EAB 2006 AGM

[This report was first published in EAB Update No. 34 (July - September 2006):]

EAB's 29th Annual General Meeting was held on 30 April at Green Gables Hotel, Scarborough; chaired by John Wells. The following is a slightly abridged version of the draft minutes, which were compiled by Vilĉjo Walker at the request of the Management Committee.

Report and accounts

The Trustees' Report, summary accounts and AGM agenda had been distributed beforehand; the minutes of the previous meeting were distributed at the meeting. Before starting the meeting we remembered the 21 members who had passed away during the past year with a short silence.

Around 52 members attended; apologies had been received from Edmund Grimley Evans, John Rapley, Don Lord, David Hill and Bill Simcock.

The Trustees' Report had been published in Issue 33 of EAB Update. This was accepted: a majority voted in favour, 0 against, 2 abstained.

Joyce Bunting presented the Annual Accounts: both income and expenditure had increased; the benefits of being a charity were mainly concerned with tax savings (£1,182 had been reclaimed through gift aid nominations); a part-time office assistant had been appointed. Joyce thanked Office Manager Viv O'Dunne for her help in managing and administering the finances (as well as her office and bookshop activities) and appealed again for a successor (or at least an understudy) for the role of Honorary Treasurer.

Ian Fantom questioned whether we were voting on the summary or full accounts, and asked why there was a need for two versions when several years ago the entire accounts had occupied just two pages. Helen Fantom explained that the full accounts were structured to comply with SoRP (Statement of Recommended Practice) regulations, while the summary was presented to members reflecting areas relevant to the charity's operation. Eric Walker emphasised that the conclusions and totals in both versions are the same, and Terry Page highlighted the declaration by the Independent Examiners that 'the summarised financial statements are consistent with the full final statements and trustees' report'.

The accounts were accepted: a majority voted in favour, 0 against, 2 abstained.

Paul Gubbins asked us to recognise the good work done by Joyce as Honorary Treasurer; John Wells endorsed this.

The reappointment of the Independent Examiner (Kingston Smith) was discussed; Joyce mentioned that they had recently come top in a 'charity accountant of the year' competition. Reappointment was accepted: a majority voted in favour, 0 against, 1 abstained.

Subscription rates

The trustees explained their proposal to leave the subscription rates unchanged. Joyce explained that members can always make a donation if they wish to pay more than the standard subscription. Brian O'Sullivan asked if subscriptions could be paid in instalments. Eric Walker highlighted the experience of the 'Esperanto Action' group's £1 membership rate, which had not attracted many additional members beyond those already paying EAB subscriptions. Ian Fantom warned of the dangers of attempting to 'undercut the competition'.

The proposal to leave subscriptions unchanged was accepted: a majority voted in favour, 0 against, 1 abstained.

Resolutions

Resolution 1: 'This meeting is of the opinion that suggestions, ideas and criticisms from members should be welcomed by the Management Committee, and should be given due acknowledgement and consideration'.

The proposer was not present; Anice Szrajbman (the resolution's seconder) felt that there should be more discussion about issues, rather than simply receiving the results of the Management Committee's deliberations. Angela Tellier remembered a 'meet the ManCom' session in the programme of a previous British Esperanto Congress, and John Wells agreed that this should be a standing item at future congresses. Ian Fantom complained that the Management Committee had not, in his view, given due acknowledgement to his own suggestions about falling membership. Eric Walker highlighted that the Letters page of EAB Update is available for members to air suggestions, but Ian Fantom recounted his disagreement with its editor over whether his letter was 'suitable for publication'. Lillian Wrigley observed that older members do die, and so membership numbers will fall unless we recruit younger members.

The resolution was accepted: a majority voted in favour, 0 against, 1 abstained.

Resolution 2: 'This meeting expresses concern at the apparent overuse of confidentiality, and of the Data Protection Act, with the effect that the membership remains relatively uninformed about key issues in the association.'

Anice Szrajbman (the resolution's proposer) explained that several years ago she had tried to circulate a proposal for reviving the South Eastern Federation, but when she wrote to EAB and to several local group secretaries, she received no reply. Joyce was unable to comment on that particular event (Anice couldn't be precise about the dates so it was possible that the office was in the process of relocating between temporary addresses at the time); the current practice is that the office will forward communications to a named member or local contacts on request, but will only give out a member's address details if the member has ticked the relevant permission box on their membership details. Also, such requests need to be clear and concise; if it is just one part of a lengthy letter covering many topics then there is a risk that this one part might get overlooked.

Bill Walker was concerned that 'junk mail' and unsolicited mailings would alienate members, and asked that the trustees be allowed to use their judgement about the permitted uses of the membership database. Andrew Wheatley observed that EAB is not alone in having to accommodate the Data Protection Act, and Elizabeth Stanley pointed out that, whether EAB is registered under the Act or not, we do have to comply with it; we must respect individuals' decisions on whether they want to be contacted. Ian Fantom wanted to revisit the reasons for the decision taken (years ago) to register EAB under the Act, complaining that he had received inconsistent answers to this in the past.

