Saturday, March 18, 2017

More on ARES as a new SM prepares to take the helm ....

Saturday, March 18, 2017 -- Looks like there's a new Section Manager in town (or will be later this year), and he's already issuing edicts before taking office.

Not surprisingly, the new SM is pushing the ARES program. Sometimes I look back and thing can't help but think that in a majority of communities in my state, ARES is a paper tiger. In most
communities it amounts to a handfull of volunteers. Very few ARES groups in my section actually do anything with local emergency management, and that's one of the program's problems. The SEC and the SM push cooperation with state emergency management (EM). The problem from the EM side is that volunteers can't be required to do anything like training. You can't control them, and you have no real authority over them. ARES is not a factor in the state's largest communities.

If hams want to volunteer, they can do so on their own with another group. For example, the American Red Cross could use the assistance since they are a group that responds in emergencies. ARC has its own training requirements, but some of the better ARES groups keep themselves very busy -- and very satisfied -- by working with ARC.

The new SM -- through the SEC -- is pushing the same crap I did in ARES -- reporting every month, taking those damnable NIMS-related classes, and working with local EM. After years of promoting that agenda, here's my analysis.

REPORTS. Forcing AECs/ECs/DECs/etc. to report monthly is a waste of time. Most groups are lucky to have one meeting a month. Other than a weekly net, they don't do much. Don't require they report unless they have something newsworthy to report. One of the most consistent complaints I received as SM from ARES folks was the requirement they report when there was nothing to report. We also had a policy that any ARRL field appointee report on his or her activity. More busywork, IMHO.

TRAINING. You can hold a gun to the heads of your ARES members, and nearly none of them will complete the ICS courses. The purpose of the courses is to give ARES members an introduction to how incident command is structured. For whatever stupid reason, ARES members have to take ICS1,2,7 and 8, when local police and EMS don't take all four. Why does a volunteer need these courses? These courses aren't required for the knowledge they offer, it has to do with funding if they have an incident. FEMA wants your volunteers to have the training; it has NOTHING to do with being a better volunteer. Its all just BS. If you want training, train how to set up a temporary antenna or HF station. Make it effective and not just busywork.

EM COOPERATION. The elephant in the room here is that the majority of state Emergency Managers don't give two shits for ARES volunteers, for a variety of reasons.

1. EM managers want volunteers they can control, and those who are known quantities; ARES generally represents volunteers of unknown quality and unknown skill.

2. The majority of EM managers in the state don't do much; for many its a part-part-time job, they only do it if there's a major hazardous materials incident.

3. Hams in general tend to ruin their own credibility by their actions. ARES volunteers get overly enthusiastic about what they can do to help, and overpromising skills and abilities doesn't endear you to officials in charge.

4. Hams often lack willingness to be flexible volunteers. They only want to operate their own radios. They only want to play radio, they aren't willing to do other needed tasks. Just sayin'.

EPILOGUE. In my years as Section Manager, I promoted this agenda with little real success. Looking back, I think communities would be better served if their volunteers did their volunteering based on a connection with their local agency (like ARC, Salvation Army, etc.) without involving ARES. The benefit of ARES is the ability to network with other volunteers trying to do the same thing you are in your part of the state. Were I to be SM again, I would curtail the time I spent on pushing the ARES agenda and instead try to be a conduit for meeting the needs of our volunteers.

There's way too much time spent pushing rules. Get active and volunteer, or get out of the way.

-73-

Saturday, February 18, 2017

ARES: All dressed up with no place to go?

Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 -- I'm taking a big gamble that may invoke the wrath of the ARRL pug-uglies, equipped with the wouff-hong and sharpened rettysnitches, who want to discipline me for my blasphemous statements I'm about to make.

In short, the usefulness of the ARRL's ARES program has outlived its usefulness. This conclusion isn't new, as most people in ARRL leadership already know it. Its like the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" ... everyone believes licensed Amateurs are critically useful in emergencies by default because of their communications abilities. Just keep telling yourself, "hams in Emcomm are useful," over and over.

The truth is there was indeed a time when that statement was fact -- that was in the days before everyone carried a cell phone and we had multiple ways of communicating long distances when the conventional methods failed -- and fail they did from time to time. But if you look at the state of communications among the list of "served agencies" usually identified by ARES, they generally have excellent and reliable communications.

Another problem that no one in ARRL leadership (national or state) wants to really talk about publicly is that as Amateur Radio has grown, there are a greater number of whackers who have been licensed. As a former Section Manager, one of the biggest problems I had was dealing with Emcomm whackers. You learn to see the clues when they talk to you about the ARES program. For example, if they start getting excited about getting appointments, training or certificates, there's excellent odds he or she is a whacker (probably "he" as I've never met a female emcomm whacker). If they have multiple HTs on their belt; if they spit out their "resume" of who they allegedly "know" in state emcomm.

Most effective volunteers don't brag about who they know, what they've done, or the equipment they own. They just want to use their skills to serve their communities if needed.

As technology has advanced, so have the communication abilities of first-responders. The truth is that unless a hurricane or other disaster wipes out every communication method, Amateur Radio just is not needed.

Another aspect of whackers is the "I'm a licensed amateur and I'm here to save you" attitude. I can't count the number of first-responders who were put-off by whacker-type ARES volunteers. The worst whackers get into leadership positions, and ultimately piss off served agencies and drive away the valuable volunteers.

I had a District Emergency Coordinator who volunteered to take on the job (there was a history of significant conflict between a local emcomm official and the county EC; as a result, ARES struggled. As SM, I worked closely with the SEC and his assistant, both of whom were super guys and identifying whackers was always a topic of discussion. How to deal with them once they were appointed was a pain in the ass, because invariably some would fly under your radar.

