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Board Response to Initial Call for Change

 

AAMFT Board Response to Initial Call for Change Concerns

In the fall of 2008, two former AAMFT Board members began wrote a series of letters to the AAMFT Board of Directors outlining some concerns they had.  The Board reviewed these letters and concerns in depth, scheduled and held a conference call with these two former Board members to hear there concerns in more depth.  

Subsequently, the AAMFT Board of Directors reviewed correspondence files and other Association records, and interviewed all past presidents of AAMFT regarding some of these concerns.  After conducting its review and evaluation, the Board spent many hours discussing the findings, and drafting a response.  

The issues raised in 2008 by the two former Board members were substantially similar to those still being expressed today by the individuals operating under the name, "call for change."   In the interest of transparency, and because some of the concerns continue to be raised despite this response from the AAMFT Board, the letter that was written to report the Board's review and results is shared here.  

 (to protect privacy and search engine anonymity, last names of staff and recipients have been omitted)

 

December 10, 2008

Ms. Geraldine M.

Mr. James D.


Dear Geri and Jim,

I'm writing on behalf of the Board of Directors in response to your two October and one November letters and associated materials concerning the Board's oversight of the Executive Director.   We appreciate the time and attention you, along with Bill Nichols, have given to this matter, and therefore wish to respond in some detail.  We also want to try to put into broader perspective some of the issues you raise.

Many volunteer organizations experience concerns about executive director authority in some form, but that in itself doesn't necessarily suggest problems.  There are certainly examples of executives who've clearly exceeded their mandate or exercised undue influence − which were the main concerns we took from your letters − like William Aramony, who looted the United Way, or the CEO of the American Medical Association, who made an unauthorized contract with Sunbeam to place AMA labels on Sunbeam health products.  But they clearly are exceptions, not norms.   Further, members of volunteer organizations like ours usually have limited exposure to the management of very large professional groups, and are often unfamiliar with the range of responsibilities such roles entail.

The Executive Director’s role and responsibilities

Few family therapists, for example, have worked as international publishers of widely circulated periodicals, as trustees of multimillion dollar investments, or as owners and landlords of high value commercial real estate.   Extremely few have supervised advocacy and lobbying in dozens of Canadian and U.S. federal and local jurisdictions, managed international conferences and seminars, run accrediting operations for over a hundred graduate and post degree training programs in two countries, or even just wrestled with a database with more than a hundred thousand names.

Therapists' widely celebrated antipathy to hierarchy, our sympathy for underdogs, and our preference for "both ands" also mean we can fail to appreciate the challenges of running a large corporation in an environment which requires hard, either-or decisions and final responsibility.  Even those of us who've served in governance may underestimate the extremely wide range of duties and responsibilities the executive director of a body such as ours must shoulder, and we may have only a partial understanding of what effective Board oversight of such responsibilities realistically entails.

General Board oversight

The Board does delegate significant authority to the Executive Director as you note – but that is by design. It ensures that someone trained and knowledgeable actually is responsible for managing these multiple, often quite disparate but critical functions, which, when handled directly by boards in the past, such as the 1993 Board budget debacle which resulted in the layoffs of ten employees, or the original board administered Approved Supervisor criteria, which led to a lawsuit, have often resulted in disaster.

More specifically, the concerns expressed in your letters largely involve legal, often necessary activities in which Mike has scrupulously followed the dictates of AAMFT Boards, not deviated from them.   They also mainly involve activities which every Board Mike has worked under is officially on record as having approved and even commended for their compliance with our policies.  Both of you in fact are on record as Board members who’ve generally concurred with past Boards' positive assessments of his work, and also with the level of executive director oversight by the Boards on which you served.

While there is no perfect balance between oversight and delegation, we believe the wide range of opportunities for the Board to monitor the management of the Association – from contacts with staff in various jobs, to regular feedback from division leaders and program directors, to performance scorecards from every division, to independent reviews of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, to letters to the Board and Family Therapy Magazine, to audits and Audit Committee reviews, to quarterly financial records, to regular meetings and talks with governance unit members and chairs, to Ethics, Judicial, Commission, Elections Council, E.D., and Board Task Force reports, to visits to U.S. and Canadian divisions and our Alexandria headquarters, to member feedback at the Town Hall and Annual Business meetings and numerous encounters with members and staff at institutes and conferences, coupled with dozens of pages of executive limitations intended to prevent our own Sunbeam scandals and William Aramonies – all are a reasonable way to ensure the Board remains aware of the Association’s general health and the Executive Director’s activities while continuing to focus on advancing the field.

