American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and my future relationship to it

After a number of bad experiences where the politics of an organization have interfered with my enjoyment of what the organization purported to provide (the NRA, my local range, my son’s baseball league, etc.) I decided a long time ago to stay the hell away from their internal politics and just let them do what ever stupid things they were going to do. When the stupid starts to effect me, I can just walk away. Saves time and saves wear and tear on my psyche.

Sometimes, though, some of the stupid just manages to intrude into my attention, and then I’m simply compelled to track it down. It’s a character flaw.

I got my regular email update from the ICQ Podcast today, and one of the headlines was “Southwestern Division Director Censured by ARRL”. Well that sounded pretty drastic, so I wanted to see what it was all about. Reading, it appears that the ARRL has passed a new Code of Conduct for its board members. It seems that Richard Norton, N6AA, Southwestern Division Director, has managed to run afoul of the new code before the paper was cooled from the printer.

OK, so let’s look at the minutes of the referenced meeting available on the ARRL’s web site. They aren’t very helpful as you can see. No details at all about the event that brought on the censure. I don’t know about anyone else, but that doesn’t make me really comfortable. It smacks of the sound of a rubber stamp hitting an already made decision.

So I Did a web search on “N6AA”. Mr. Norton is quite a busy amateur, with a lot of achievements in amateur radio. The guy may be an “amateur”, but he’s not new to being a ham or being involved in the upper levels of the League. So I had to filter down, and I was able to find a couple of things of interest in the current situation.

The first is from Bruce Parens and outlines what he believes are the portions of the Code of Conduct he believes N6AA violated. He also believes the new code allows the ARRL Board of Directors to draw a curtain around their work, blinding members as to how decisions are reached on various matters of League policy.

The second is from a group calling itself “Hams For a Better ARRL”  where there is currently a single article, “Code of Conduct or Gag Order?” This site purports to have 2 messages sent to the ARRL Board of Directors on behalf of N6AA stating that he did not violate the Code of Conduct and providing evidence to support those statements.

I’ve read the actual Code of Conduct, and I find it problematic. If I were a current ARRL Board of Director I would have little choice but to resign, as there is no way I could support it in its entirety. While a great deal of it is perfectly reasonable, large swaths of it seem to exist solely to obscure the Board’s decision making process from the members. I feel that if the membership cannot see and understand the internal policy debates, then it is impossible for them to make informed decisions on who to support during elections for the Board positions. More importantly, it’s impossible for them to know if the League is acting in their best interests as radio amateurs.

I’ve also read the statements on Hams For a Better ARRL, and if true, there seems to have been a miscarriage of justice in the censure of N6AA.

Obviously, this entire situation is evolving, having been in the public eye less than a week as of this writing. As an ARRL member, I’m concerned. This smells a lot like things I’ve seen in other organizations, and those things never lead to anything Good.

My membership isn’t due to renew anytime soon, but if anyone from the League is reading this, they may rest assured that its renewal will depend on how this is resolved and how the League addresses the issue of this new Code of Conduct and how it should be changed to return transparency to the Board’s decision making process. Tada, you just created something akin to a single issue voter. Congratulations.

The League needs to remember that it is made up of radio amateurs. Radio Amateurs are not created by the League. It exists to serve amateurs and not to rule over them. Amateurs can, have and will continue to leave the League if it continues to act against what we perceive as our interests. Wake up, ARRL.

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