Anyway, this DEC immediately started firing off emails on the state ARES listserv, making demands of the ARES volunteers in the district. His first email informed the hams in his district that "unless I appoint you, you're no longer wanted as a volunteer." It went downhill from there. He made it clear that the district's volunteers had been a shiftless, lazy and useless group, and he was there to lead them to glory -- but only if they met his requirements. I had complaints from this guy from Day 1, as you might expect.

I tried to talk with him informally, suggesting that he soften the tone of his emails, and that he exhibit some understanding that he needs to encourage the volunteers, not bitch them out.

His appointment lasted about 9 weeks; I wrote him two more emails, the last one was very direct. By that time he had driven away several long-term ham emcomm volunteers and a long-running ARES net was disbanding after he said it was "unsanctioned and improper" without his blessing. I wasn't threatening in my last email, but made it clear he had to quit being so abrasive. He responded with an email whose length would have put the Unabomber's manifesto to shame, ending with his resignation. Of course, I didn't know what I was talking about, I just wanted him to coddle volunteers, he claimed.

His next mission was to try to start a competing emergency amateur radio group, which went nowhere.

Need another whacker story? I got a million of them.

Another DEC who initially started out well eventually showed his true colors. He was lots of talk, but he sold himself well, even if he appeared a little whackerish, we were willing to give him a chance (he was taking over a DEC position that had been vacant for quite a while).

Reports we were getting from volunteers were all over the place. Some loved him, some hated him. But our whacker detectors went full-scale when we heard that he had walked away from a hospital group who wanted to have volunteers to help with communications if all else failed. The group had purchased radio equipment and was prepared to install it in the hospitals; all they wanted were hams to help. They also wanted to license some of their employees (or those who wanted to be licensed).

Mr. DEC did not approve of the hospital group purchasing equipment, having it installed or encouraging any employees to get licensed. He told them good luck and walked away from them. He said that if he couldn't have a leadership role in their radio program, he wanted no part of it. To recap, an ARES DEC left a served agency in a lurch who was ASKING for ARES assistance and volunteers -- and he was proud that he did so.

This came to a head at a state conference that included the state emcomm agency. The SEC and I wanted Mr. DEC to go back to the group and offer to help them. Some of the district's volunteers wanted to help, even if Mr. DEC didn't approve. At the conference, Mr. DEC became so irate with the main volunteer who wanted to help the hospitals, he rescinded his EC appointment.

Mr. X-EC came to us, just beside himself over Mr. DEC's short-sightedness. We agreed. We told Mr. X-EC we would take care of it. In a quick review of what was going on in that district (it was where the conference we were attending was located) Mr. DEC had surrounded himself with whacker supporters who blew smoke about all the "work" they were doing. It was mostly bunk. We (the SEC and I) caught up with Mr. DEC and rescinded his ARRL ARES appointments. He was none too happy; he stormed off, and his posse resigned. The big issue we had to work with now was getting the hospital group some willing volunteers. Mr. X-EC volunteered to deal with the hospitals, but did not want to return as EC. He had enough volunteerism going on at that point. He was our unofficial EC for the next few years, he was so involved he provided us better intel than anyone else.

ARES EFFECTIVENESS. For those of you who have never been part of ARES, in most states it is organized from the grassroots up. Local volunteers step up and lead their local ARES group. Most groups are led by folks who take the post only to help keep the organization active. The only time there was competition for the county EC level appointment was when competing whackers applied. After making some really stupid EC appointments, I learned that the best thing to do was to see who the local hams recommended. We had contacts in the state emergency management office, and more often than not, the local EM director knew the hams he thought would be effective. One of our unofficial requirements for the EC appointment was that the county EM director had to approve. If the EC can't get along with the EM director, ARES pretty much doesn't have a seat at the emergency operations table. That assumes of course that the EM director believes the volunteers in his county thought the hams had value as volunteers.

We had many counties where a (usually!) well-meaning EC pissed the wrong person off, and in those cases, the "ARES" acronym is an unwelcome one. No group of local first-responders want any part of those ARES whackers. That happened in my county. The then-EC pissed off the EMS director and EMA director, demanding their cooperation in an inventory of their communications capabilities. They complained to elected heads of government, and basically anything with "ARES" on it was banned from a role in emergency work. The ARES group in my county basically dropped the name, but we continued to volunteer for the next dozen years.

Due to the FCC's narrowbanding mandate, the entire communications infrastructure was upgraded and expanding. Since that was completed a dozen years ago, there's been no need to ask hams to respond to assist with communications. Our only responses have been to help the American Red Cross shelters-to-EM director link. And there's been precious little of that.

Due to the localized nature of ARES, who each group serves and how they do that is in local control. On the state level, we encouraged working with the EM director, but that depended largely on the relationship (if any) between the director and local hams. The effectiveness of each ARES group varied of course, and that's understood. The nature of ARES is that on the state level, our leadership was more to help the groups in the field any way we could. We didn't issue edicts; telling them they have meet XYZ training requirements was a battle we would never win. We made recommendations for training standards, but left managing that to the local EC. We mostly encouraged volunteers to train to meet local requirements. Most EM directors weren't sticklers for training. Any ham radio volunteers weren't going to be sitting in an EOC; they would out in the field somewhere.

The debate over training continues to rage, however. If we had made the training mandatory, we would have lost 60 percent of our volunteers. ARES programs have done the mandatory training edicts in other states, and they lost more than half of the volunteers. Generally, they say a trained volunteer is more useful than an untrained one. That's true to an extent, but when you lose so many volunteers, you diminish the individual group in way that's not so obvious.