Having noted that, we still wish to walk through several of your concerns in more detail, as they may be shared by at least some of our other members, and deserve specific discussion.   I'll begin with the assertion in your first letter that Mike's tenure has been marked by a pattern of avoidable conflict that has weakened the Association.


Patterns of conflict

While there have certainly been controversies during Mike's tenure, they pale in comparison with those of several of his predecessors.   Prior executive directors saw full page protest ads and conference boycotts over reproductive rights, ethics charges filed against an AAMFT president over his academic writings, the resignation of an Association vice-president over annual conference content, and multi-million dollar lawsuits over Clinical Member and Approved Supervisor criteria that lasted three years and resulted in an Association payout.  Nothing in Mike's tenure seriously compares, nor would most people see such disputes as the fault of the incumbent E.D.

The two most notable controversies during Mike's term, moreover, the debate over the relative independence of the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education and the controversy over the Association's position on same sex relationships, unquestionably were sparked by the actions of the Board and other groups rather than the Executive Director.  Prior to 2005, there was a long history of Commissions, misinformed about Department of Education regulations, contesting the authority of the Board to direct their policies.   In November of 2000, for example, the Board insisted, over Commissioners' objections, that the Commission's proposed version 10 accreditation standards be reviewed by legal counsel since, by mandating rather than simply promoting various types of program diversity, they violated the 14th Amendment and placed the entire Association at legal risk.  Any number of accredited program directors quite independently had raised the same concerns.   This was much of the background for the later confrontation between the Board and Commission over staffing of Commission meetings in 2005, and the ultimately unfounded accusations of racism and sexism made by some Commission members against senior staff.

Those allegations, rather than Mike's machinations, led to the Board's inquiry into those charges, as Geri, a member of the Board's inquiry task force who voted for the Board's inquiry and its final report, should recall.   Mike's own behavior was never raised as a factor by anyone, and in fact, as Geri may again recall, several Commissioners saw involving Mike later as a key to helping resolve that conflict, and they said so on the record.

While feelings on all sides were hurt, no one, contrary to your statements, apologized to anyone; and good governance could not have permitted any other course.  The petition you mention was abandoned by its authors, lacking any significant support.  Most people have moved on, and recent relations between the Board, Commission, and Executive Director have unquestionably been cordial and cooperative, strongly suggesting Mike's behavior in this matter was never a real issue.

Similarly, the same sex relationships controversy arose in no small part from the desire of President Mary Hotvedt and her Board to make clear that Charles Rosik’s 2003 Journal of Marital and Family Therapy article on “reparative therapy” was not seen as an official position of AAMFT.  This is a subject that, as the editor of the Relationships and Health Task Force Report which was developed as a partial counterpoint to Rosik’s piece, I discussed with her at length many times.   While Mike encouraged the Board to examine this matter, it was driven by the Board as a whole and was handled within the guidelines of the 1992 Policy on Social Policy.

In the same vein, the assertion in your November letter that the E.D. “battled” with the Council of Division Presidents arguably mistakes what was a debate between a sub group of division leaders and the Board for one with the Executive Director.  Both current President Elect Linda Schwallie and I were part of that experience as well, Linda as CDP chair and I as a division officer sympathetic to at least some of those division leaders’ concerns.   Opinions may vary, but it scarcely seemed a “battle” and clearly didn’t center on Mike but on questions about the Board’s support for divisions.  And as with the improved relations with the Commission, division leaders have in the last several years generally been quite warm in their appreciation for the work of Mike and his staff, as they have told us at every Division Leadership training in the spring and every annual conference in the fall since I returned to the Board as President Elect.  Though we hardly expect perfect harmony in an organization of 26,000 people, and we’re sure you have talked to others who share your views, your assertions of conflict and controversy overlook far more serious problems in AAMFT’s past, and your descriptions of specific events diverge markedly from the actual record, especially as regards Mike’s part in them.

