Saturday, December 03, 2005

Corrections, Clarifications and Confidentiality

So many people followed up on my last LNC Meeting Report that there’s enough material for a whole ‘nother article.

First, a correction. I reported that North Carolina had not yet received its Unified Membership payment (UMP) in October. That was incorrect. I checked and we had actually received it before I wrote that article. I humbly apologize, especially to headquarters staff, for the error. They have enough troubles these days without false reports of not meeting obligations.

It turns out some other items of fact are also in question. For a few examples, I reported last time that according to Treasurer Mark Nelson a forgotten check for $8,000 was discovered in a desk drawer of a former employee. I’ve since heard the check was in the amount of $4,925. Nelson also had reported that a significant number of materials had to be trashed because they bore our former Executive Director Joe Seehusen’s signature, and since then I’ve been told they were made outdated by the abolition of membership dues.

The LNC almost passed a motion (it failed 7-7-2) by Region 2 Representative Aaron Starr (California) that we pay undisputed past due accounts payable before paying UMP, citing that our printer has still not been paid for the annual report from the beginning of 2005. However I have since been told that this invoice was indeed in dispute. I have not been told why the LNC was apparently unaware of this fact.

There are other examples of variations between different sets of factual reports, even more picayune than the first two I cited. On the surface it may not seem a big deal whether a check is reported to be for one amount or another. But the inability for everyone to agree on the most insignificant facts leads to a very significant problem. The LNC cannot make sound decisions if they don’t have accurate information.

I am not blaming or accusing anyone. Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever of anyone involved trying to falsify anything, and ample evidence that they are all decent people just trying to do right. This dynamic has been going on for years, long predating all current personnel. Before Nelson, former Treasurers Mark Tuniewicz and Deryl Martin complained of their inability to receive all the information they needed from staff. We’ve been through two Executive Directors and a full turnover of headquarters staff, and yet staff still complains of the LNC’s troubles in requesting what information they need.

That the problems stay constant while the people involved keep changing indicates this is a systems problem, not a personnel problem. I remain somewhat mystified as to why this continues. While serving on the LNC last term, we paid a lot of attention to streamlining the reporting we wanted from staff and took great pains to keep these reports as simple and germane as possible. It just doesn’t seem like it would have to be so difficult.

The theme continues with some clarity on the improvements in running monthly pledge credit cards. It turns out there was a user error with test batches. If a card number was in an existing test batch, it wouldn’t be included in the real batch. This was going on for months and was uncovered while training new people to run these batches. The test batches were deleted, and presto! Another dramatic improvement in this system.

Yes, this is another level of detail that hardly amounts to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of the Liberty movement. But again, it is a sign of a deeper issue with how we run this party. Every time a high level employee leaves, we discover problems like this.

The reasons for this are becoming a little clearer. We are always going into a crisis mode whenever a director level employee leaves. Instead of simply filling the position again, we distribute the duties to other staff who were not hired to do them and may or may not have any qualifications or experience with them. These are good resourceful people for the most part, eager to help any way they can and excited about learning while doing. But expecting them to keep operating in this crisis mode doesn’t work for anybody.

Not only does it lead to these basic errors that are always in need of fixing, it’s grossly unfair to our staff. Being in constant crisis leads to lack of morale. Being pulled apart in several competing directions generally contributes to job dissatisfaction. Being criticized for trying your best at some job you never asked for is never any fun.

We could solve a lot of these endemic annoyances if we hire qualified people for well defined positions and then just let them concentrate on doing their jobs. That way we can keep good people longer, instead of always replacing people whose dedication has finally been overwhelmed by their frustration.

On the confidentiality issue, I heard from Region 5E Alternate Chuck Moulton (Pennsylvania) who wanted to make sure his concerns about the confidentiality of reports raised at the last meeting were clear. He has always been an advocate of openness and wasn’t arguing in favor of excessive confidentiality, and I trust that was clear in my report.

The problem is that without constant reminder of the very narrow grounds of what should be confidential, it seems to be human nature to blur the lines and want to keep information closer than is often necessary or required. The poorly defined desire to keep information close leads to sloppiness in both directions. Moulton cited a database report he passed along, just meaning to keep his constituency informed, that he later was told was confidential even though it wasn’t marked as such. At the same time, the LNC seems quite freaked out over the speed at which the Treasurer’s Report, a completely nonconfidential document, made it into the blogosphere.

Being directly involved in the process, I won’t pretend to be objective here. My gut reaction is that folks should just get used to living in this glorious Internet Age when all information is immediately available. That Treasurer’s Report was sent by several LNC members to several different people, including myself, and I in turn forwarded it to others. That anyone finds anything wrong with this is rather strange to me.

But in thinking about it, I can understand why the members of the LNC might place some value on wanting to have the time to digest complicated financial information before having to answer questions or make decisions based on it. Some members also expressed concern that the process becomes a game of telephone where important pieces of information become lost or garbled with each transmission.

One of the main reasons why I took this job is to make sure accurate information is available to people who want it. Our members deserve to know everything they want to know about how their party is being run, but that’s not the only benefit. Placing the facts are on record also puts an end to speculation. It used to be that people could offer conjecture as fact and it would take a life of its own without the truth to counter it. I’d like to think that my LNC Meeting Reports have gone a long way to make sure that everybody knows what they are talking about.

After two years of this gig, this problem is starting to crop up again. It’s hard to report the facts when different authoritative sources disagree on them. And now some LNC members say they feel inhibited from committing anything to print because of how quickly and chaotically that information might get out.

Some people think blogging has changed the nature of reporting. The truth is the opposite. Blogging has returned journalism to its roots, before misplaced notions of objectivity were foisted upon it. Good reporters always have an interest in their subjects and make their biases a part of the story. Yes, sometimes it is messy, but overall more facts and more perspectives on them help people acquire the true picture.

Free flowing correct information is what makes this process work. When the flow of correct information is restricted in any way, we quickly return to the environment where speculation is just as powerful as truth, where unjust criticisms cannot be easily dispelled. But with all of the facts easily available to anyone, we can replace mistrust with confidence in any organization.


Anonymous Timothy West said...

I coulnt agree with you more Sean. The worst thing that ever happened to the press was the "objectivist" nature forced upon it. In the old days you had openly Democratic or Republican newspapers, and the reader knew what the deal was before hand. It was better.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous truthster said...

Staff morale is the number one issue the Libertarian Party is facing. The LP will never, ever move forward until it finds a way to give its employees defined, achievable goals and provides HQ with a reasonable and adequate number of staffers.

Keep your eyes on the current staff! They may be gone before you know it. The LP has created a little factory which turns out Libertarian malcontents and turns them back into small "l" libertarians -- through their revolving door of HQ staffers.

The method seems to be -- bring in motivated, idealistic, and talented young people -- ride them hard, beat them up, and send them back out into the world angry and disillusioned wondering why they ever wanted these people (libertarians) to run their country.

7:06 PM  

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