Joe Ham, Ima Qrmer and and S.W. Arr are longtime ham radio friends. They're members of the same club, and hangout on the same nets. Joe is told about the local ARES group and asked to volunteer. Ira and S.W. aren't that enthusiastic about being part of any group that would have them as members, but since Joe is going in, why to join too? It'll be fun and we'll have our friendship there.

After a couple years of involvement, a new, overenthusiastic EC takes over leadership, and he demands everyone take all of the FEMA classes, weather spotter training, CPR, blah, blah blah training -- and makes it a requirement to continued ARES participation.

Joe Ham is put off by the new EC's rules and decides to withdraw. Ima and SW are not going to hang around if their friend-in-common leaves. Without their buddy, they depart. All three also complain loudly about the new EC, poisoning ARES' popularity with the ham community.

The best case of whackerism I faced in my years as an ARRL Section Manager was very early in my tenure, my new SEC appointed a new DEC. This particular DEC was 110 percent whacker material, and showed it the first week. I wanted to give him a chance, me being new and all. His downfall was when he went to war against the local ham club, which prided itself on volunteerism in the community, years of it. The DEC insisted the club do is volunteer work under the ARES umbrella (which they never had done before). He went to a club meeting and attempted to badger them into it; you can imagine his reception. He came to me asking me to intervene; I agreed to investigate but promised nothing. My investigation opened my eyes as to the damage this guy had done; there was a hamfest the next weekend, so the SEC and I met with this DEC. We tried to talk with him; he got pissed and immediately resigned his appointments. I'm lucky like that I guess.

Oh, the story continues. One of his former appointments was of PIO (public information officer). During a bad snow the following winter, he started issuing press releases to regional media detailing the "work" he and his friends were doing to help the counties in the district. Basically they all had 4 wheel drives, and they drove to each county and screwed around under the guise of looking for stranded motorists who needed assistance. They helped no one, of course, but got a dandy road trip out of it. He put it on official ARRL letterhead and signed as an ARRL PIO. After all the shit this guy gave me, I sent him a letter asking him to cease and desist issuing press releases on ARRL letterhead, reminding him that he resigned his appointments, including PIO.

He told me he would have me "fired" as Section Manager. He wrote blistering letters to the ARRL executive board as well as every division director complaining about me. He taunted me in emails, telling me how much he looked forward to my being fired as SM. I got a em email copy of the letter the League sent in response that restated the policy regarding field appointments -- those are at the discretion of the Section Manager.

Needless to say, he was unhappy, and continued to bitch about ARES to every living soul he could corner.

Three  years later, I'm at a hamfest and run into this guy. He was nearly apologetic for the shit slinging he directed at me, and he noticed the DEC appointment in his district was open again and would I consider appointing him to that position?

How do I say this .... No. No! Hell no!

He told me that he had to better than having NO ONE in that appointment. I didn't say so, but yes, I preferred no one to him.

MOVING FORWARD? I hate to say this, but too many ARES volunteers want the badge, the title, and to be able to brag of their importance in times of emergency. Thank heavens some of them walk the walk.

During my terms as Section Manager, I spent most of my time on ARES. Its the ARRL's most important program because it helps establish our "value" to national security and to keep our valuable frequency spectrum.

If I ever serve as SM again, I will not push ARES; it will exist, but only if the volunteers wish to call themselves ARES. I would never give it the attention I did. I would likely focus more on recruiting new hams and finding new ways to make ham radio relevant.

I have this fantasy as well to win a term as a director ... if elected I would shake the shit out of the Ivory Towers at ARRL and work to make the board meetings accessible and understandable. The minutes today are a patchwork of statements without explanation -- and deliberately written that way.

That reminds me ... .at the board's last meeting they apparently discussed changing the rules in order to greater penalize directors who make speak out against the board or a member. I would probably win the award for the ARRL director with the shortest tenure, hi hi.

I pushed the ARES program relentlessly, and I'm sure I encouraged ARES groups to form in areas that had no mission or purpose for ARES. Doing it over, I would have only encouarge ARES where the volunteers existed and in areas where a need was defined.

Live and learn.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

ARRL HQ: 'It depends on what your definition of 'state resident' is ...'

Jan. 19, 2017 -- Yes friends, I'm back. Did not mean to be gone so long, but the ARRL has not been on my radar much of late -- until I heard back from my dear friend in another Division.

He had told me more than a year ago about some rumblings of unhappiness in one of the sections in his division in regard to the Section Manager. After the SM was elected (the long-time SM had decided not to run again), he found a sucker -- er, "volunteer" to run as a candidate to take the SM position. No one filed to run against him, and is policy, he was declared elected.

Well, after Mr. New SM took office, it was only a couple months or so later when he left the state. He went to work doing contract work that took him out of the state for about 9 months straight. Over a period of a year, he was in the state for about 3 or 4 weeks of that. The rest of the time, he lived several states away.

Mr. New SM had a way of sending snarky emails that did more to piss people with inadvertent insults and unwanted criticism. The term I heard used was "badgering." It was an annoyance, but people let it slide. Then he angered the ARES crowd, and after a couple of really bad choices for SEC -- and the fleeing of volunteers from the ARES program -- league members in the section contacted HQ to express concern. The response was ... well, nothing really. One industrious chap decided to craft a really nice letter detailing the complaints about the SM -- plus the fact he was living out of state for most of the year, and was vocal on social media about staying out of state. He sent the letter to all of the directors as well as the League president and CEO, as well as anyone who would listen. The director and League officials circled the wagons and responded with statements of complete support for Mr. New (and out-of-state) SM. His residence did change; from New England he moved to the Southwest, while still representing a section that was states away. According to my friend, ARRL HQ said Mr. New SM was a resident of the proper state. There was no hint that they felt the complaints were valid.