Ian Fantom also complained that the Management Committee had [in 2000] deliberately 'dismantled' the federation structure by scrapping the kapkotizo [the annual payment of £1 per member from EAB to their local federation] and Members of the association attending this year's AGM Konsila Komisiono [the regular meeting of federation representatives in London]. Eric Walker challenged this, explaining that several cost-saving decisions were taken at a time when EAB's expenditure considerably exceeded income, so (i) instead of paying the kapkotizo automatically (even to inactive groups), the trustees made its payment conditional on receipt of an annual report from the federation - only two federations submitted reports, and one of those said that they did not want to receive the money - and (ii) the travel expenses of bringing local representatives to London were significant, so the face-to-face meeting was replaced first by a telephone conference call and then later by a proposed e-mail discussion group - but when that was advertised in EAB Update, only one person volunteered to take part. Jean Bisset said the original Konsila Komisiono had not been an effective conduit between EAB and her own federation.

The resolution was not accepted; 13 voted in favour, 25 against, 11 abstained.

Ian Fantom expressed his view that this resolution had not been handled properly by the chairman.

Election of trustees

Elizabeth Stanley, Arthur Sly (both proposed by Michael Seaton) and Tom Shorney (proposed by Elizabeth Stanley) were appointed as vote-counters: a majority voted in favour, 0 against, 0 abstained.

Before the election of the trustees, John Wells read a statement (appended) drawing attention to the declarations and statements made in EAB Update, issue 33. He listed a number of Ian Fantom's strengths but felt that his unwillingness to work with the other trustees made him unsuitable as a candidate for the management committee.

Ian Fantom disputed John Well's account of events, and the report of related incidents in EAB Update. He complained of a deliberate campaign to obstruct his work of addressing membership numbers, with 'Kelso' as the 'ringleader', supported by 'Tatton' (whom he accused of having ulterior motives behind the association's move to Barlaston) and the honorary secretary, who had refused to speak to him [Geoffrey Sutton, the previous hon. secretary, states that he has never refused to speak to anyone. On the other hand, he is not prepared to engage in incessant spurious argument. GS, editor.] Jean Bisset objected to Ian Fantom's use of just surnames when referring to people.

Comments and suggestions from the membership

Website: Bill Walker announced an enhancement to the EAB website, allowing people to place orders and make online (credit/ debit card) payments for bookshop items, membership and donations.

Publicity: Helen Fantom summarised the publicity resulting from Jim Voiels' press release about the congress, with contributions from Brian Sullivan and Angela Tellier (see separate report). John Wells thanked them for their hard work. Paul Gubbins stressed some learning points arising from the experience, with the need for more advanced planning so that people 'on site' can be prepared when reporters or photographers turn up, and Terry Page echoed the need for a two-way dialogue with the local congress committee. Helen Fantom appealed for more volunteers for the 'local contacts' list; Stephen Thompson asked that anyone quoted in a press release or listed as a contact should receive a copy of that release in advance.

Membership: Eric Walker responded to comments about falling membership; other Esperanto associations in Englishspeaking countries had suffered comparable falls, but with lesser falls in bilingual countries (Ireland, Canada, etc), while other clubs and associations in Ipswich also suffered from falling membership. Ian Fantom complained that his research into membership over the last year had been ignored, and said the only cases in the last ten years when the trend had been reversed were due to his own initiatives. Derek Tatton compared the similar trends in trade unions, the Women's Institute, etc. with thriving organisations: the University of the Third Age (UA3), book groups, web networks and discussion groups. Terry Page highlighted the age profile; many membership-based organisations are becoming not just smaller but older. Ian Fantom complained that his research into membership numbers had been obstructed and that people were unwilling to listen to his answers. Lillian Wrigley said she had found U3A more flexible than the Workers' Education Assocation, and that young people are motivated by political concerns. Gillian Cartledge compared membership (not free) with the internet (free) where Esperanto is thriving, but felt that the association had become more vibrant since the move to Barlaston, and that fund-raising does not have to be tied to membership numbers. Ian Fantom asked why, if people 'knew the answers', he had been asked to research the topic.

Eric Walker summarised his experience of telephoning lapsed members who have ignored reminders; around half say they had 'forgotten' and a quarter have died or moved; rarely do they say they have 'lost interest' - although he acknowledged that this might be their trying not to offend.

Young Members and JEB [Young British Esperantists]: Ian Fantom said that membership of EAB was not attractive to young people. Jack Warren cited recent reductions in funding for language teaching, and the removal of compulsory GCSE foreign language exams; in his view when mainstream foreign languageteaching falls, Esperanto suffers too. Andrew Wheatley reiterated how young people use the internet, and asked how we can make our events sufficiently inclusive to attract younger people.