Regarding California, while your November letter expresses the fear that another conflict may be brewing there, the potential for confrontation inarguably has arisen from the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists’ (not the California AAMFT division) support for professional counselor licensure and its endorsement in principle of a single masters level license for all mental health practitioners, eliminating a separate license for MFT.   Any AAMFT executive director who did not act forcefully and immediately to counter this threat clearly would be derelict in his or her duty, and the argument that controversy in this area should be avoided represents a serious misunderstanding of the dangers our field and our members face.

The many threats to our profession from a variety of fronts, the tremendous complexity of the Association’s activities, and the thousands of people involved in them, invariably mean that we will experience disagreements and debates as part of our normal process, many quite robust.   This is simply the nature of advancing any profession, and Mike has done as good a job as any executive director we are aware of at keeping such inevitable conflicts to their essential minimums, certainly when compared to both his predecessors and other professional groups’ chief executives.


The opinions of former AAMFT Presidents

History and current events notwithstanding, however, the questions you’ve raised about Mike’s actions and influence also are matters of perception as well as the factual record. Thus Linda and I asked the Performance Evaluation Committee to survey each of the former presidents who has worked with Mike during his tenure as E.D.   Tim Dwyer, PEC Chair, Silvia Kaminsky, and Doug Sprenkle contacted former Presidents Anna Beth Benningfield, Marcie Lasswell, Tony Jurich, James Morris, Mary Hotvedt, and Alan Hovestadt to ask if, in their views, Mike had ever exercised undue influence over the Board or any other governance unit.  They then presented their findings to the full Board in October.

All six past Presidents were unanimous that Mike had not overstepped his bounds in this regard, and several in fact said he commonly encouraged Board members to voice differing views and to discuss issues from multiple angles.   Alan noted there were times he wished Mike had asserted himself more.  This same point about Mike’s role in nurturing diverse views has been made several times over the years by Board members during his evaluations, as both of you may recall, and as Geri in particular may remember from her service on the Performance Evaluation Committee.   While opinions may vary, none of the former presidents who has worked with Mike supports your contentions.

I’d like to try to address briefly some of the other specific issues you note in your letters, namely your concerns about our governance model, membership and accredited program growth, about staff turnover and oversight, Mike’s musical work, about general Board evaluation of the Executive Director, and, in somewhat more detail, the staffing of the Elections Council.


Governance model

Your letters seem to vary in your concerns about the Board’s model of governance, but two points seem worth clarifying.  First, the Board doesn’t currently use, and hasn’t for some time, a strict version of John Carver’s governance model, having found, as have other organizations, his framework somewhat inflexible.  Rather, as you may recall from your original orientation and time on the Board, recent Boards have employed Glenn Tecker and colleagues’ knowledge based strategic governance model, which − while generally keeping Carver’s distinctions between a board’s obligation to plan and direct and the staff’s duty to implement those plans − places greater emphasis on a board’s need to carefully assess organizational resources and the internal and external conditions that may impede or support its aims.

Second, Mike has never been and could not be the main interpreter of the Board’s governance framework, since every President and President Elect attends – at Mike’s initiative – national workshops for organizational leaders where each learns directly about the latest trends in governance and discusses them with chief elected officers representing a wide range of professional groups, from the heads of other national mental health organizations to the presidents of manufacturing and trade alliances.  Entire AAMFT Boards also have been exposed to governance theories during strategic plannings led by experts such as Kermit Eide and Cate Bower, where, as Geri may recall from Kermit’s work with us in 2005, Board members have the chance to question and comment on many aspects of organizational functioning.  Thus contrary to the assertions in your letters, Mike has encouraged and facilitated Board members’ hands on training in governance approaches, rather than monopolized our understanding of them.


Membership and accreditation

Your concerns about slackening Clinical Membership growth are not unreasonable, but this is true not just for AAMFT but for many professional associations.  The AMA has lost members at rates significant enough to provoke media commentary, and has a far lower penetration rate among physicians than AAMFT has among practicing MFTs.  Mike has worked assiduously to increase Clinical Member ranks, as division leaders and others can attest.   And at the same time, student membership in AAMFT has never been higher, which surely bodes well for the future of our group.  Also, categorically during Mike’s overall tenure, membership in all categories has increased dramatically.