From what I've heard, for the past year he's visited his section a twice, one of those was for the state ARRL convention (yeah, that would be one to come home for!). I know we all have to have jobs, but is it intellectually dishonest to call yourself the Section Manager of a section you do not live in? Now he maintains an address in the section, but rumors are the home is owned by a friend of his, and isn't really his home.

Well, rumors hell -- its true. The PVA records show that one of the SM's longtime friends owns the SM's home he calls his home base. The friend got it from his mother after she died. It makes sense that the SM would not own or rent the home he lives in ... he's only there a few weeks out of the year.

Mr. New SM may wind up Mr. Former SM -- a former SM is going to run in the next election.

Again, I don't begrudge anyone the right to earn a living, but it is clear that according to the state regulations, he is no longer considered a resident of a state once you live someplace else outside that state as long as he has. The ARRL needs to support its elected officials, but when an official no longer lives in the state he represents, I think it betrays the who purpose of having an Section Manager.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

League elections not immune to a little director plotting, influence ...

Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 -- I was going to write some more about corruption -- or the appearance of it -- in the ARRL, but CQ beat me to it.

Rich Moseson, W2VU, write a spot-on editorial about an incumbent director who was being challenged by a past director in the Southeastern Division. Right after the election period for director began, the challenger was declared elected. WTF?

Well, no one knows exactly why the incumbent director was apparently disqualified -- officially anyway. But the incumbent was an advocate for greater transparency in the ARRL; this includes making board meetings open to the public (or at least streaming them for public consumption).

CQ Magazine column

Election Drama Down South
This has nothing to do with the general election, which was still two weeks away when this was written and will (hopefully) be decided by the time you read this. No, this is about the election for director in the ARRL's Southeastern Division, or rather, the non-election. In a very unusual move, the ARRL's Elections and Ethics Committee disqualified an incumbent director from seeking re-election, and what made it even more unusual was that the decision was made well after the committee granted routine approval for his candidacy and announced the election. What was not unusual was the way in which the process played out, in secret, with very little information provided to the members.
Back on August 25, the ARRL announced upcoming elections for director in the Southeastern and Rocky Mountain Divisions. In the southeast, the announcement said, "former Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, will attempt to regain that position from sitting Director Doug Rehman, K4AC … Ballots and candidates' statements will go out to members eligible to vote … no later than October 1, 2016, with a return deadline for completed ballots of November 18."
Then, on October 6, five days after the voting period began, the League issued the following very brief announcement: "Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, has been declared elected as Director of the ARRL Southeastern Division, to take office at noon Eastern Time on January 1, 2017."
Huh? What happened to the election? As usual in ARRL politics, there was a lot more than meets the eye going on here. Based on what we can determine — and there are conflicting accounts, of course — the board's Elections and Ethics committee voted to disqualify Rehman on the basis of actions he took following the announcement of the election, a decision that was subsequently ratified by a majority of the full board of directors. The specifics appear to be subject to interpretation, so we won't get into them here, but actually, the specifics are irrelevant in this case. What is significant is the procedure.
The cornerstone of Doug Rehman's initial campaign and of his time on the League board has been to push for greater openness and transparency in the ARRL's decision-making process, something we have been promoting for years (decades?). He even proposed making the board meetings available to members via live streaming over the internet.
What is amazing here is that the process by which Rehman was disqualified from seeking re-election proved his point about excessive secrecy in the League's decision-making process. The members in his division not only were not informed of the reasons for his disqualification, they weren't even told he'd been disqualified! Just a one-sentence announcement less than a week into supposed voting that the incumbent director's opponent had been declared elected. By whom? Certainly not the members. How? Unspecified. Why? None of your business.
When I tried to get more details, I was told it was "a personnel matter." Wrong. A League director is not an employee; a League director is an elected representative of the members. And if the board is taking the extreme step of taking away the members' right to vote for their representative, then the least it can do is provide an explanation and not hide behind "a personnel matter."
Regardless of what Rehman may or may not have done in the current situation, he is on target that the League operates with far too much secrecy. It is the only membership organization we know of that routinely prohibits members from observing board meetings, and now it has even taken away the members' right to vote in its most populous division. You might call it a denial of service. The members need to demand change now.
On a more pleasant note, all the best to all of you from all of us for a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, solstice celebration or whatever other holiday you may observe as we seek to add light to our short winter days.
– 73, Rich, W2VU

THE REST OF THE STORY. As always, there's more to the story than meets the eye. To save you some reading, I'll give you the Reader's Digest version.

Doug Rehman was elected as director of the Southeastern Division in Nov. 2013. He didn't really campaign, and the margin was just 12 votes. But still he won and was duly named winner. 

In his three years as director, Rehman was something of an upstart; he didn't always play by the good-old-boy rules that have been applied to the board of directors. For example, the board always wanted to show its unity on issues by not publicly disclosing dissent among board members in the discussions on issues. Rehman lobbied for better communication with ARRL members; he sought improved transparency of the board and the ARRL's actions. He was critical of the board's moves to maintain secrecy of the board meetings, etc. He rubbed the ARRL the wrong way and challenged the status quo.

