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Corrupting Influence of Paying Board Members

NRA’s bylaws do not permit Board members to be paid, but that’s been ignored outright, or done via state associations: NRA makes a grant to a state association, which conveniently pays the board member. A lot of folks are surprised by how compliant the NRA Board has been, but I suspect in many cases that’s being accomplished with the threat that those Board members may be required by the NY courts to pay some or all of that money back. Imaging if you had to pay, say, ten years of back salary? It would financially ruin most people. You’d probably be willing to listen to someone who came along telling you they could help you avoid that eventuality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is never to underestimate people’s ability to live in their own reality if the actual reality is too threatening for them. It’s human nature. But human nature is why we have institutional controls to prevent this kind of situation.

I’m a big fan in non-profit of a strict “no compensation for board members” rule. Board members should only be reimbursed for reasonable expenses associated with their service to the corporation. Not too long ago, my club implemented such a rule via board policy, and we did have a director with a landscaping contract. He did a good job. Our new outside contractor is slightly more expensive. I hated to vote in favor of ending that. But it had to be done. At some point, we need to get that in the bylaws so it can’t easily be undone by a future board.

You create systems that are resistant to corruption, so clued-in members have certain processes and procedures they are accustomed to which make graft more difficult. If a future board starts dismantling those systems, it should raise a red flag.

NRA Ballots: What To Do

I fully endorse John Richardson’s ballot. Vote for Owen Buz Mills, and that’s it. Write in Frank C. Tait, Wayne, PA, and R.B. Rocky Marshall Jr, Boerne, TX. The rest of them need to come to their senses and show Wayne and Bill the door, and start reestablishing trust and competence in the Association.

The Health of an Organization

One of my primary objectives as a new club president is to devolve a lot of the Board’s responsibility. The primary mechanism in civic organizations to accomplish this is the committee.

Younger people these days are so unfamiliar with civil society, I often worry about even using the word “committee.” Does it have good connotations? Governments have all kinds of committees, subcommittees, blue ribbon panels, etc and they don’t get anything done. At least not anything of value. Maybe we need a better word for it. We could go all corporate and adopt “team,” but I think that carries a lot of bullshit along with it these days too.

Our club was functionally a one, two, or three man show for a number of years. Sure, we had committees, but they were themselves generally one man shows, and those were often Board members. Until very recently, power was firmly rooted in three to four people at most. The rest of the Board was relatively powerless when push came to shove. Now we’ve devolved a lot of that power to the Board, and I’d like to devolve it further still.

Successful organizations aren’t a cult of personality. Successful organizations have processes. A successful organization is a machine that you can plug people into, and mechanisms are in place to keep the machine running even if the operators change. This is a very difficult task in a volunteer-driven organization. The distribution of power is a way to develop new leadership, and ensure when people step out, there’s other people who can step in. It also doesn’t hurt to ease members into the leadership culture.

This year we’re going to give an actual Annual Report to the members that goes beyond just totals for the year. People aren’t going to volunteer for a black box. If an organization has processes, people have to see where they might be able to pitch in. So you have to be open about things. Any civic organization should be open about its operations. Beware leaders who seem to like hiding things. Sometimes you do have internal matters, but it should be the exception rather than the rule.

Speaking of culture: organizational culture is not an accidental thing. It is deliberate, and one area that can’t be separated from leadership. The leadership of an organization sets the culture. If they don’t, actors (sometimes bad actors) will come in and do that for you.

So what’s the lesson here? NRA has a lot of problems that are frankly familiar to me on a smaller scale. Though my club thankfully didn’t have the massive grifting. But I served on a Board where we were a rubber stamp before a power vacuum changed the dynamics. That power vacuum empowered the Board as a body to step up, and things have gotten better. Not perfect, but moving in the right direction. Like NRA, my club also has an overly large Board. What I’m saying is there can be hope. NRA has a leadership problem. The Board are sycophants, sure, but you’d be surprised how much toxic leadership can hold sway over a Board. From my point of view NRA needs to be rid of two people: Wayne LaPierre and Bill Brewer. Wayne because he’s hapless. I don’t believe Wayne could successfully run a Boy Scout troop. Bill Brewer because he’s correctly identified Wayne as a guy who will believe anything, and pay him anything. I don’t believe Brewer has the best interests of NRA at heart, and if we’re rid of Wayne, but Bill gets to name Wayne’s replacement, we just replaced Ack-Mac with a worse parasite.

The rot often seems to run all the way through, but I can promise you it does not. Toxic leadership is a cancer. The first order of business in enacting a turnaround is to remove it. From there, health will probably improve.

Hated to Do It

I have disabled comments until I can figure out a better solution. I’ve honestly been thinking about this for a while, but I’ve just decided to pull the trigger on it. These days I don’t really even have time to read all the comments, so I’m slow to react if I do at all.

Generally my policy has been one of tolerance provided everyone was being respectful. I’ve only nuked racist shit, and people who just couldn’t control themselves when warned.

I don’t want to get into moderation and picking and choosing which views get aired, so for now it’s just off.

