AAI finally admits its ‘board’ was not elected

The supposed Secretary of Atheist Alliance International has finally admitted that the people who removed democracy from the alliance were not even elected themselves when they did so. He describes their failure to put themselves forward for election as an ‘oversight’, then continues as if there are no consequences for acting as if you are elected when you are not.

Even without all of the other scandals, this alone invalidates every decision made since then allegedly on behalf of AAI. The holding of elections, and the mandates that flow from elections, are fundamental to both the letter and spirit of AAI, which was established specifically to provide a democratic alternative to atheist bodies that were run from the top down.

The main consequence is crystal clear, and takes precedence over all other disputed issues. If you weren’t elected to a position—whatever the reason—then you have no authority to act as if you were elected. It doesn’t matter whether you implausibly describe it as an ‘oversight’. The consequence of not being elected is that you cannot act as if you had been elected. Full stop.

This means in turn that every decision taken since the coup, including the appointment since then of unwitting new board members, has no validity. This includes the recent invalid decision to create the illusion of democracy, for fear of losing their UN status, by having pseudo-AGMs where the board can ignore any votes that take place.

If they have any honour, all of the people now falsely describing themselves as the board should simply stand down. They should stop overseeing what should be done next, because they have no authority to do so.

The following is what Bill Flavell, the supposed AAI Secretary, wrote in an email yesterday to John Hamill of The Freethought Prophet podcast, along with my analysis of the points.

Contents

  1. The requirement to hold obligatory elections
  2. The failure to hold the obligatory elections since 2016
  3. What was gained by not holding the obligatory elections?
  4. Why did the unelected board members want to remove democracy?
  5. Where are we now?

1. The requirement to hold obligatory elections

Bill wrote: “However, I will respond to this last allegation because this one is true. I reiterate, I and AAI are open to admitting mistakes. In fact, I’ll help you out. I joined the board in May 2017 and Howard Burman joined in November 2017, so we both should have been subject to election at the next AGM under the 2013 bylaws.”

This is correct, but it applies to more than Bill and Howard. Every board position apart from two should have been up for election at the 2017 AGM. However, the then board simply refused to convene that obligatory AGM, despite member groups asking them to, and despite member groups putting forward a democratic reform plan to be discussed and voted on at that AGM.

Every board position without exception should have been up for election at the meeting described as the 2018 AGM. As it happens, that meeting was not validly convened, as the supposed board excluded member groups who had put forward the democratic reform plan. Instead they put forward their own motion to remove democracy from AAI, which they carried entirely through proxy votes, with the only member group actually present voting against it.

But even if that meeting had been validly convened, Bill has now accepted that no board members were elected at that meeting (though there was an ambiguous endorsement of one officer position that is decided by the board.) That means that, whatever way you look at it, AAI had no valid board from the date of that meeting onwards. Instead Bill and various colleagues have since been acting as if they are the board of AAI, with absolutely no mandate to do so.

2. The failure to hold the obligatory elections since 2016

Bill wrote: “The fact is, in those chaotic times when we were fighting to save AAI from sinking, we simply overlooked that requirement. It was an oversight. I fully expect you [John Hamill] to gloat over this mistake and tell everyone this proves how corrupt and dishonest we were but that is exactly the opposite of the truth.”

This is an incredible framing of the following sequence of events: refusing to hold an obligatory AGM in 2017, holding a supposed AGM in 2018 that excludes member groups who want to strengthen democracy, voting at that meeting to remove democracy, not even putting themselves up for election, then continuing to act as if they are the legitimate board of AAI.

It is not remotely credible that all of this was a series of ‘oversights’, all of which coincidentally went in favour of the way they wanted AAI to be run. And even if we implausibly consider them as ‘oversights’, that would make those people entirely unsuitable to run AAI, and would still render invalid any decisions they or their successors have made since them.

As it happens, I don’t agree that these were ‘chaotic times when we [presumably the unelected board members] were fighting to save AAI from sinking.’ From our perspective, we [the member groups supporting the democratic ethos of AAI] were fighting to save AAI from the authoritarian behaviour of the unelected board members.

But even if Bill and his colleagues genuinely believed this, that would have made it even more urgent for them to convene a legitimate AGM at which members could discuss and decide on the two ways forward: stronger democracy which some member groups wanted, or removing democracy which the unelected board members wanted.

Even if we accepted the implausible ‘oversights’ excuse, in days gone by, people who genuinely made a sincere mistake of this magnitude would have had the honour to immediately stand down once the ‘oversights’ came to light. Instead these unelected people decided to continue for years to act as if they had been elected. This is absolutely dishonourable.

3. What was gained by not holding the obligatory elections?

Bill wrote: “You could ask what would we stand to gain by doing this intentionally? We would gain nothing–I have looked back at past AGM minutes as far back as I could find them and in 100% of cases, incumbent directors have ALWAYS been re-elected at AGMs. This was an honest mistake. Nothing more.”

