Sunday, 4 January 2015

Chess Victoria AGM

In late November, the Annual General Meeting of Chess Victoria was held at Box Hill Chess Club. Ordinarily an AGM can be a rather boring affair, with reports of the year's activities & often uncontested elections being the usual highlights. On the surface, the 2014 Chess Victoria AGM appeared to fit into this rather mundane format, however as it transpired, the meeting was quite eventful!
When I first started to do this blog, Amiel Rosario, of Closet Grandmaster fame, suggested I be controversial & until now I think I have refrained from doing so ...
Before I get to my view on the meeting, you can read what others have written about it, whether it is on the ChessChat forum or the Box Hill Chess Club Newsletter.
Prior to the meeting, there was a combined letter from Melbourne Chess Club & Noble Park Chess Club to the Chess Victoria executive that signalled that there might have been more than the usual formalities at the upcoming AGM. Ordinarily, if one has questions of an organisation, these are asked, either in person, or as the combined letter from MCC & NPCC did, in writing. The questions were answered, however the delegates for the clubs chose to raise these questions again at the AGM, apparently for the benefit of the delegates of other clubs, who in their opinion would have the same knowledge, or lack of knowledge, about processes within Chess Victoria.
Some of the questions were as follows:
Lack of transparency about the bidding procedure for Chess Victoria events
To me, the simple solution to this is to ask the question of what needs to be done to host a Chess Victoria event (the Victorian Open was the main tournament in question). If you don't ask the question, you won't ask the process ... the reason why the event has been run at Box Hill Chess Club for the last 5+ years is that in almost all years, Box Hill has been the only club that has put in a bid to host the event. In the time since I have been on the executive, the only other club that has put in a bid for the Victorian Open was one a few years ago from MCC & David Cordover. If memory serves, the original MCC/Cordover bid was to host the event for three years (rather than the one year asked for by the executive). When asked to resubmit a bid for one year, the 'bells & whistles' promised as part of the 3-year bid were absent, so the executive did what it thought was the responsible thing & voted to approve the better bid, put forward by Box Hill Chess Club.
This was the precursor for the apparent theme of the meeting, that Chess Victoria were somehow 'in cahoots' with Box Hill Chess Club, with favourable treatment, paying rent & other 'unscrupulous' activities being implied by the MCC/NPCC contingent of delegates.
Another theme apparent from the letter & the comments of delegates, was that the President, Leonid Sandler, was also somehow abusing his power. There was a variety of misinformation regarding the Australasian Masters, for example, put forward (incorrectly) as fact, which simply made those making these accusations look somewhat ordinary, which is possibly where the reference to student politics came from in the account of the AGM In the Box Hill newsletter linked above.
There was a motion put to halve the various affiliation fees (currently $5/year for adults & $2.50/year for juniors) that clubs pay to Chess Victoria. With MCC & NPCC voting as a block (effectively 8 votes), although the vote was close (it was in the end tied), it was not passed as it did not have a majority in favour of it (a few people abstained on the vote). In the discussion about the motion, the MCC delegates indicated that if the motion was not passed, that they would be voting against the budget for the year ... another indication of the apparent petty nature of the complaints. In the end, the budget was passed 13-8.
However, the real disgrace of the meeting was yet to come ... there was a motion on notice to grant the current Chess Victoria Treasurer Trevor Stanning, a long-time member of both the Chess Victoria executive, as well as Box Hill Chess Club, life membership of Chess Victoria. Trevor's services to chess have also been recognised on a national level with the award of the ACF's Koshnitsky Medal in 2012. The list of winners reads as a veritable who's who of Chess Administration in Australia.
There were a number of people who spoke on both sides regarding the motion. Those in favour of the motion spoke of Trevor's significant contribution to chess in Victoria. Those who spoke against the motion (all of whom were delegates of Melbourne or Noble Park Chess Clubs) spoke about how granting Trevor life membership would further increase the disproportionate voting advantages that the Box Hill Chess Club already apparently hold, and that it was nothing against Trevor personally, but rather the system which allowed Life Members to have voting rights at the AGM. To me, this sounds very much like the 'no offence' line that is given at the end of an offensive comment or joke ... as though by saying it is 'nothing personal' that it somehow makes the decision alright ...
The logic for the 'disproportionate' amount of power that Box Hill CC has comes from the following areas:
* Box Hill CC & Canterbury Junior CC being separate entities as far as Chess Victoria are concerned - the net result in terms of AGM votes is that they have 6 votes, rather than 5 that they would have as a combined club.
* Members of the executive who are involved at Box Hill CC (Trevor Stanning, Peter Tsai & the implication that Leonid Sandler was also sympathetic to BHCC, or somehow anti-MCC) & have a vote at the AGM
* Life member Gerrit Hartland, who was a prominent member of BHCC
Of course there are issues with this logic ...
* One vote is a minor 'advantage'
* The club base of members of the executive is largely incidental - in fact MCC & NPCC could have 'extra power' at the AGM if they volunteered to join the executive
* Gary Wastell, also a life member, was responsible for a number of things at MCC in his time at the club (this was dismissed as being 'MCC in name only' at the meeting)
If the delegates of MCC & NPCC (and presumably the clubs themselves) have issue with the Chess Victoria Constitution & its voting rights, then they should put forward a motion to change the constitution. Grant Szuveges attempted to do something similar during his brief time on the executive, however his motions were not adequately publicised to clubs & there were a number of questions put to him that he was unable to answer, with the result being that his motions were defeated, partly because some of the delegates didn't want change, but also partly because the proposed changes & the benefits of the changes were not properly explained & communicated to clubs. The net practical result of Grant's motions is that there is a standing 'gentleman's agreement' that executive members will not vote for one another (or themselves) when contested elections are held.
The end result of the vote regarding Trevor's potential Life Membership was that although it was 13-8 in favour, the Constitution required a two-thirds majority to be passed, therefore the motion was defeated.
If someone who has put in the time & effort that Trevor has cannot be rewarded with a Life Membership, then what incentive is there for someone to take on a voluntary role for an extended period of time?
In fact it goes towards a broader question of what incentive there is for anyone to get involved in an organisation such as Chess Victoria in a voluntary capacity? It seems as though anything good that someone does is largely ignored or simply taken as 'standard', however the smaller error or oversight seems to get criticism from a variety of sources ... look at the pre-tournament complaints about the recent Australasian Masters & Australian Women's Masters events as examples ...
Of course I am somewhat conflicted in all of this ... I work at both Noble Park & Melbourne Chess Clubs doing junior coaching, as well as being an arbiter at both clubs (most Monday evening & many weekend events at MCC, as well some weekend events for NPCC). Yet I am disgusted by the actions of the delegates in voting against the life membership ... I have already agreed to be the arbiter for the MCC Club Championship & have nothing against the kids who I coach at the various clubs, but I may have to reconsider my involvement in those clubs in the future ...

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