OEA’s RA: Questions about Proposal 1

If you’ve read my last post, “OEA’s RA: A Contrarian Considers,” then you know that I think we needed to do a better job of deliberating about the issues at OEA’s virtual Representative Assembly on Saturday. Today I want to explain why I expect to vote against Proposal 1 when the mail ballots come out.

It’s not my preference to debate issues on the Internet. As a parliamentarian, I have great respect for the deliberative process, and as an OEA veteran, I have enormous respect for the Representative Assembly as a deliberative body. The problem is that none of us availed ourselves of its potential last weekend.

Four bylaw amendments had been proposed. All of them were accompanied by printed rationales. Three of those rationales actually provided a case for the proposals; but the rationale provided for Proposal 1 was simply an acknowledgment that it had been submitted by petition.

Proposal 1 received no testimony of any kind, pro or con. It’s the responsibility of the proponents to make their case. They didn’t, so this item should be voted down; it can always be considered at a future RA when they have their act together.

Meanwhile, let me provide an explanation of why I think Proposal 1 may be a bad idea anyway.

OEA has eight standing committees. Committees sometimes get a bad rap, but over the years, I have served on three of OEA’s committees, and I have observed that they operate pretty well when members energize them. Run well or not, they are part of a complicated system that provides for governance ownership of OEA policy. (Having served OEA and its affiliates both as an elected official and an employee, I believe that governance ownership is critical to OEA’s longtime health.)

Each committee has positions for sixteen members apportioned among the ten Ohio district associations according to membership. Nine caucuses–affiliated organizations or interest groups–presently have the ability to name additional members. So presently the potential size of each committee, not counting Board and Staff Liaisons, is 25.

Proposal 1 would increase the caucus representatives by three: one for BATS, one for the Hispanic Caucus, and one for the Rural Caucus. Committees would now have a potential of 28 members. Districts would keep sixteen, and caucuses would have twelve.

I am a big believer in caucuses: I maintain memberships in several, and I support their work. But I am a bigger believer in Ohio’s ten district associations. Every active member belongs to one and only one district association. They operate democratically; they have diverse memberships; and their appointees to OEA committees represent more or less the same number of members.

  • How large are the three groups that seek representation on OEA committees?
  • Is there a reason why they can’t serve as district representatives?
  • Should the chairs of interest groups be able to name their representatives on their own?
  • How many is the right number of members on a committee?
  • What should be the balance between district and special-interest representatives?

Normally, questions like these would have been asked and answered as each of the four bylaws proposals was considered by ten districts RAs. But we didn’t have those this time.

Nobody prevented me from asking these questions at last week’s RA; I have only myself to blame that I didn’t. But supporters of Proposal 1 had a responsibility to make their case, and they didn’t.

This time, at least, I must oppose Proposal 1.

OEA’s RA: A Contrarian Considers

On Saturday, along with about 600 fellow delegates, I attended a virtual meeting of the Representative Assembly, the governing body of the Ohio Education Association.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, Saturday’s OEA RA was held using an electronic format. Delegates met by telephone, with a managed system handling the speaking order and voting. On a technical level, the system worked well, and OEA’s leadership and staff did a good job of keeping the agenda moving and providing necessary information. If this is how we meet in other emergency situations, we could do worse.

But on reflection, I believe that my fellow delegates and I performed poorly in our task of governing OEA, the state’s largest union. We missed an opportunity to debate amendments to OEA’s Constitution and Bylaws. Delegates will now vote on those by mail, and no one has a clue what we will decide or why–because there was no debate: no one spoke for or against any of the four proposals. Perhaps no one spoke against any of them because no one opposed them. But the duty of making the case for a change belongs to the proponents.

This was particularly troublesome with regard to the first proposed amendment: while the RA handbook provided a “rationale and background” for all four proposals, all it said for proposal 1 was that the proposal was submitted by petition. That’s not a rationale!

I will vote against Proposal 1, but I’ll save the reasons for another post. My focus here is procedural, not substantive.

Seriously, friends, nobody felt they had a responsibility to explain why adding three more caucus representatives to each OEA committee was a good idea? Nobody from the BATs? Nobody from the Rural Caucus? Nobody from the Hispanic Caucus?

As a retired delegate, I believe the active delegates should take the lead on matters of substance, so generally I limit myself to asking questions and clarifying procedural matters. So I don’t regret not speaking against Proposal 1. I do regret not making a motion to separate Proposal 1 into three proposals. At least that would perhaps have forced representatives of these groups to explain why they feel the change is needed.

I should have been quicker. I allowed the virtual meeting to lull me into complacency. Experienced delegates know: if we were physically together on the RA floor, people would have been looking around, elbowing each other, perhaps even carrying on little whispered sidebar conversations. The process would have taken a bit more time as speakers went to the microphones and delegates thought about what they were considering. Instead, it was easy for us to listen passively and let the process unfold without real engagement.

The absence of district RAs also played a role. Generally these issues get looked at in ten district caucuses before we ever arrive in Columbus. But we are educators! We believe in individual responsibility, and the responsibility falls on us! I don’t blame the leadership of OEA or of the ten district associations. The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Detachment is the enemy of democracy, whether in our society or our union. This was a good dress rehearsal: virtual meetings are a great tool for emergency situations. But when this is how we meet, we, the delegates, need to do better.

Coming up: why Proposal 1 is a bad idea.