view as a grave failing. This gets to the core of this untried, untested and purely theoretical scheme.

For instance, it is quite possible that the 18 or so constituencies elections, being essentially independent elections artificially separating the listeners, could produce a set of 36 people comprising, for example, 23 men and 13 women. Greater disparities are very realizeable. In order to "fix" this inequity and achieve a more balanced male/female board, as required by item 1 above (which I agree with BTW), the LAB/LSB or its proxy (the election supervision committee) would have a hard time to adjudicate among the 18 or so constituencies and rectify the imbalance. The prospect is one that I as LAB member would want to avoid at all costs (the KPFA model has relatively simple safeguards for this type of scenario).

This type of outcome, combined with the narrowly defined and relatively small size of some constituencies, plus the inordinate nomination procedures, leads to a scheme where the LAB/LSB assumes a major role in deciding the outcome of the elections. Some have compared it to an appointed seats system - the main relationship to "appointed seats" as I understand it is that the LAB/LSB retains an inordinate amount of control over the process, before, during and after.

Conclusion and recommendations

The bylaws revision process is supposed to come up with a way to engage and involve the listeners in electing the LAB/LSB. What we have here with the 11/8/02 proposal is a far cry from the intent of the plaintiffs in the listeners' lawsuit - which is the proximate cause of this debate. The WBAI listener activists who have voiced an opinion have, as far as I can tell, overwhelmingly rejected this proposal. The Committee for a Unified Membership is opposed to it. I have not seen strong support for it at the WBAI Bylaws Subcommittee. There does appear to be support for the "Constituency Model" on the WBAI LAB (I favor the "KPFA model", and would prefer to spend my time focusing on its implementation in the WBAI signal area).

What to do? Apart from the obvious - assisting the LAB and iPNB members by voicing your opinion, I feel there is a need to amplify the discussion at the national level about the implications of a local autonomy as proposed in the 11/8/02 document. Aspects of the bylaws relating to members need very careful consideration, and uniformity is advised. Adoption of those parts of the 11/8/02 proposal I have discussed should be strongly discouraged.

Andy Norris [ WBAI LAB member ]


From: Bob Lederer
Date: Sat Nov 16, 2002 11:28 am
Subject: Local autonomy: elected seats only

To Larry Romsted and anyone else who is confused:

While I don't have time to respond to all of your unwarranted interpretations and conclusions about the constituency model, I do want to correct one factual misstatement you made on this list about our local autonomy by-laws proposal. You wrote:

"If I understand the latest version that Bob Lederer published bylaws, it permits LAB members to appoint additional people of their choice to the LAB. That is not democracy that is elitist autocracy."

This is completely false. As our text says, when listing the parameters required or allowed when the PNB evaluates any Local Board composition proposed to them by a LAB:

"All seats representing Listener Members must be elected by Listener Members."

The only seats not representing Listener Members would be those representing Staff, which likewise would all be elected. So this is a non-issue, indeed a continuing non-issue that has been falsely posed about the constituency model for many months now.

Clearly, our provision allowing LABs to have the right to propose (subject to PNB approval) a larger Local Station Board in no way contradicts or undermines the above-mentioned requirement. Of course any additional seats would be elected by Listener Members.

In the future, those who want to characterize what our proposal allows or disallows might better serve the readers of these lists by asking us what it means before assuming they know and going public with that assumption. If language needs to be tightened up to clarify our intent, we're always open to that.

Bob Lederer


[ From Larry Romsted to which Bob Lederer's post was originally addressed ]

--- In WBAIBylaws@y..., Larry Romsted wrote:
To: Bob Lederer
From: Larry Romsted
Re: Your email to me of November 16, 2002


(Note: Unfortunately this email became a bit lengthy, but this is primarily because some past emails are reproduced for the sake of clarity.)

I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to point out my mistake in your email of Nov. 16 (see below). I wrote that mistaken sentence to Lee Kronick from my memory of the latest version of the Unity Caucus bylaws proposals and I should not have done that. Thank you for correcting me.

I have now read your email of Tuesday, November 12, 2002 containing the new bylaws language more carefully and I do have some serious concerns about the Unity Caucus' new draft of proposed-bylaws language (also reproduced below) and process.

But first, I want you to know that I am delighted that this bylaws proposal that you submitted to Rob Robinson of the iPNB does require that: "All seats representing Listener Members must be elected by Listener Members." I assume that means that there will be no appointed seats on the first elected board (or future boards) and that none of the current LAB members will be grandfathered on to the first elected board. Wonderful! (Or am I wrong again?)