Similarly, it is inaccurate to suggest COAMFTE program growth has been lethargic – four programs were been added between March and September.   The number of CACREP family counseling programs may also have grown, as your letters state, but only because CACREP eliminated any requirement for family counseling students to actually work clinically with families – a clearly self defeating strategy.


Staff turnover and management

Your comments about staff turnover and management gave us pause in several respects, in part because we were surprised that former leaders like yourselves would not recognize enough familiar staff faces at annual conferences or Division Leadership trainings – Mike , Chris , Celeste , Walter , Brian , Karen , Melanie , Dawn , Darlene , Melissa , Roger , or Lee , to name a third of the staff – to realize that there simply could not be widespread staff unhappiness.

Moreover, Boards have devoted considerable time to the issue of employment conditions and oversight.  The 2007 Board spent much of its spring meeting on a presentation by David Graling, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of CPAmerica International, and former chair of the Greater Washington Society of CPAs’ Ethics Committee, on Board-staff relations, staff compensation, optimal employment conditions, and the general rights of employees, topics other recent Boards also have addressed.   The 2007 Board looked again too at the chapters on employee rights and employee relations in the American Bar Association’s Guidebook for Directors of Non-profit Corporations – a book you both may recall reviewing during your Board orientation, as every Board member for the past ten years or more has.  And as you may again remember, the Board also approves the staff grievance policies of the Association, most recently this summer, policies developed in consultation with outside counsel that comply with all applicable federal and state laws, as well as current association management best practice.   Thus your assertion that the Board is somehow failing in its responsibility for employee oversight simply does not square with current or past facts.

Your recommendation that the Board conduct exit interviews with departing employees, while plausible at first glance, in practice raises numerous serious questions.   As I wrote earlier, Board members as a group have virtually no experience in association management, and especially in association management in probably the largest center of association headquarters in the U.S. − Alexandria, Virginia.   Their ability to make meaningful judgments about salaries or working conditions in widely varying posts, from information systems to legal affairs to customer relations, is extremely limited, and such interviews obviously would open the Board to all sorts of manipulation, as Boards have experienced before, including the possibility of employees who took new jobs in competing mental health organizations using exit interviews to intentionally malign the remaining staff and undermine Association goals.  This is an area in which the Association has had the benefit of several outside experts over the years, including legal and financial counsel, as well as management professionals, none of whom has endorsed your idea.

While we appreciate the very brief comments from the unidentified attorneys you consulted on your personal initiative, even they would likely agree that without actually seeing the written policies of the Association and interviewing Board and staff they would be unable to offer any genuine opinions on current practice.  Simply verbally being told what those policies are concerning an organization they do not know operating in jurisdictions in which they do not practice clearly has limited value.   This is especially true given that much of what they appear to have been told about current AAMFT policies simply does not reflect actual practice.


Mike’s musical work

Regarding Mike’s musical work, the Contract and Compensation Committee last year – at Mike’s request – explicitly examined what safeguards the Association might need to ensure proper separation of his musical pursuits from his employment, again making use of outside consultation.  With the Board’s approval, the Committee specifically modified Mike’s contract to cover any outside activities – not simply music – which might give rise to concerns about conflicting loyalties.   Further, the Treasurer reviews all E.D. expenditures and looks for any examples of inappropriate mixing of Mike’s musical endeavors with his Association duties and has found nothing untoward of any kind.   For the last several years Mike has not even taken all the leave he is entitled to, which clearly suggests his external pursuits have not adversely impacted his AAMFT work.