It is perfectly clear what Bill and his colleagues would have gained (and de facto did gain) by not holding these obligatory elections, and by not putting themselves forward for those elections. They gained an invalid continuation of their de facto running of AAI, without having to put forward their ideas to the member groups against an alternative set of ideas that they knew existed.

The reason that previous incumbent board members were typically re-elected was that the pre-coup Atheist Alliance International was run in an honourable and collegiate manner. Member groups tried to operate by consensus, and the board tried to represent the views of the member groups rather than impose their own views.

Even when some board members wanted to disband the alliance so that the US-based member groups could merge with American Atheists, they enabled democratic debate among the members which led instead to the strengthening of democracy within a restructured AAI at the World Atheist Conference in Dublin in 2011.

By contrast, this time around, there were two conflicting approaches:

  1. One approach was led by Atheist Ireland and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who wanted the members to debate and vote on a proposal to protect and strengthen democracy and accountability, in the collegiate spirit in which AAI had always been run.
  2. The competing approach was led by board members who wanted to remove democracy and accountability, including by removing AGMs and the requirement to publish accounts, and with the board members appointing their own successors without the member groups voting.

If the board had honestly convened a valid general meeting during 2017 or 2018, while being open that they wanted to remove democracy from AAI, then there would have been competing motions at the general meeting, and also nominations from both sides leading to competitive elections.

Instead the board members hid key decisions from member groups, unlawfully refused to convene the obligatory 2017 AGM and elections, then held an invalid meeting in 2018 to place themselves solely and unaccountably in charge of AAI without being elected to do so.

So what they gained by not holding elections, which would have resulted in a democratic debate about who to elect, was that they maintained de facto control of AAI without having to put forward their ideas to the member groups against an alternative set of ideas that they knew existed.

4. Why did the unelected board members want to remove democracy?

We do not know why the unelected board members wanted to remove democracy from AAI.

Under the bylaws, the board should have circulated a motion before the 2018 meeting explaining each of the bylaw changes and the arguments for making each change. Bill says he has this in a 23-page document. However, he has failed to share it with legitimate members groups who should have received it, so we do not know what it says.

However, the minutes of the 2018 meeting state the following:

“8. Gail explained the rationale behind the major proposed amendments to the bylaws
(a) Elimination of larger affiliate’s domination.
(b) Makes Board more accountable and more responsive.”

With regards to rationale (a), we don’t know what these minutes mean by ‘larger affiliates’. Could this refer to the proposals from Atheist Ireland and the Freedom From Religion Foundation to strengthen democracy within AAI, which were aimed at reducing the domination of any one group or the board, and ensuring that all member groups have an equal voice?

With regards to rationale (b), this is simply absurd. How on earth can you make a board more accountable by removing the existing accountability? This is an Alice in Wonderland argument that should be given no credibility whatsoever.

Some unelected board members have also said at various times that the reason was that they were in crisis with very few member groups (because the board didn’t understand the bylaws), a website that needed to be updated, and costly membership software.

We don’t know which reasons are correct, but they are not consistent with each other.

5. Where are we now?

Whatever the actual reasons the unelected board members wanted to remove democracy from the alliance, there is considerable evidence that the meeting in 2018 was not validly convened, that member groups were invalidly excluded, that the motions were not properly put, and that obligatory elections to the incoming board were not held.

But even if this meeting had been properly convened, the minutes show that no incoming board members were elected at that meeting, and the supposed new bylaws include no procedures for inaugural board members to be appointed. And the current supposed Secretary of AAI has accepted that this happened.

To repeat, this means that, even without all of the other scandals, Atheist Alliance International came out of that meeting with no elected board. Since then, various people have been acting as they are the elected board of AAI, with no authority whatsoever to do so.

This alone invalidates every decision made since then allegedly on behalf of AAI. The holding of elections is fundamental to both the letter and spirit of AAI, which was established specifically to provide a democratic alternative to atheist bodies that were run from the top down.

The main consequence is crystal clear, and takes precedence over all other disputed issues. If you weren’t elected to a position—whatever the reason—then you have no authority to act as if you were elected. It doesn’t matter whether you implausibly describe it as an ‘oversight’. The consequence of not being elected is that you cannot act as if you had been elected. Full stop.

This means in turn that every decision taken since the coup, including the appointment since then of unwitting new board members, has no validity. This includes the recent invalid decision to create the illusion of democracy, for fear of losing their UN status, by having pseudo-AGMs where the board can ignore any votes that take place.

If they have any honour, all of the people now falsely describing themselves as the board should simply stand down. They should stop overseeing what should be done next, because they have no authority to do so.

AAI finally admits its ‘board’ was not elected

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