In August 2016, Rehman and the former director filed to run for director, and the ARRL's ethics and election committee certified both as qualified candidates. But the ethics and elections committee took issue with Rehman's 300-word campaign statement, as well as postings he placed on his campaign Facebook page and website. Then in Sept. 19th, he received a message that he had been disqualified as a candidate for director, and the other candidate was declared the next director.

Here's a link to the ethics and election committee's report on their disqualification of Rehman as a candidate.

The irony is that another director complained about some of Rehman's campaign statements because -- according to this director -- they were disparaging toward the ARRL and the board of directors. One example was Rehman's campaign statement on his QRZ.com profile page, to wit: 

The election in the Southeastern Division is going to be a referendum on ARRL Board governance including ethics, transparency, accountability, and vision for the future.

Over the coming weeks I will pull the curtain back on the ARRL Board and the bleak future the League faces unless there is serious reform—reform that will only happen if the membership pays attention to whether or not they are being served by their representatives. I’ll be posting a number of motions to address issues with governance and ethics, motions that I will make at the January 2017 Board meeting if reelected.

There are some good people on the Board, but far too few. In the coming weeks, I’ll give you some insight of things to look for in the purposefully cryptic Board minutes that will help you determine who the good guys are and who the institutionalized power elites are (or were).

Start taking back the League now by spreading this message to every amateur that you can!


My, my, what "disgusting" and "libelous" statements! One would almost think Rehman actually believed he had freedom of expression in the democratic election process for Southeastern director. Complaints against Rehman also include the fact he may have disclosed secret board information.

But Rehman also ruffled feathers at HQ with a couple of ethics complaints against his competitor -- you can judge the value of those complaints on your own. It doesn't look like either had much of a chance of going anywhere, but did raise some questions that deserved answers.

One of Rehman's campaign promises was to make audio recordings of board meetings, with the exception of the committee of the whole. He often wrote about the board and its need for openness. Not a bad idea.

In my terms as section manager, I got an inside look at the board politics. One of my fellow SMs in my division had some excellent contacts on the board --- contacts who were in a different division -- and thanks to him, me and the fellow SMs got daily updates each time the board met. We also learned how often our director didn't attend the full board meetings but had the assistant director fill in (he enjoyed the booze a little too much). One goal that split the board was getting rid of Dave Sumner, K1ZZ. There was never a majority of the board at the time that wanted to boot Dave at the time; by the time there was a majority, he was already planning to retire, and the board let Dave continue with his league employment until his retirement.

I have a great deal of respect for a director who wants to try to reform the system and bring membership into the loop; I wonder what would happen if half a dozen candidates for director threw their respective hats in the ring on a reform platform? As a reformer, half a dozen elected newcomers would be a significant voting bloc that could pull back the curtain on the board of directors. Its an interesting idea ... any reformers want to run for director in your division? Lets stir that pot a little! One suggestion however -- don't get too radical or the Leagues ethics & elections committee will declare ineligible!

Monday, November 28, 2016

ARRL politics: Ruthless, conniving, fairly corrupt

Monday, Nov. 28, 2016 -- Boy, that headline is a grabber, ain't it!

Don't think for a minute that the ARRL and its directors are immune to playing politics; just like any other organization, there are ways to get things done, and then ways to "really" get things done.

The board meetings, for example, are often (at least in part) a dog-and-pony show for the benefit of the folks "back home." For example, it isn't uncommon for a director to propose some change in policy that he or she actually doesn't want and would not vote for. The sole purpose of some director's motions is to show those back home the director is listening to their concerns, and is taking "action" at the board level. I've even been told more than once that a director will tell the rest of the directors NOT to vote for a proposal meant simply for show.

One of the facts of life when serving as a director or vice-director is that you don't get to pick the man you will serve with -- and this means that you may wind up serving with a vice-director you despise.

I've witnessed this in my own division. The vice-director was a former director who lost earlier to the director. At the next election, the former director won the vice-director seat; as you can imagine, this set up a pretty awful scenario. The director refused to work with the vice-director -- beyond handing him a bunch of shitty tasks to do. The director and vice-director were at odds at every step; the vice-director treated the director -- the elder of the two -- with respect, but refused to take orders from him. The vice-director eventually resigned, and the director replaced him with a former SM.

I had considered running for vice director at one time, and the director told me he would be retire at some point in the near future, and he asked if I would be interested in the vice-director position. I thank him for the consideration, and told him I was. That was all baloney that was designed to encourage me to run for another term as SM. If I didn't remain SM, I wouldn't be considered for the appointment, pure and simple.

Yeah, I was gullible. The director knew what he was doing.

The next year, the director resigned within a couple of weeks of the deadline to request the nominating petition to file for director or vice director. It took some time for word to get out, and by that time, the deadline had passed. The vice director was elevated to director, and he appointed his pick for vice director. With no time to get petitions filed, the move insured there would be opposition. By a stroke of luck, one person had already filed for vice director, but the power of the incumbency ruled the day -- even if it was for a short time.

WHATS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SM AND DIRECTOR? We both wear red official ARRL badges, and are the League's only elected officials, but there's a lot of difference between what we do.

The Section Manager is responsible for managing the field programs in the section, and for making appointments in those programs. The Director appointment deals with the management and policies of the ARRL, including QST.

The director and vice director attend the board's meetings twice each year, as well as participate in other meetings as required. Directors also have a much larger territory to cover, and they are expected to attend hamfests and events in the division.

As much as I thought I wanted it, I prefer life unattached to an ARRL elective position. Maybe in the future? Who knows!?

-73-

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Being a SM ain't all its cracked up to be ...

Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 -- About halfway through my four terms as an ARRL section manager, I realized that ARRL HQ needs to have three or four long-time section managers (SMs) write about their experiences for the benefit of the newly elected SMs who have no clue what they've stepped in.