The frequency of the E.D.’s evaluation

The recommendation in your letters that Mike be evaluated at every Board meeting is a policy that was tried for many years by many Boards and found frustrating by all parties, as Geri might recall from her second year of Board service.  It was abandoned, again after outside consultation, in a 2005 policy change. Geri is on record as supporting every change made to the evaluation process that was considered during her tenure on the Board, and the process used today is essentially identical to those she supported.   As both of you may recall, the Board receives quarterly financial statements, as well as a review of all federal and divisional legislative and other activity at every Board meeting – at least three times per year – making formal evaluation at every meeting in some ways moot.  The Board in fact has looked repeatedly at various aspects of Executive Director evaluation in the past several years, relying both on outside consultation and professional association best practice seminars for its current policies.  For those of us who have experienced both processes there’s little doubt that annual evaluation is far superior.   Former President Mary Hotvedt, after reading one of your letters, wrote to the Board to strongly argue against your suggested changes to the evaluation process, likewise viewing the current process as much better than what you propose.   Finally, no theory of management with which we are familiar advocates official performance assessment every time an employer and employee meet, as you recommend.


What the Board actually evaluates

It also is inaccurate to suggest, as Geri may perhaps remember from her time on the Performance Evaluation Committee, that the Board has not examined the “how” of Mike’s performance along with the outcomes.   PEC notes repeatedly show Board members commenting not just on his accomplishments, but the manner of those achievements and their conformance with Association values.   The 2008 Board, in its August annual evaluation of the E.D., specifically cited his management of the staff “in a manner that is reflective of Association best practices” – an obvious direct reference to the “how” of Mike’s work, and also specific to his appropriate treatment of subordinates.


The Executive Director’s role with the Elections Council

Beyond our survey of past presidents, our review of governance models and discussion of Mike’s management of staff, our look back at the E.D. evaluation process, at safeguards regarding his outside work, and at membership and accreditation statistics, the Board devoted considerable energy to the concerns you expressed about the Executive Director’s role with the Elections Council.  We focused in particular on your assertions in your November 8th letter that his intervention had caused the resignation of the 2004 EC chair and another EC member, and that he had fundamentally violated the Elections Council process during that meeting.

There in fact is a considerable documentary record from multiple individuals regarding the March 2004 Elections Council meeting, including a detailed and extensive discussion of that session and the Executive Director’s role by the EC chair to whom you refer, Frank Thomas.  Frank wrote to the AAMFT Board in November following the March meeting, expressing several concerns and offering his views on Mike’s actions.

Among Frank’s observations, he cites several instances of Elections Council members ignoring or failing to follow established elections policy, and violating basic due process. EC Members attempted, he noted, to place on the ballot nominees who were categorically ineligible – after the vetting process – and he states this was the reason for his resignation as chair.  He says explicitly that Mike never encouraged or recommended that he resign.

Frank also expresses the concern that without staff monitoring, the EC would continue to violate basic due process rights of members, as well as engage in discriminatory behavior, of which he gives specific examples, such as an EC member who wrote that, in the interests of diversity, the Council should avoid nominating “‘whites.’”  This is a clear violation of AAMFT’s non-discrimination policies and federal law.

Regarding the Executive Director’s actions, Frank states:

"I believe Michael Bowers has done his best to preserve the integrity of the E.C. process.   I also believe that, without staff monitoring of the E.C., this body will continue to violate AAMFT policies.  Michael has always acted responsibly with the E.C. during my tenure with the Council, providing a necessary service to the Association.   I am grateful for his institutional knowledge, his awareness of policy and bylaw limitations, and his passion for appropriate E.C. action.   Finally, I have never witnessed Michael inappropriately influencing in the E.C. process over the past three years."

Frank’s perspective on Mike’s behavior is in fact supported by Geri herself, who, writing in November 2004 about the March meeting to the new EC chair, MaryAnna Ham, echoes Frank’s view that it was the failure of Elections Council members to follow EC rules that caused the difficulties that arose during that meeting.

“Nominees,” Geri writes, “were interviewed and seriously being considered on a slate, who did not posses[s] the requisite requirements according to our policies.”  This again was after vetting had taken place.  “The ED's role,” she goes on, “became atypical in that meeting because -- let me just state it the way I see it -- the process was like a runaway freight train that needed to be harnessed, or we would have had a lot of explaining to do the Board.”

