Absolute Power Corrupts

It’s election time, and we’re being subjected to the usual rounds of propaganda, false accusations, half-truth mudslinging, and other shenanigans that accompany campaigns. It’s also election time at the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, and I’ve been watching their shenanigans with the same sense of “did they really say/do that?” I’ve felt about the politicians.

Just to remind you: FSMTB is a non-profit that exists to serve its “Member Boards” – the various state boards that regulate the practice of massage therapy. This organization has a lot of clout in the field, because its member agencies are the ones that regulate massage at the state level, and in some cases, massage schools and massage establishments as well.

Non-profits have a governing Board of Directors (BOD) that sets policy and controls the hiring of key professional staff. In the case of FSMTB, there is another body within the organization that has the power to set policy and shape the strategic direction FSMTB should take: it’s called the Delegate Assembly. This group, comprised of one representative from each state board, typically gathers each year at the FSMTB Annual Meeting—which is coming up on September 27-29 in New Orleans.

You might be thinking, “What’s her problem here? Sounds like regular stuff to me!” Well, I’m clanging the alarm bell because the control of FSMTB has been shifting into fewer, and tighter hands. I’m talking about the FSMTB Board of Directors (who are elected), and the Executive Director (who is hired by the Board). It’s hard to believe that this shift has happened in plain view, and with the consent of the Delegate Assembly.

What has happened is that the Member Boards have given up their power, seemingly without a fight. Over the past couple of years, there have been changes made to the Federation Bylaws that I find unacceptable, personally. I’m a former delegate to the Federation myself, and I would never have rolled over for such a thing.

From Section 5. Nomination and Election of Officers and Directors, the FSMTB Bylaws have changed to prevent any nominations for seats on the Board of Directors coming from the floor during the Annual Meeting. They have also changed the method of electing the FSMTB officers–President, Vice President and Treasurer. Originally, officers were elected by a majority vote of the Delegate Assembly, but that has been changed so that the officers are now elected by the Board of Directors themselves.

In addition to these two changes, the provision specifying the term of office and maximum number of consecutive terms was changed. In the original Bylaws, Directors served two-year terms, with a max of eight consecutive years on the Board. Now, they are elected to three-year terms, with a max span of nine consecutive years. That’s a long time to hang around on a volunteer board — especially when the Board member may no longer be serving on their own state massage board.

So in this new system, a three-person Nominating Committee has full control over naming the “slate” candidiate for a BOD seat, and determining who else (if anyone) may be on the ballot for that given seat. Does that strike you as Inside Politics? Sure does for me.

The combination of 1) taking nominating power away from the Delegates themselves, 2) taking the power to elect officers away from the Member Boards and putting it in the hands of the BOD, and 3) expanding the term of Directors to three years and a total of nine consecutive years on the BOD, has consolidated power in the hands of the BOD to a shocking and unacceptable degree. It is unhealthy, and contrary to the spirit in which Member Boards carry out their commitments to the represent public interest.

With that said, if there can be an uproar and outrage created over this power grab, the Delegate Assembly could change the FSMTB Bylaws on the spot at the Annual Meeting, according to Article XI, Section 3 of the Bylaws:

Section 3. Adoption without prior notice.
These Bylaws may also be amended at any meeting of the Delegate Assembly at which a quorum is present without previous notice by nine-tenths of all Delegates present and voting; provided that the proposed amendment has been distributed in formal written form at the beginning of the meeting.

Otherwise, Bylaw amendments must be submitted in writing to Member Boards at least 45 days in advance of the Delegate Assembly. Now, it’s probably a long shot to get a near-unanimous vote on such a thing, but it’s certainly possible.

Incidentally, the Nominating Committee that is listed on the FSMTB website is not the current committee. I hear that the committee members this year are actually Susan Beam (NC), Cathy Lescak (GA) and Chris Sluss (TN). Somebody should alert the FSMTB webmaster to this oversight.

I strongly urge the Delegates to the FSMTB Annual Meeting to take a good hard look at what has taken place. It’s time to regroup and repeal these ridiculous amendments later this month in New Orleans. You have the ability to bring the power back to the Member Boards to directly choose the people who will represent the organization, and you need to reclaim your ability to set policy. Do what you were charged to do–represent your state board–and don’t be a bunch of sheeple. The state boards are on their way to becoming little more than window dressing at the Annual Meeting if you don’t assert yourselves this time. Absolute power corrupts. We’ve all seen it happen in other organizations in our profession. Don’t allow it to happen here.


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