Also, I want you to know that I agree with the purpose of the diversity goals that you and others have been articulating for some time. In fact, from what I can tell from the discussions over the past year or so, almost everyone that participates in email discussions agrees. This is excellent and crucial to the mission of Pacifica. What I think you and I disagree about is the structure for electing people to the station boards, what structures are needed to implement the diversity goals and the process used to decide about those structures.

For example, I believe that in an election the decision of the voters should be final, that voters should have the right to vote for the candidate(s) of their choice and that they should not be forced to select a particular constituency or constituencies in which to vote. Simply put, they might be prevented from voting for their favorite candidate(s). I think that within a proportional representation election structure it is possible for any constituency to organize and campaign for and its members vote for candidates who represent their interests and have a excellent chance of winning compared to the "winner-take-all method" currently used in the US.

Lani Guinier has made the case for proportional representation in "Tyranny of the Majority." In addition, Candidate Search Committees can be established in each station area to seek out and encourage a broad diversity of people to stand for election. Finally, although, I do not think diversity quotas need to be mandated in the Pacifica community to ensure that elected station boards are diverse, I am willing to support them because discrimination is still so strong in this country and there is certainly prejudice among members of the listener community. Pacifica should be in the forefront of struggling to overcome all types of oppression, including class, but Pacifica is also radio and should also focus are arts, etc. But I also strongly believe that the identities of candidate groups should NOT be PREDETERMINED before an election by a small group of people, e.g., the past WBAI Elections Committee, the Unity Caucus or the current members of the WBAI LAB. Predetermining constituencies divides the Pacifica community, it does not unite it.

If you can find the time, I would really appreciate your pointing out my other "unwarranted interpretations and conclusions about the constituency model" that you mentioned in you Nov. 17 email.

Now some additional thoughts on the UC bylaws proposal.

I am deeply concerned about the process you and other members of the Unity Caucus are using. The function of the bylaws committees in all station areas that have been meeting for many months is to discuss and make recommendations on bylaws. The email bylaws language you circulated on November 12 shows that you sent this draft to Rob Robinson of the iPNB, but I believe that neither you or the Unity Caucus brought it to the WBAI Bylaws subcommittee for consideration.

Why not? That is suppose to be the process. This approach is contrary to the concept of "unity" which comes from open and transparent decision making processes. Build democracy in Pacifica by practicing democracy.

More. Point E in the UC proposed bylaws states that "...for the first implementation, each Local Advisory Board) shall develop an electoral mechanism designed to achieve the following goals:" This point is restated in a later section, point 6: "For the first implementation of this provision, each Local Advisory Board shall design and vote on an electoral mechanism by a two-thirds vote no later than March 1, 2003."

This is not the open process with which the bylaws committees began doing bylaws revisions. Why are you and the Unity Caucus proposing to change it?

The process you are recommending is fraught with possibilities of self-interest. The current LAB members were not elected. They are self-appointed. Nothing they can do about it because this has the practice of Pacifica up until now. However, it is another matter completely to suddenly and without real open discussion to attempt to create a new process giving the current LAB members, many of whom have not participated in the bylaws discussions, the responsibility of devising election procedures for elections in which they themselves may run for office. It is one thing for them to approve whatever election procedures have been devised independently in accordance with the Settlement Agreement and the process we have being using to consider bylaws until now. It is a grave error to give unelected LAB members the power to write the election bylaws when they themselves may run in that election.

Finally, in point 3 of your preface to the Unity Caucus Bylaws Proposal you make several points that I would like to respond to.

a. You write that: "it is absurd to say that the constituency model...[was]... presented it to the LAB in bad faith." I am not sure what bad faith means here exactly, but if the language of Constituency Model proposal presented to the LAB is not the same as the Bylaws language presented to the iPNB, well, then that seems like bad faith because it is not part of an open and transparent process. Sending the bylaws language to Rob Robinson and the iPNB without presenting it to and seeing input and discussion from the WBAI Bylaws committee is "bad faith" with the participants of that committee, which was created specifically to discuss new bylaws for Pacifica.

b. You write that: "...each LAB would have to hold public consultation and discussion before voting to support any electoral system, and then the iPNB would go through a public review and approval or amendment of whatever the LAB recommends." Where did that process come from? I have neither heard or read of an process for approval of elections procedures yet being discussed or established.

Looking forward to a continuing dialog.

Larry Romsted

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