“However,” she writes further on, “I also feel strongly that what occurred is avoidable, if we follow our own policies and procedures, therefore not requiring an ED to step in and re-direct the process.”   We would like to agree entirely with this sentiment, but repeated experience has shown that voluntary groups nearly always will require staff intervention to ensure that they follow due process and policy.  (Which of us has not heard someone say during a job search “we only want a woman,” or “we don’t need more non-minorities?”)  Without staff in the room to ensure that policies and laws are followed, any such process is unavoidably open to corruption.

The risks to our members of failing to ensure, from start to finish, the integrity of the elections process – ranging from a contested or invalidated election to a lawsuit for racial or other bias against the Association – are, in the judgment of every Board in recent years, much too great to hazard.  And as we hope the record of the March 2004 meeting makes clear, such intervention is sometimes required after candidates’ qualifications have been reviewed, thus weighing heavily against your suggestion (which, for the record, Marcie Lasswell and Tony Jurich did endorse), that once the vetting process is over Councils should be allowed to deliberate without staff present.  With the best of intentions, policies not infrequently are broken, even after vetting, which is why Boards have insisted that all parts of Elections Council meetings, from beginning to end, be staffed.

Geri herself reinforces this idea in a subsequent email to the 2004 Council on November 29th.   Like Frank, she rightly protests against what appears to be racial or gender bias by Council members.  “I can't fathom that in our process now, we wouldn't reach out to someone as a possible nominee because that person wasn't in the ‘right’ category of nominees.  That to me, feels manipulative and discriminatory in its own way, as well as misguided.”

“But there's a sense I have,” she continues, ”that EC is failing to accept and be guided by existing policy, thereby threatening its jurisdiction again because it[‘]s not responsibly using it.”   When Mike asked her privately if she thought he was wrong to intervene in another instance in which an EC member had violated EC protocol, Geri responded, “no.”   In none of the documents we reviewed does Geri or anyone else ever suggest that Mike in anyway advocated for or against a particular individual candidate or otherwise stepped out of line.

These records and documents strongly contradict the assertion that Mike, as Executive Director, abused his authority with the Elections Council.   To the contrary, as both Frank and Geri attest, he appears to have done exactly what every Board he has worked with has directed him to do: ensure the integrity of the elections process and prevent Elections Council members from violating our members’ rights to fair and equal treatment and to due process.  He arguably deserves not censure from our members but gratitude.

The 2004 policy update

Both of you are also on record as supporting an update to Association policies designed to ensure that, if there ever were a serious question of the Executive Director or another staff member exercising undue influence with the Elections Council or other body, that unit could take action with the Board.

During the December 13th 2004 Board Conference Call, the Board specifically passed the following policy change, which I quote here in full:

POLICY TYPE: EXECUTIVE LIMITATIONS

POLICY TITLE: STAFFING OF GOVERNANCE UNITS

The Executive Director shall not fail to provide staffing at the managerial level for all governance units including COAMFTE, Elections Council, Ethics and Judicial Committees.

In staffing the meetings of governance units the Executive Director shall not fail to:

  • Provide necessary background material and information for the governance unit to effectively do its work.
  • Inform the governance unit of relevant history and precedent that allow it to perform its work in a consistent and efficient manner.
  • Inform the governance unit of potential violations of relevant AAMFT Bylaws, Board Policies and governance unit policies.
  • Ensure that the ED or designated staff does not engage in advocacy for or against particular individuals or programs.
  • Ensure that the governance unit is free to make its judgments by independent vote, in conformance with relevant AAMFT Bylaws, Board Policies, Board charges and governance unit policies.
  • In regard to the Elections Council, the ED or designated staff shall provide necessary background material on each nominee to the vetting EC member prior to the face-to-face meeting of the EC.  The ED or designated staff shall not fail to provide information pertaining to ethics, membership, confirmation of AAMFT experience and other pertinent professional information.  The ED or designated staff shall refrain from advocating for or against a particular individual. 

In the event there is a complaint of violation of this policy from the governance unit, the following steps will be taken:

  • The Chair of the governance unit will inform and discuss the concern with the Executive Director for the purposes of resolving the matter.
  • If the matter of concern cannot be successfully resolved between the Chair and the Executive Director, the governance unit will by majority vote decide whether it will make a formal complaint to the Board, addressing their concern to the President.
  • The Board, as the employer of the Executive Director, will investigate the complaint.