The Californication of Colorado is Complete

All that fleeing from California isn’t going to help things. We want them packed and stacked in one very democratic state. Witness Colorado nuking preemption as an example of what happens when Californians flee their state in large numbers and settle elsewhere. This would have been inconceivable when this blog started in 2007. But it’s reality now: we have an anti-gun mountain state.

Quote of the Day

From NRAInDanger:

When a bankruptcy judge who has been on the bench many years, and “seen them all,” says conduct shocks him, you’re hearing it from an expert.

Go read the whole thing.

Well, NRA is Screwed Now

Still want to go down with the SS Wayne, NRA Board? The ship is a-seriously listing now mateys. Look at what the judge said! That filing literally accomplished nothing for them, except to give James more ammunition for her dissolution attempt.

It is time for Wayne to go. I deeply regret to my readers that I ever endorsed any of these fucking cult followers who are keeping their leader in power despite all sound judgement. It is pathetic. The sad thing is, many Board members are frankly too foolish to even know what the right thing is. For nearly all of the people I once endorsed, that is not the case. You know better. Yet you are letting him take the ship down. Throw him overboard and put someone competent at the helm before it is too late.

Human Factors in NRA Troubles

Over at NRA in Danger, here and here. Go read. We always knew things were bad, but holy shit were they bad.

The board has a problem that is similar to LaPierre’s. It, too, is overwhelmed. It is a mass of 76 directors, almost none of which (other than a few retired military) have any experience in administering anything, let alone a $350 million corporation. Most are elected based on their skill at activism or in shooting. For most, it is the highest achievement of their life, their greatest boast, and so it is something to be protected at all cost. In its time, Ackerman McQueen pushed the idea that board membership was something like an award, rather than a responsibility. You receive the award, and show up for meetings where the leadership pats itself on the back and you give applause when the speaker pauses.

Yep. A lot of readers used to ask why I didn’t run for the board. What was the point? Those people individually had no power, and their collective power was only theoretical. No thank you. I have a reasonably good paying career and at the time felt I had more sway as a blogger than I would as an NRA board member.

There was also the sense that the culture of the Board would not agree with my nature. I am not impressed by celebrity or interested in hobnobbing with insiders. I did a lot of that as a blogger, but that’s how you understand an organization. I am not interested in it for its own sake. I don’t need the participation trophy, and I was not going to kiss anyone’s ring to get nominated. Though running by petition isn’t a difficult hill to climb, even now.

One thing I do feel bad about is that I got the Indianapolis meeting very wrong, because I didn’t really know what was going on, since by then I had already largely semi-retired from blogging. We haven’t been to an NRA Annual Meeting for some time, and weren’t talking to people who would know.

The World Needs Serious Journalism on Guns

To be perfectly honest, I might not have agreed with the political orientation or goals of The Trace. I definitely don’t like the person backing them financially. But they have done some good journalism, and for a while, there were almost certainly NRA insiders leaking to them. It was enough to make me lament we didn’t have anyone on our side doing what The Trace was doing.

Enter gun journalist and fellow Delco native Stephen Gutowski, who has founded “The Reload” which is intended to bring quality journalism to the gun issue. It’s a subscription, but these days if you want good journalism, you have to pay for it. The Google Algorithms promote garbage, and that’s what you get today with ad dependent rags. So I’m happy to pay the $70/yr to support his work. They also have a forum, and to be honest, gun people are short of places we can communicate with each other. So I’m hoping this is successful.

What Club Rules Do You Hate?

I feel like I’m at the point where I’m doing rule revisions for the club all the time. The new Board members have different ideas. This is good, because stagnation is usually a bad thing. I’m open to debating new ideas. I’ve said previously, keeping thieves away from money should be a top priority for any non-profit, and I think we’re pretty safe in that regards now. I wish NRA could say the same, but they can’t.

So in thinking about rules, it always helps to start with first principles. So what are they? This is what I’ve come up with:

  • Rules should be based on safety, not shooting preferences. A lot of club rules enforce the shooting preferences of the ruling cadre. This promotes stagnation, which is the point in many cases.
  • Short and simple to understand rules will be better adhered to than lengthy rules that read like tax code.
  • When someone does something wrong, and you can throw a list of charges at them, your rules are redundant, and probably overly long and complex.
  • Subjectivity can’t be avoided, but should be to the greatest extent possible. However bright line rules will tend to be complex. Simple rules will be open to interpretation. The important thing is everyone agree on a consistent set of interpretations, and that those are communicated.
  • Avoid rules that enable rules nazis. My club has a rule about targets needing to be placed six inches from the target frame, which is meant to prevent the target frame from being shot up. But there was once an RSO who carried a ruler, and I’m sure you can imagine what he did with it.
  • Rules should not disable the advanced shooter because some people are idiots. A useful exercise is to outline the rules, and then pick which of the “four rules” the club rule maps to. You’ll necessarily have some that are procedural, like what you must do if someone yells “cease fire.” But it’s useful to see how many rules either don’t map at all, or map so far downstream that it would just be better to state the actual safety principle directly.

The main thing to remember is that all this is supposed to be fun! Even with very well done rules, having rules nazis can ruin a good time. Much like thieves will be attracted to the temptation of money, rules nazis are attracted to the prospect of lording over people with rule minutia. So keep minutia to a minimum.

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