The longtime SM of Ohio used to call the Section Manager corps "The 71 Suckers Club," which at times, is a pretty accurate summary. With that said, let me say that those who serve do so because they enjoy Amateur Radio and the benefit the League brings to ham radio as a hobby.

The League offers recently elected/appointed SMs the opportunity to travel to Newington for a weekend of SM training. It's really a good experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who serves as SM. It usually happens around October. It's a busy Friday-Sunday, with time set aside to operate W1AW as a guest, which is pretty neat. Frankly, just being at ARRL HQ is a very neat experience.

As much as people complain about HQ, the truth I found is that everyone there understands who they work for -- the ARRL membership. There's no Ivory Tower in Newington, CT. Everyone I met and talked to had a passion for Amateur Radio -- well, almost. There was a fellow who was in charge of the affiliated clubs at HQ, and he was a most unpleasant fellow who seemed to have disdain for everyone. He seemed to be the type of guy who, if you were drowning, would throw you both ends of the rope. Of anyone at HQ, I had more complaints about this one individual than all the others combined. I ended up complaining to my director about his attitude and treatment of those who contacted him about their club affiliation issues.

One of the problems was that he never clearly explained the process of affiliation to clubs who applied for affiliation. What he failed to understand was that apply for affiliation was almost always a Big Deal -- it really puts a club on the map. Clubs who gain affiliation are justifyably proud of the accomplishment. With that said, the truth is the few benefits of affiliation are seldom used by the clubs. But that's not what's important, what's important is what ARRL affiliation means to those who seek it.

The main benefit is inclusion in the League's club database, which means anyone interested in finding a club in your area will find you. Other perks exist, but none of the clubs I was associated with bothered to take full advantage of them. But back to the subject at hand -- how to be a Section Manager.

BACKSEAT DRIVING. As a new SM, one thing you learn is that there's always those who believe they know your job better than you ever will. Nothing new about that, I know, comes with the territory. And honestly, I always listened to them because there was -- if you dug deep enough -- some good take-aways. And I would rather listen to the war stories and be attentive that piss them off and make them believe you don't give a damn (even when you don't).

One of the lessons you have to learn as Section Manager is that you are more than Joe Ham, W2IOU, who is an elected presentative of the Leauge; your physical presence represents the totality of the ARRL as an organization. I was flabbergasted at the first events I attended; it meant a lot to hams in the community when I attended their event, club meeting, etc.

And the ARRL has some pretty specific guidelines for SMs, and for good reason. They too are well aware of the important role an SM plays in each state. The SM sets the tone for the entire League's programs within the section.

One of the worst experiences I had as SM had to do with former SMs in my section who went to great pains to tell me the "right way" to do what I was doing. I appreciate ideas from those who went before me, but a guy can only take so much whining, you know?

My predecessor was a pill; for about the first year, he called me from time to time to bitch about something I wasn't doing or doing the way he did. Well, thanks for the info, see you down the log, you zipperhead! I was again appreciative of his input (the first dozen times), then he was forwarding complaints from people who didn't have the gonads to call or email me directly.

One of the former SMs was a Grade A ass from the git-go. Apparently, when I was elected he had sent me congrats in an email and I had failed to respond in a timely manner. I had heard from HQ that I won, but it had yet to be officially announced, and I preferred to let the League announce it before I began to acknowledge the emails.

This former SM pitched a fit with my predecessor even before I was in office about my tardy email. He showed up at the next hamfest and stood about 20 feet away next to a wall and glared at me. I mean, he just stood there and glared at me as though I was supposed to know who the hell he was. I arrived as SM-elect to the venue prior to the current SM, and I had no clue who this creepy OM was who was giving me the evil eye. I ignored him. Once the SM arrived, the former SM called him over to his perch and told him about my faux pas; the SM came over and told me I had a problem.

What? With whom? What the hell did I do?

You failed to acknowledge the email from the old SM, Bunky. He's pissed.

Oh? My fault.

After the SM and I talked, he finally came over to where we were. The first words out of his mouth were not an introduction, but simply "You never replied to my email!"

"And you are?" I asked, which prompted a furrowed brow response at my not knowing who the hell he was. He told me his name -- Larry Loser -- which he linked immediately to a prominent Silent Key in our state who was on the executive board at ARRL HQ a bazillion years ago, and who was his best friend (before he was SK I assumed. You never know for sure about these things).

For the next couple of years, Larry spent more time bitching about me to HQ than he did ever talking to me in person or on the phone. He demanded I attend his club meeting and give a presentation; he proudly told me had visited at least one meeting of every affiliated ham club in the state "back in his day" (of course there were 9 affiliated clubs at the time).

He was on my ass about the guy I appointed to be the Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC); he didn't like him, and blah blah blah! ARES is going to hell in a handbasket! What was I thinking! For the next year he continued to spread his "positive" view of life and ham radio to me every chance he got. I did decide to replace the SEC, and Larry apparently assumed he would be on my short list. Actually, he was not -- state emergency management folks had asked to avoid giving him that appointment. I ended up appointing a Technician-class ham who had much more EM experience than ham experience to be the SEC -- a guy from Larry's county no less. Larry was livid to say the least. He raised such a stink that the director and I decided to meet go visit Larry and take him to dinner. It was a long trip for a lot of trouble; the director basically told him my decision stood.

Q: NAME THE ARRL'S TOP FIELD PROGRAM? Quick! -- Name the ARRL's most important field program.

The Official Observer program? The volunteer examiners? Technical help? The National Traffic System? Instructors?

