Who says you can’t fire a volunteer? The folks at Dressage Queen Canada have just proven that you can, indeed, do so. You don’t even have to give notice or a severance package. Sweet!
Just when I was lulled into thinking it was going to be the quietest year for DC since I started caring about a decade ago – to quote Emeril – BAM! Right out of left field. And I mean left field in every respect. Now, as has come to be expected of missives from the DC Board, today’ press release contains just enough information to leave everyone wondering once again WTF is going on. Or at least all five of us who care, anyway. Here is the opening sentence in case you are too lazy to click the link: “The Dressage Canada Board would like to announce the regretful resignation of Lorraine Stubbs as chair of the Dressage Canada High Performance Committee”.
There are so many rich layers of meaning to this simple statement. It’s like a message wrapped in filo pastry, with many flakes to pull away in order to get to that nubbin of meaning. “Would like to announce”? Really? “Like” as in it brings them great pleasure? “Regretful “? What can that mean? I think it means that Lorraine Stubbs is regretful. “Resignation”? That must mean she is feeling resigned, because one thing I know for sure: she didn’t resign in the sense of the word that everyone in the world understands. Except for the person who wrote that press release. Resigning from a volunteer post is entirely different to being forced out by an organization’s Board. Regret, indeed. And here’s one more flaky layer – who even knew she WAS the Chair of High Performance? I sure didn’t, because when she took over the post in March a little while after Lisa Hossack-Scott was relieved of her seat as interim chair (which followed the mass resignation of most of the HP committee last year – more on that in a bit), DC didn’t bother informing its members. There are a whole bunch of other things DC hasn’t bothered to throw into their E-News letter or onto a press release, too. I’ll get to that in a bit.
This particular piece of filo has a big air bubble in it, which as any baker worth his lard knows, is a serious flaw in pastry making. That air bubble is the space which should have contained other information about some voluntary resignations that immediately followed the reluctant one: DC Board members Noni Hartvikson and Maggie Murdoch (who is also the FEI Steward General for Dressage – methinks she’s seen a political thing or two in her life) both tendered their resignations in writing, and both cited the reason as being the means by which Lorraine was ‘resigned’ from her post.
Let’s peel away another layer. According to the release, replacing Lorraine with lightning speed (the speed and lack of warning or time to reflect are key pieces of this worm pie) as Chair of HP is Liz Steacie.
Would that by any chance be the same Liz Steacie who was one of five HP committee members that quit en masse last year and provoked many ruminations on my blog? If you are curious but confused, go to my post from just over a year ago. You know why Liz and her colleagues resigned last year? Because they claimed DCB was preventing them from doing their jobs in HP. The mind boggles. Even I can’t keep up with the ironies.
When I was led to the yellow taped area that marked off the shape of someone who had so quickly vanished from DC HP, I immediately began investigating the scene for clues and relevant information. Here are a few things that I quickly discovered:
1. not only was Lorraine made Chair of HP this spring, but a bunch of names were added to the committee with no disclosure to members – sure, they are on the website, but if a journalist like me isn’t trolling the DC website for unannounced changes, I can bet no one else is doing it either.
2. I took a gander at the list of DC Board members (Lorraine has already been whisked away and replaced with Liz), and noticed that it was missing the name of one new Board member who came on in 2011, Alison Elliott. Where’d SHE go? I asked someone who could and did give me the answer. Turns out Alison was also ‘resigned’ from the DCB for lack of participation. I guess DCB figured no one needed to know about that one, either.
3. Noni and Maggie are still listed as Board members as of today. That got me to thinking about what happened a year ago, when I got wind of the mass HP resignations well before DCB shared the news with members. When I asked then-chair Karen Thompson-Harry why they had not announced the resignations I was informed that, according to DC governance, the Board must meet and discuss whether or not to accept resignations from board and committee members before announcing them. I have news for you folks: you can’t not accept a resignation from a volunteer. You can’t even not accept a resignation from an employee. It’s not a matter of accepting or declining. They aren’t applying for the position, they are vacating it. And until you can invoke martial law in DC, you have no choice but to accept it.
4. The title of today’s press release is more than unfortunate; it’s dishonest. I have no idea if Lorraine deserved to be given the pink slip. I can’t say who was the driving force behind the move to remove, but there were some steps in due process that were definitely hopscotched over by DCB. And the problem with that is that, for most of the rational world, the means does not justify the end, particularly if that end could have been reached in a less hostile and humiliating fashion by following the rules. It seems to me that the group with the most to gain or lose by leadership in an HP committee are the athletes. If the athletes wanted a change, they are perfectly justified in asking for it. That is not in question. But the way this particular fait was accompli is beyond uncool.
Here is Lorraine Stubbs’ statement to the media, which arrived in my inbox as I was writing this very post:
STATEMENT TO MEDIA
Date: August 30, 2011
From: Lorraine Stubbs
Regarding: Response to News Release from Equine Canada datedAugust 29, 2011
I have received a copy of the News Release issued by Equine Canada onAugust 29, 2011. The News Release refers to my “regrettable resignation” as Chair of the Dressage Canada High Performance Committee.
I understand that a decision to remove me was made during an in camera session of the Board onAugust 25, 2011. I was contacted during that session and told I was required to either resign or be removed. This was sudden and surprising. I do not know the reasons for the decision and I disagree with it.
Regrettably, theAugust 29, 2011 News Release omitted the fact that I filed a complaint with Equine Canada earlier that day regarding the fact of my removal and the procedure undertaken to do so.
I decline further comment until Equine Canada has responded to my complaint.
I wrote to DCB chair Renee Young this morning in an as-yet unanswered email in which I requested her help in gaining a bit more of a foothold on how the picture looks from DC’s Mission Control. I pointed out to her that it’s nye impossible to get a fair perspective about a situation when one side of the table doles out only the tiniest little incomplete or misleading morsels of information, instead of being forthright with all the facts. And as someone else quite astutely pointed out to me today, if you tell people something voluntarily, nine out of ten of them will have no objection to what you’ve done. But if you withhold the information, everyone objects because they don’t know what’s going on and they don’t appreciate being kept in the dark. Think about when you were a kid and broke a plate. If you confessed (unless you had Russell Peters’ dad for a father), your dad would almost always have just given your hair a ruffle and told you to be more careful next time. But if you lied about it, well, you probably caught hell – and a bit of corporal punishment for good measure.
DCB is behaving an awful lot like a Secret Society (rumour is there is even a Masonic handshake), which is nothing new. Sadly, it’s just what people have come to expect, and I think that is the number one cause of the apathy that resulted in no nominations for the three open positions on the Board for 2012. I don’t really know why I still care about all this bad business that DC gets up to when we aren’t looking – and even when we are. They are as brazen as Vancouver’s coyotes, which steal people’s pets right off their leashes. I’ve been writing about DC for so long it feels like forever, and it sounds like a broken record. Not enough of you dressage queens out there care about all the inappropriate behaviour, lack of transparency and accountability that goes on in your dressage organization. Your membership and levy dollars are in their hands. Isn’t that enough reason alone to ask them to explain their actions?