Quixote’s Column: Back to the Future

Bylaws History for Headwaters Chapter: Back to the Future

Disclaimer: the following article is written from my personal perspective.  The story it tells is from my experience and of my opinion.  Call it an editorial piece.  – RoxAnna Theiss, May 2015

So there we were October 27, 2011, finished with our assessments and getting ready to graduate and an email comes in from Paul Bugas on the morning of: a reminder to think about the slate of offices to be selected on our graduation evening . . . WHAT? Reminder? Officers? Board? What Board?  How did I miss this?

Blindly we follow . . . I say that because I don’t think I was the only one confused.  I have no idea and I don’t remember how I found out about the various positions – must have been a handout I didn’t pay any attention to earlier because it wasn’t about the natural world per se – and there you have the crux of the matter: paying attention to chapter business was not high on any list of priorities I had.  Anyway, the Training Chair position called to me and I volunteered via email during the day of our last class to occupy this position.  We had our graduation and the various Board positions were volunteered and “elected”.  It was all very informal and quick – very quick.  Only four things come to mind from that evening:

  • Sassafras Tea
  • A “skills practical” that wasn’t
  • Eric Jones
  • We cherry picked and swapped among ourselves what we did and did not want to include as our various duties on the First Ever Headwaters Board

Loved the tea – Sandy Greene now had real meaning for me on that night!  Confused about the skills practical . . .  what was that anyway?  Aware that someone I had just come to know at our Maple Flats outing over a keying question was also interested in Training.  I raised my hand first but Eric and I shook hands on working on Training together.  He’s been with Training ever since.  I paid no attention to the cherry picking or swapping.  I focused only on Training – a bad habit I would continue for two and one half years.

A flurry of email activity followed over the next day or three:

  •  The first Board meeting date was decided
  •  Sophia sent the first VMN-VMS email
  •  We had our first “kerfluffle” over beavers (don’t ask)
  •  Our first Project Proposal was developed
  •  We got a huge wake up call about our first Annual Report due date

We got the Bylaws, Operating Handbook and final agenda two days before the first Board meeting scheduled for November 10, 2011.  The Board meeting went well considering we didn’t really know what we were doing.  Paul could not make the first Board meeting but Jim Lawson came.   We forged ahead.  Turns out we got the Rivanna Bylaws which we adopted as our own, making revisions “at will”.  This had to be returned to the State Office post haste and we became a chartered chapter on the date we first met.  We never saw a blank state Bylaws template until years later.

I can tell you now that we made some missteps – of course we did.  That’s to be expected.  However, they were more part of our eagerness to keep a momentum going than to ignore the state policy or even the Bylaws.  But ignore them we did.  Sophia was the primary alarm bell on our headlong progress.  I can only speak for myself on this but I didn’t think the Bylaws were important – then.  I do now.  I was totally fixated on Training and that’s the only part of the Policy and Chapter Operating Handbook on which I focused.   And focused I was and still am but with the added benefit of having now studied the Bylaws, Operating Handbook and Program policy as whole documents, in full context and with care.

So we have come to a place where it would be safe to say we are a Board-centric chapter.  I think we all were oblivious to varying degrees concerning any consequences or ramifications.  The Board continued their scheduled monthly meetings and made the decisions for the most part – with the only nod to membership governance called for in the Bylaws occurring at the Annual meetings where Bylaws amendments were to be considered.  And then not in any way that seemed to engage.  In our defense: I really don’t know how else we could have done it.  There were only seven on that first Board and although the suggestion was made to reach out to the rest of our 2011 class to engage and involve, we decided instead to focus ahead on the first Basic Training we would organize as a Chartered Chapter.

But consequences do come about as a natural course of things and I am well aware of ramifications at this point.  At a recent 2015 Training class we had a reception for our state sponsoring agencies – it was a smashing success by the way – and at the end of the event, one of our busiest and most elusive agency representatives blew me out of the water and brought home something over which I have been agitated for several months: general membership meetings.  He asked very pertinent questions about those meetings and referred me to his involvement with several chapters who do have regular meetings.  He wants to be involved with Headwaters in that same way.  He was very intense about it.  Said he: “When Headwaters is ready to have regular chapter meetings . . . “.  You don’t have to take my word for it – I have a witness.

This is why I have subtitled this article: Back to the Future.  Our newest trainees are an amazing group.  So eager they are, with so much to offer and so interested in Headwaters.  They have quizzed me more than once about getting to know other chapter members.  They were disappointed no one showed for their Sponsoring Agency event from the Chapter save Carl.  They like Carl, don’t get me wrong.  They like Judy.  And they love Eric!  You can ask Carl, Judy and Eric about this class and how special they are as a group.  You don’t have to take my word for it.

It is for them I speak.  It is for their sake I plead my case: let’s examine the Bylaws and policy for hints and advice about our future agenda and chapter strategy.  Let’s find a way to be a Chapter as an entity instead of individuals who meet at occasional volunteer opportunities or advanced trainings.  In truth, I plead my case for the chapter as a whole – all four cohorts!  Check out the clues I have already mentioned about the intent and design inherent in the State policy and Chapter Bylaws.  Let’s get back to our future as a whole community with seats at the table for everyone – and I don’t mean blanket invitations to the Board meetings either.   I mean an involved and engaged membership – all 52 of us!  Because with this class I dare to say they are more than ready to be contributing members.  You don’t have to take my word for it – come see for yourselves.