Hanna Tellier asked for a membership category that includes voting rights and EAB Update but not La Brita Esperantisto; Angela Tellier asked us to consider a flat rate for members, independent of any subscription to publications. Rolf Fantom highlighted the important distinction between people who just learn Esperanto to use it, and those who want to become active in promoting the language to others. In his experience, many young people skip the national events, preferring to start by attending international ones right away. Vicky Fisher welcomed seeing so many young faces at this event.

Eric Walker stressed how both circumstances and JEB's role have changed, and asked if EAB now needed a youth section. Ian Fantom felt that we need to have something relevant to offer to young people before trying to recruit them, but had proposed a £10 'youth membership' category as an interim step. Malcolm Jones highlighted how the rules of the Norwich Jubilee Esperanto Foundation have been relaxed to allow young British Esperantists to receive funding to attend Esperanto events in Britain.

Petra Fantom explained how JEB had separated from EAB so as not to be bound by charity regulations but stressed that JEB is still happy to work with EAB; JEB membership is free as JEB is mainly a 'friendship' group. Daniel White felt that mutual (automatic) membership of JEB and EAB could be worthwhile. Rolf Fantom explained the history of past affiliation agreements, and welcomed the idea of joint memberships. Ian Fantom again explained his handling of Eric Walker's 'youth section' proposal and blamed the Management Committee for 'talking out' the idea. Anice Szrajbman suggested that JEB should have a representative on the Management Committee; Joyce confirmed that this was already provided for, within the JEB-EAB affiliation agreement.

Michael Gunton stated that young people like to sign up to a single issue, and participate in order to effect change; some want to 'dip in and out' without making a commitment. John Wells contrasted that approach with our situation; learning Esperanto does require an intellectual commitment. Fiona Wright said that she found guest speaker Atilio Rojas's 'fun and games' approach welcoming. 'We should play more', she added.

Terry Page asked if the AGM should continue to be hosted at the British Congress; the general response of the members was to keep the AGM within the congress programme.

Election results

The meeting reconvened after lunch for the election results

* This figure initially announced suffered a transcription error and was read out as '17'; this was subsequently spotted and corrected by the vote-counters.

Postscript: Because of the variation in total votes counted for each candidate, the trustees subsequently arranged for a recount of the votes by office manager Viv O'Dunne; these counts [above, in brackets, where different] showed: (i) a major difference in the count for Edmund Grimley-Evans and some minor differences in the other counts; (ii) a difference of five between the 110 voters checked off as eligible, and the 115 voting papers collected (perhaps five voters bypassed the eligibility check, or were checked but not ticked off). The counts should therefore be assumed to have a (worst-case) five-vote margin of error. Neither of these differences materially affect the outcome of this election. Nevertheless the trustees plan to review the vote-counters' guidelines before the next election.

Ian Fantom attributed his result to 'threats, concealment and intimidation' by David Kelso. He said that he had not expected to be elected, had stood for election as a protest to draw attention to his situation, and that if he had been elected he would probably have declined to serve on the committee anyway.

Invitation to Letchworth

John Wells closed the meeting at 14:15, and Arthur Sly invited members to attend the 2007 British Congress in Letchworth.

Appendix: Statement read by EAB President John Wells during the AGM

I would urge all the members of the Association, before they vote, to read the April-June 2006 EAB Update very carefully. In it you will find, on pages 5-8, the mandatory texts by the candidates for election to the Management Committee for 2006-07.

You will also find, on page 4, the text of a motion of censure that was put to the Management Committee at its February 2006 meeting, a motion calling for the suspension of the trustee Ian Fantom. The reasons for proposing the motion are set out there, together with a summary of the discussion that followed. The outcome was that the Management accepted the motion calling for Ian's suspension by 5 votes to 1, with 2 abstentions.

In my own statement at the foot of page 6 I did my best to summarize the situation in an impartial manner. I have always during my period of office leant over backwards to ensure that Ian is accorded his democratic right to be heard and to express his opinions, and I have striven to remain neutral in the ongoing disagreement between him and other Trustees.

Following the vote of censure, the Management Committee invited Ian Fantom to present his side of the matter, which he duly did in the statement printed on page 8. The Management Committee felt it necessary to comment on this statement of Ian's, and the Management Committee's agreed comment appears at the foot of page 8. As President of the Association, it was naturally appropriate that I should sign it with my name.

In my message printed on page 6, written after the February meeting, I told you that matters had reached a point where Ian Fantom was willing to collaborate with none of the Trustees except his wife Helen and me. He told me this face-to-face. I have now to tell you that as a result of what I wrote in Update Ian, when he next saw me, hissed at me the accusation 'perfidulo' (traitor), and has since then refused to speak to me. Despite this, I have for my own part continued to speak to him normally. So the situation now is that Ian is willing to collaborate with none at all of the Trustees except his wife.

I deeply regret this. Ian has many talents. He is full of good ideas for publicity and for promoting Esperanto. For example, he helped me considerably with the speech I made at the British Congress in Felixstowe. He has produced an excellent newsletter for the London Esperanto Club and publicity material for next year's congress. However, he is no longer willing to work with the other Trustees. He will not even speak to the President.

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