Volunteers in the News

Power Struggle Develops in Severn River Association

Group calls a special meeting to vote upon proposed amendments to their constitution.

By Dorsey Clarke November 18, 2010

Severn River Association's President Bob Whitcomb calls a special meeting to order to vote upon proposed amendments to the Constitution.  Credit Dorsey Clarke

Bob Whitcomb, the current president of the Severn River Association, called a special meeting on November 16th for all members  to vote on a set of recently proposed amendments to the association's Constitution.

A number of former presidents and current members voiced their concerns that the intentions of the amendments were to direct the power currently dispersed amongst Severn River Association's board at-large into the hands of few. 

This first amendment called for a reduction in the number of elected directors from 12 to a "more manageable" size of nine. This reduction intended to improve communication within the organization by organizing decision-making powers into different levels.

"Severn River Association needs a more responsive board to enable the president to make decisions quickly," commented Pat Lynch, who currently serves on the General Board.

Another amendment proposed a transfer of responsibilities in decision-making for financial and business matters from the General Board to an Executive Board. The amendment stated that the fiscal matters could be reviewed by the General Board at regular meetings, but that the Executive Board would have the decision-making power to govern all SRA business matters.

Don Morris-Jones speaks to the Severn River Association on the new Total Maximum Daily Load legislation for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Credit Dorsey Clarke

The proposed amendments stem from the fact that there is a large discrepancy between the size of the SRA board and the number of people on the board that attend meetings regularly.

"Right now, over fifty people are on the board. That means, each of these fifty individuals are asked to respond to the president quickly when things come up," said Betsy Love, the Second Vice President of SRA. 

"With the changes in the proposed amendments, the full board of fifty-plus people would stay intact, but the Executive Board would be more accessible when the president needs to make a decision. It is challenging to bring everyone together. With this proposed structure, we are more qualified and ready for the future," Love added.

To some members and a few past presidents, the proposed framework seemed to confiscate all powers currently bestowed to the General Board.

Past President Kurt Riegel commented, "With the proposed changes, the board would be merely symbolic, having no real power. The greatest defect is that the board of directors, as currently defined, would be stripped of any financial powers. Financial decisions would be decided upon by an Executive Board composed of seven people. Transferring that financial authority from a large group to a small one does not make good sense."

The last amendment proposed would mandate that past presidents of SRA serve on the Executive Board.

Betsy Love, Second Vice President of Severn River Assocation, expresses her opinion of the proposed amendments to the Constitution before the group at the special meeting on Tuesday, November 16th.  Credit Dorsey Clarke

"Past presidents are very important to the Severn River Association," said Lynch who wants to integrate past and present leadership into the decision-making process.

A number of meeting attendees viewed this amendment as unnecessary. Riegel responded by defending that, "the board already has the power to appoint anyone they want to the Executive Board." 

"But," Riegel insisted, "it is unwise to mandate any one person to an executive committee."

Once all opinions were stated, a vote was conducted. Ultimately, the proposed amendments did not receive support from two-thirds of the voters and the motion failed.

Severn River Association will meet again on January 18th to discuss the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in studying watersheds and implementing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards.

For more information on Severn River Association, visit http://www.severnriver.org/.














(Revised December 2010)