While they are all very, very important, the most important ARRL field program is ARES.

This isn't true in every section, of course, but in mine, ARES was the program that required the greatest amount of my time and effort.

I estimate 10-15 percent of licensed amateurs are active in ARES (you don't even need to be an ARRL member to participate in ARES). Why is ARES important, you ask? Aren't these guys just wanna-be first-responders? Arent' they just going to get in the way?

They may be some of all of the above. But mostly, ARES members are volunteers who are trying to use their communication skills to work in their communities. And it was the ARES program that consumed most of my time.

And what made ARES valuable to each community was also what made it something akin to herding cats at the section level. ARES is (at least in my state) organized from the ground up. ARES groups are organized and operate as independent groups who have a fairly loose affiliation with the section ARES organization.

As state ARES leadership, we have to understand we're working with volunteers who in most cases have a better understanding of what local needs are than we do. Each ARES group must define their mission and served agency or agencies. They must develop -- and in some cases, create -- relationships with served agencies in their community.

At the state level, we cannot do that for them -- though one of the most common requests I had was for a letter from me "telling" local first-responders and/or elected officials that they should/must work with their local ARES group.

The biggest problem with ARES were the instances where well-meaning volunteers either over-promised or under-delivered their services to local agencies. In the case of a former Emergency Coordinator in my county, the poor sap ended up pissing off the EMS director, police chief and fire chiefs, who were up in arms asking the top county official to ban the guy from pestering them.  He actually did ban him from working for those agencies. The episode ruined the name  "ARES" in our county for more than a decade. Those of us who were ARES volunteers dropped the name but we volunteered under the local EM flag (and absolutely NO mention of ARES -- ever).

The abilities of ARES groups varied widely across the state. When you work with loosely affiliated autonomous groups, that's the nature of how things work. And early on in my Section Manager career, I realized that all of these ARES groups were working independently of one another. In many cases, they were each working to solve similar or identical problems. I saw it time and time again. My SEC wouldn't do it, but I decided to create an annual event to allow ARES groups and leaders to meet; a summit or conference to share ideas and network. It had never been done and was met with some skepticism. I talked it up for most of a year while planning it. With the help of my wife and kids, along with some local volunteers, we pulled it off and launched was became a beneficial annual event. We had forums at the event, but the most useful parts were the breaks -- when individuals had time to network.

DOWNSIDE OF GROUND-UP MANAGEMENT. As Section Manager, I was the top of the section management. I had a top-notch SEC and he had a number of assistants, and it made things run well. As we went on, ARES grew and became more efficient, but retained its ground-up focus. One of the never-completed efforts I began was to try to build a statewide ARES database of membership and capabilities -- not a very popular idea among the rank and file membership.

There was a lot of suspicions about such a database, particularly in rural parts of the state. This resistance had a long history; in fact, it damn near destroyed the program a couple dozen years earlier, according to the SEC at the time. In the wake of the near-revolution in the ARES program, he decided the best solution was to keep ARES records local, with the county EC. And that's how it had been since, which meant we had no real indicator of how many volunteers we had or their capabilities.

Did we really need such a database? You could argue that we did not. Ninety-nine percent of emergency communications work by ARES is local, most of it tactical in nature. We weren't going to build a roster or ask anyone to "deploy" somewhere. My sole intent was to get a handle on numbers and capabilities. I can't tell you how many elected officials asked how many volunteers we had, and it was at best a wild-ass guestimate.

Our volunteers would not and did not tolerate "orders" from "on high." As a result, we had to be careful about how things were worded in emails so they didn't sound like anything more than requests. I spent a good amount of time defusing incorrect assumptions about the intent and tone of emails inside the ARES program.

Other states had quasi-professional ARES groups with official recognition. We would never reach that level in my state, particularly if it required background checks. Most members would have walked had background checks been a requirement.

But background checks would have been appropriate, and would have weeded out some bad apples who caused us some embarrasment. One ARES official was arrested on child porn charges under my watch. He had prior arrests that would have cued us in to a possible issue in the future. A background check would have also identified a convicted sex offender who wound up receiving a high-level ARES appointment.

I had to strip the man of his appointment, and send his EC and DEC a letter about it. His DEC called me about it, just about to bite my head off. I finally had to explain the complete nature of his past offenses. The DEC went to the man to ask if any of it was true; every bit of it was true. It was a bitter pill for all of us to swallow because the man was a good volunteer in an area that lacked volunteers. I had no real choice; I had checked with HQ about this but already knew what I would be required to do.

ARES: A PAPER TIGER? There's a percentage of people involved in ARES who are glory-seekers; they want the official title, an official badge. They want to volunteer, but they also want to be see as saviors via ham radio. The percentage is small, but they can make life difficult for the rest of us who only want to volunteer to help our communities. But memories are a lasting thing ... there are local governments who "still " remember the crap caused by a well-meaning ham, and who want nothing to do with ham radio because of it.

ARES varies from state to state and county to county. If I were to do it all over again, I would turn ARES over completely to the SEC. I spent too much time on it. Is it important? Yeah, it is. But ARES ended up consuming completely my enjoyment of ham radio, and that ended up not being much fun anymore.

BURNOUT OR BURNED UP? At the time my final term as Section Manager ended, I was mostly a ham in name only. My only radio activity was the state ARES and traffic nets. No contests, no rag chews. This isn't an uncommon occurrence among SMs I found. Seems that in many cases, the longer you serve, the less time you spend on the air. Funny how that works.

So yeah, all I have to do is recount my years in office and I'm even more certain I will not throw my hat in the ring for any ARRL election in the near or distant future.