The Executive Director shall not fail to report to the Board any AAMFT Bylaw, Board Policy, Board charge or governance unit policy violations which may jeopardize the integrity of the governance process.

MONITOR: METHOD: Internal report, with external report when necessary

                        FREQUENCY: Every “in person” Board meeting

Before every Board meeting, the Executive Director will affirm there has been no violation of these policies.  If there has been a policy violation or an action that may lead to a policy violation, the Executive Director will file an immediate report to the Board. 


The minutes from the 2004 Conference Call show that this policy change, which passed and remains in force, was moved by Alan Hovestadt and seconded by Jim, and that both of you voted in favor of it.

Given your support for this measure four years ago, it is unclear to us why you would argue that there have been instances of undue influence now, when no complaints have ever been lodged under this procedure.   This fact, along with many other points we have made here, also argues against Bill Nichol’s recommendation in his letter for an outside panel to investigate your allegations of improper influence.   There not only is no proof beyond your allegations that there has been any, but the available evidence – much of it your own – suggests the exact opposite.

The Board in any case asked the Infrastructure Task Force to reexamine this policy in light of your concerns, to determine if it required special review.   But as the policy seems reasonable on its face and no violations have ever been alleged by a governance unit, and as the documentary record contradicts your allegations, neither the Task Force nor the full Board could justify a reconsideration of this protocol outside the normal course of periodic policy reassessment.

The Board requirement for independent thought and judgment

While we have cited many instances in which your past positions as Board members differ radically from the stances you have taken in your recent letters, we recognize, of course, that people’s views can change over time.  And certainly Jim’s statement during Tim Dwyer’s, Linda’s, and my October conference call follow up to your first letter, that it is hard to be aware of Mike’s influence when you are “in the process,” as Jim put it, might theoretically explain your changes of heart.

But as the ABA Guidebook for Directors to which I earlier referred makes clear, and as I’m sure you both recall, board members of any corporation are required by federal corporate law – and ours by Association policy – to “exercise independent thought and judgment.”  Every Board for the past ten years or more, as I’m sure you remember, schedules a portion of every Board meeting to explicitly ask “have we exercised independent thought and judgment?"   From our best recollections and records, both of you answered at least six times, and nine for Geri, that you in fact had done so.  Geri’s “just stat[ing] it the way I see it,” in her email to MaryAnna, certainly underlines this.

I make this point to stress that, while there’s nothing wrong with raising questions about whether the Executive Director has exceeded his authority or unduly influenced governance processes, or even with changing one’s opinion, it seems difficult to claim, as your letters do, that your views have only shifted because you no longer serve on the Board, or that somehow Mike has managed to bend dozens of well educated, often singularly accomplished people from widely varying backgrounds and locations across the United States and Canada – including yourselves – to his will over many years.

While as therapists we are all familiar with clients and others feeling “silenced” or intimidated, those of us elected by our peers around the continent to represent them cannot claim such feelings without conceding that we simply failed in our duty to them as Board members. We can’t simply retract years of our votes.

We appreciate very much the time and effort that you both and Bill Nichols have given to raising these subjects and offering your perspectives.   We hope that you will likewise recognize the many hours the Board and its committees have spent reviewing those concerns from a variety of perspectives in light of the actual historical record.

We have gone to the lengths we have here to explain that record precisely because we believe that, as you both are people of intelligence and good will, the facts may have some bearing on your perceptions, despite Jim’s statement to us by phone that there was probably little we could say that might change your opinions.  We also believe it is important for the record and for others with similar questions to give as careful and detailed a response as we can.

Finally, we hope that whatever our remaining disagreements, all of us remember we work for a common goal: the support of our members and the advancement of the field. While we may differ at times as to the best ways to achieve that, we trust all of us will maintain our discussions on a level which reinforces these shared aims, and our mutual respect.

Though I have drafted this letter on behalf of, and at the request of the full Board as its President, each member of the Board has read, reviewed, and approved it, and voted unanimously to forward it to you.   Thanks again for your past service and your continued concern for the Association and for marriage and family therapy.

My very best to you both,


Scott Johnson, President


AAMFT Board of Directors

 

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