We will not here go into every last proposal that was considered at the 2005 Governing Council. This level of detail can be found on the USFSA web site and elsewhere on the internet. What we offer here instead is an overview of the actions of the Governing Council meeting in four general areas of great importance: the election of the Association president, governance of the Association, implementation of the new judging system, and the economic state of the Association.
Prior to the start of the meeting, delegates received several e-mailings from candidates and their supporters. Opinion pieces appeared on various internet sites and newsgroups. Many of these were thoughtful, a few bordered on pure mud-slinging. Too few centered on the core issues.
In spite of the tone prior to Governing Council, the election itself when quite well. The political discussion, at least in public, was fairly low-key. On Thursday evening, there was a "Meet the Candidates" session for the delegates, with about 1/3 of the delegates in attendance. Although only the office of president was contested, the candidates for all offices were present, and each was given time to make a statement. This is was the first time such a session was offered at a Governing Council, and even for the uncontested offices it was interesting and useful to hear from the people who would be serving for the next year.
Delegates had the opportunity to submit questions in writing, up to the start of the session. The questions were directed to an office as opposed to a specific candidate. In the case of the president, which naturally received most of the questions, both candidates were given time to respond to each question, taking turns for who answered first. The questions were randomly selected until time was exhausted. The subject matter spanned the variety of issues facing the Association, and not just the ISU.
The election was held Saturday morning, Two years ago, in the first contested election in recent memory, the process was time consuming and chaotic. This year, delegates received their ballots prior to the start of the Saturday session of the Governing Council, cast their votes, and then went in to the meeting. Results were announced later in the day.
The result of the election, which by now must be well know, is that Ron Hershberger, formerly the Pacific Coast Section vice president, was elected president with about 60% of the votes cast. A decisive, but not overwhelming victory. In gaining 40% of the vote, Ron Pfenning made clear that the issues he raised are of great importance to a large segment of the Association. The challenge now facing Hershberger is to move the Association forward in an inclusive way. If nothing else, this election showed that an open discussion of all sides of the issues, in a civil and responsible manner, is possible and well serves the best interest of the Association.
U.S. Figure skating is under intense pressure to streamline and revise its governance. Prior to this meeting the Association had a three-tier form of governance, with a 29 member Board of Directors at the top, a 9 member Executive Committee, and the Governing Council that meets once a year.
The bylaws were changed this year to eliminate the Executive Committee and to reduce the board to 15 members, beginning in 2006. These 15 members now consist of the six officers of the Association, four group coordinators (similar in function to the division heads of a large corporation), three athletes, and two coaches.
On paper, the Executive Committee was eliminated and the board retained, but in practice, what has occurred is that an Executive Committee on steroids has co-opted the Board of Directors, as all but three members of the board have executive functions in the association.
The next challenge facing the Association in this area is the future of the Governing Council. Days prior to the meeting, the USOC came out with a set of guidelines for the governance of NGBs. These guidelines do not include the existence of bodies such as the Governing Council. In their one-size-fits-all approach to the NGBs, the USOC is pushing U.S. Figure Skating in a direction that is not in the best interest of the skating, the clubs or their member skaters. Both Hershberger and Pfenning expressed an intension to defend the future of the Governing Council during the election for president. How successful Hershberger proves to be is in this area, and the consequences of reshaping governance in the next few years will probably determine his legacy as president of the Association.
The new judging system was approved for use in the U.S. with only minor modifications to the implementation plan presented to the meeting. During the 2005/06 season the new judging system will be used at the Novice level and above at Sectional and National Championships. An attempt was made to limit this to Nationals only, but failed. There was some discussion prior to the meeting to go the other route and to expand the implementation to include Regional Championships next season also, but a vote on that choice never made it to the floor.
In addition to use at Sectionals and Nationals, a small number of open competitions have been approved to use the new system for Novice and above next season. Club competitions, which do not require a competition sanction, are free to use or experiment with the system as they choose.
The following season (2006/07) use of the new judging system will be expanded to include Regional Championships, and to include qualifying competition at the Juvenile and Intermediate level. During the next year the implementation task force will continue to study implementation in open competitions and at levels below Juvenile. Though not decided at this time, our prediction is that beginning with the 2006/07 season, at a minimum, the new judging system will be used in all U.S. competitions at the Juvenile level and above
In support of use of the new system at Novice next season, and in anticipation of the use of the new system in the following season, the program requirements for the Juvenile through Novice levels were revised, and will be put into use next season. The most significant change in this regard, is that next season solo triple jumps will now be permitted in the Novice Short Program.
There is a palpable sense of fear in the Association that the future finances of the Association are in major peril. So much so, one wonders if the Association is unwittingly sending the message to TV that is will accept any low-ball over TV offers when negotiations begin next year. In any event, the belt tightening has already begun, though not aggressively, and not in consistent ways. At the same time, implementation of the new judging system is costing the Association a LOT of money.
One of the interesting things about the Association, when it comes to finances, is the way the Governing Council regularly resists nickel and dime things like dues increases, but then writes blank checks for immense amounts of money without asking for any accountability or controls. It's just weird!
This year the Governing Council agonized over, and then approved, a long needed dues increase for individuals, but then deferred putting it into effect until 2006. The dues structure for clubs was also revised, while two other attempts to tax the clubs were turned back.
Though the prospect of a major budget reduction is still two years away, one already sees various constituencies in the Association jockeying to protect their turf. One major constituency is the elite athlete who time and again at this meeting came down on an issue purely in terms of how the vote would affect the amount of money available to be spent on them. Perhaps I was the only one, but I found this rather unseemly, and at one point I did a little calculation to estimate the economic impact of the volunteer base on the Association. I come up with an estimate of about $48,000,000, or about four times the value of the ABC contract. This will become about 8 times the value of the contract if it is cut in half in 2007, as many expect.
After governance, how and on whom the Association spends its money will determine the future health of skating in the U.S. in the next 4 years.
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Copyright 2005 by George S. Rossano