One turn in the barrel is enough.

-73-




Thursday, November 24, 2016

'Boast Encounter of the Director Kind ... '

Nov. 24, 2016 -- Whilst considering where this blog is going to go, I felt compelled to return tonight to recount some of my on-the-job training as a newly elected ARRL Section Manager.

First, I was fortunate that the outgoing SM supported my run for office; the damn truth is that the other candidate was an OM (emphasis on the "O") who was already well known for memory lapses during his advancing years. He had held the office 20 years earlier, and while I didn't remember his term, I was told numerous times it was one of tremendous inactivity on his part. He's a Silent Key now, enough said.

The outgoing OM said he would chose not to vote as to vote for the other candidates, which showed me that in his eyes, I was apparently better than nothing. In the voting I beat the other candidate handily. Little did I know what I was in for (my on-the-job "training" will be the subject of subsequent entries).

Sometime during my first couple of terms as SM I had a run-in with a director outside my division. My division director was a stodgy bastard who was as disagreeable as the day is long. I came to think I must have reminded him of a son-in-law he hated, as he was always acted like a bag o' douche when it came to his interactions with me.

I never understood what the hell his issue was; as I eventually learned, there's no shortage of hateful old farts among the Amateur Radio rank and file.

Fast forward to a past Straight Key Night. If you haven't operated this event before, it is a non-contest event that celebrates the use of manual keys -- straight keys, bugs, sideswipers, etc. No electronic keyers allowed. Over the years, SKN also has become a celebration of "old school" Amateur Radio, with classic rigs of the past fired up for a blast from the past. You haven't lived until you the distinctive sound of a classic transmitter on the air.

I have always loved SKN; in fact, I spend most of the operating time copying the mail of stations with the most interesting sounding CW notes.



HEATHKIT AT-1 CHIRP: RIG MALFUNCTION OR VINTAGE 'CHARACTER'?  This one particular SKN, I got a phone call from my director regarding a notice that one of my Official Observers mailed out to an op running a Heathkit DX-Chirpy. The OO notice mentioned that the OM's rig had substantial chirp, and advised the OM he might want to look at it. The OO had no idea what sort of transmitter the guy was running; he probably wasn't aware of the SKN operating event; the man's rig had a chirp issue.

Well, the OM who received the notice was best buddies with Reginal Q. Blowhard, the longtime division director of the Eastern Asshole division. The OM was pissed that he had received an OO card -- though he admitted he knew the rig had a chirp issue. Most old Heathkits do, you know. For an OO who was raised on solid-state, phase-lock loop transceivers, chirp isn't something so common these days. And let's keep in mind that an OO notice is just an advisory; it isn't a notice of violation or a fine -- its just to let you know (in the event you aren't aware of it) that your rig has chirp.

Nothing more; nothing less.

Now the OM's ego has been bruised, he appeals to Director Blowhard to intervene. As was the good (?) director's practice, he pushed the throttle of his asinine inclinations clear to the firewall. He bypassed my director, and appealed to ARRL HQ and its Field Organization folks. He expressed his outrage and horror over the fact his friend and esteemed colleague was targeted for character assassination by one of my Official Observers who dared to send him an advisory alleging the rig he admitted had chirp actually had a chirpy signal. How dare he!?

Director Blowhard demanded -- not asked, but demanded -- that the head of the HQ OO group
intercept the OO notice (to prevent it from being stored in the ARRL archives and dredged up in the future and employed as a weapon to embarrass his family and descendants -- none of who will know what the hell a chirpy signal is or give a damn about it), destory said notice, and force the offending OO to issue the man an apology for doing the job required of him as a volunteer Official Observer. I can only guess that ARRL policy forbade having him drawn and quartered due to budget limitations.

God bless the Field organization OO program director, who was one of the most level-headed men I ever met. As it turns out, the ARRL HQ folks have to deal with the inflated egos of division directors on a regular basis, and as a longtime HQ employee, he was well versed in handling these things. HQ's OO director agreed to destroy the OO's advisory, which pleased Dir. Blowhard to no end (he should have known that OO advisories are held for a year then destroyed anyway ... the only reason they are held at all is in the event of a repeat offender who may require a referral of a matter to the FCC. Fortunately for us fans of vintage ham gear, chirp isn't generally a federal offense).

The OO program manager sent an apology of sorts to the the director's friend (something I would not have approved had I a voice in the matter), and told everyone it was a "learning opportunity." Well, the lesson here was simple -- don't send an OO advisory to the friends of a sitting division director.

All of the proceedings happened between the director and HQ; neither me nor my division director had any say or input. It was a sad example of how someone with too much power can bully an organization to do something it shouldn't have to. The event became an example of the adage about shit rolling downhill. Director Blowhard's bullying (and my director's decision to not get involved) forced the League into an action that insulted the years of hard work and dedicated service from this particular OO. He felt shit on (and rightfully so), and he never participated as an OO again, despite my repeated invitations and my reappointments.

When I later brought it up with my division director, he basically said that Blowhard was his friend and ally, and he wasn't going to oppose him, despite the loss to my state's OO program.

EPILOGUE. This blog isn't about trashing the ARRL or those who serve as paid staff, volunteers, etc. With any membership organization, stupid crap happens at levels that can't be stopped by us peons at lower levels (aka the Field Organization). I find it incredibly sad and stupid for how a director's ego pushed a good volunteer to leave because of an OO advisory hurt the feelings of a ham who was operating a rig he  knew to be chirpy. Director Blowhard eventually retired. Personally, I'm glad his ass is gone. Bye, Felicia.

-30-