UMass Amherst Alumni Association, Memorial Hall
UMass football ascension to F.B.S. becoming a financial black hole -- not to mention the embarrassing 1-11 competitive result -- has received plenty of coverage lately, with major long-form stories in the Boston Globe and most recently their BIG sister publication, the New York Times.
And with losses of $8 million (if you count capital improvements, which the town of Amherst never does with its municipal golf course), deservedly so.
But another annual multi-million dollar expenditure of tax money -- $949,789 in cash, plus another $1 million of "in kind" overhead support -- on the UMass/Amherst campus stays under the radar when it comes to media scrutiny. Probably because the story is a complicated one.
Last April, after filing a public documents request, I first published the Bentz, Whaley, Flessner report analyzing the current state of the UMass Amherst Alumni Association, a report costing taxpayers $24,5000. According to that report, "The situation is viewed as complex and dysfunctional."
The volunteer board of directors "must cease the in-fighting and hostility that has been described as its mode of operation of over a decade."
The board of directors consists of 18 elected members, 12 appointed by the President, 2 student representatives, 3 ex officio directors and one alumni networks representative. Although if you go to their webpage, only 16 elected members are listed.
Yes, as I said, complicated. Or perhaps "confusing" is a better word.
The alumni membership, of which I am one, now consists of all 235,000 living Umass Amherst graduates, but only those who donate a minimum of $50 can vote (talk about "pay to play") in the Board of Directors election, usually held in the spring. Last year about 2,000 were eligible or only 1% of the total membership, down from 5,000 in 2010.
Their most recent minutes June 4th, approved at the October 27, 2012 meeting, had only one item on the agenda (not that there was a published agenda), which sounds like a change in direction: phasing out "volunteers" and turning over more responsibility to the paid staff of 19 UMass employees.
One has to wonder if that paradigm shift goes all the way to the top to including staff oversight by the Board of Directors -- all of whom are "volunteers"?
Not that they seem concerned, however, as the motion was passed unanimously by the 19 (out of 34) voting members "present".
Interestingly, they unanimously support "becoming more professionally driven and less reliant on the use of volunteers to address operational matters" but do so in a "Conference Call" meeting that clearly violates Mass Open Meeting Law.
The Attorney General has only recently allowed "remote participation," but one major caveat is that those who participate remotely do not count towards a quorum. In other words, a majority of bodies must be physically present in the room in order to have a legitimate committee meeting or vote on any item.
The definition of a "public body" subject to Open Meeting Law includes any "multiple-member board, commission, committee or subcommittee within the executive or legislative branch or within any county, district, city, region or town, however created, elected, appointed or otherwise constituted, established to serve a public purpose."
The Bentz, Whaley, Flessner report cites the UMAAA "as both a University department as well as a 501-(c) (3) organization."
In journalism the expression "phoned in a story" means the resulting article is the byproduct of less than optimal efforts of the reporter and newspaper to "cover" an event.
The same sentiment certainly applies for phoned in, closed, bureaucratic committee meetings -- except in this case, "cover" has a completely different meaning.