MINNESOTA CIVIL Liberties Union President Jules Beck has a new method for dealing with recommendations from the American Civil Liberties Union that he doesn't like--he claims they've been superceded. At issue is a resolution passed October 24 by the ACLU's executive committee, culminating a year-long ACLU investigation into alleged electoral improprieties by the MCLU.
During an MCLU board meeting in March 1996, a faction led by Beck and controversial founder Matt Stark suddenly voted to expand the MCLU board from 24 to 30 members and quickly seated a number of their supporters, including Beck's sister. The meeting led to allegations of board-packing by at least nine other board members, many of whom later resigned.
The ACLU resolution "recommends" actions for the MCLU to take to ensure "compliance with affiliate electoral democracy provisions" in ACLU bylaws--among them, "that a membership election be held to fill the six seats created in March 1996 and those seats currently up for election upon 30 days notice to the MCLU membership."
Former board member David Schultz called the resolution a victory. "It vindicates the claims that several of us have made all along that the MCLU is out of compliance with national governance policy and that the MCLU needs to change its policies to become more open and representative of the ACLU community in the state."
That resolution, along with the site-team report on the ACLU investigation, creates an immediate problem for MCLU officials, who set the annual board election for this Saturday, with only 15 days notice to members. In fact, the site-team report specifically urged the MCLU "to postpone the November 15 annual meeting" in order to implement the changes.
However, during an interview Monday, Beck stated repeatedly that the October 24 resolution had been "superseded" by a "second resolution" passed by the ACLU on October 25. That resolution, he claims, gives the MCLU "until next April" to "review" the recommendations. Beck adds that the suggestion that Saturday's elections be postponed "was stricken from the report... We are holding the election in conformance with state nonprofit law and our organization's bylaws."
Although ACLU officials weren't available for comment at deadline, several members of its executive committee were. And they were stunned by Beck's comments. "There is no second resolution," said one. If the MCLU proceeds, the ACLU could place it on administrative probation, which, among other things, could mean direct ACLU supervision of yet another election.
The site-inspection report contained other information that contradicts statements Beck has made to the media in the past year. Recently, in response to a City Pages story on the MCLU's precarious financial state, Beck denied the organization struggled to meet payroll. Members had been "contributing generously to the organization," he said.
However, during a visit to the MCLU last April, according to the ACLU report, MCLU "staff members expressed concern that the affiliate's cash position might not allow it to make its impending payroll. Although lay leadership denied any financial instability, shortly after the site visit the affiliate was forced to invade the principal of an endowment fund." The report added that, based on financial information it received this fall, "it remains unclear whether the MCLU will be able to end the year in a nondeficit posture."
Beck's claims that media coverage has hampered fundraising were also disputed in the report, which concluded, "the downward trend in the MCLU's financial health [and membership] appears to be the result of ongoing political dissension within the organization and the frequent turnover of executive directors over the last decade that has resulted in disrupted fundraising and program-building efforts."
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