NAHJ board makes strong case against postponing election

They may or may not have known it at the time, but the Board of Directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists only had to do one thing to make last Thursday’s virtual town hall a success. To say that they failed would be diplomatic. The performance was catastrophic and cringeworthy. [Click on the link for the full video].

On the merits of the issue at hand, the decision to postpone elections for a year to give volunteers and staff the chance to focus its time and resources on the upcoming virtual conference, it’s fairly clear the board has no legal case. But honestly, they didn’t need to make one. What they needed to do at this meeting was assure the membership that this board, as currently constituted, is uniquely capable of guiding the association through the current crisis.

In too many ways to count, they demonstrated the exact opposite.

  • They falsely represented the legality of their action. The board of directors is not empowered to postpone the election. But President Hugo Balta placed undue emphasis on the fact that postponing the election is not a criminal act. The worst that could happen, he said, is that a court would force the board to hold an election.

Duh. That was the point. The board could be forced to hold an election because postponing the election is illegal. The board does not have the authority to do it. No one said it was a crime. That the board would resort to such a straw man argument to kick off the conversation was disheartening to witness.

Screencap of NAHJ’s May 21, 2020 town hall meeting. President Hugo Balta is in the third column, second row. I am in the first column, fourth row. This photo was taken by former NAHJ VP Rebecca Aguilar, second column, first row.
  • The board incorrectly dismissed the comparison between the NAHJ election and government elections by noting, as if NAHJ members were too dumb to realize it, that NAHJ is not a government.

Let’s be clear about something: the reason we compare NAHJ elections to a government’s elections has nothing to do with equating the board to a city council. It has everything to do with recognizing the magnitude of the crisis we face. If New York City can change mayors in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with smoke still rising from Ground Zero, then NAHJ can change leaders during the COVID crisis. No, NAHJ is not nearly as complex an operation as the government of New York City. Or any city. If America’s biggest city can change leadership in a crisis, so can NAHJ.

  • The board seems to think it’s doing members a favor by removing the burden of the election process from us.

We were told, with a straight face, that it would not be fair to other candidates to have them gather signatures and campaign for office while the current crisis continues. This is one of the board’s most frustrating arguments: they believe they are doing us a favor by disenfranchising us. This is not the board’s call to make! This board does not get to decide unilaterally that the nominating process is too much of a burden for other people.

  • The board declared itself indispensable.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: if these board members are so convinced that the survival of NAHJ requires their continued service, then it is incumbent on them to run for re-election, make the case and win, fair and square. The association’s bylaws do not empower ANY board to make that decision without the consent of the members.

Honestly, the argument that the current board must remain in place makes no sense: The current president remains on the board for one year as an advisor in a non-voting capacity. The staff remains in place. Every other board member is eligible for re-election. If you’re indispensable, make that argument your re-election campaign slogan. Your willingness to usurp our right to make that decision, to disenfranchise us for our own good, undermines your claim to be the best person for the job.

  • The board seems to think they have a right to disenfranchise the membership because of apathy in previous elections.

The closest thing this board has to a valid point is the recognition that NAHJ members have become complacent. It’s a fair criticism. We’ve had three uncontested presidential elections in a row. There were no candidates for a host of positions in last year’s election. Where were we?

A board that has faith in its members calls its members to action in a time of need, and this current crisis is a major time of need. NAHJ members have never failed to answer the call. We who raised a fortune in a fortnite, who rallied the membership to get a 67 percent voter turnout to amend the bylaws, who have managed to remain in this business in the darkest of times in our industry, we would have answered the call. But the call was never made. The line was cut.

This board of directors lost faith in the members of NAHJ.

One board member was bold enough to say out loud what the board implied in its vote. I know this person to be a good human being, a good journalist and a dedicated advocate for our cause. We have been lucky to have him represent us. So it pains me to say this. His words during the town hall were absolutely dripping with contempt, with condescension, with disrespect for the members, with ignorance of the history of this association and the people on whose shoulders he stands to be where he is today.

He’s endured a lot of criticism. When directed at his performance, that criticism has been fair, in my view. But a lot of vitriol has been directed at him as a person, and that is not fair at all. [To spare him from having this article come up in a Google search, I am declining to name him].

I cannot defend his conduct, but I will go to the mat with anyone to defend his character.

What the board needs to understand is, the way he treated members during that town hall is no different than the way the board treated members by voting to postpone the election and then, however the decision was reached, reaffirming that illegal decision. NAHJ can apologize, but until elections are restored, it’s just empty words.

There is no argument to postpone the election for a year.

There is no argument to be made that this board is any better qualified to lead us through the crisis than the next board will be. If anything, that town hall performance demonstrated the opposite.

NAHJ members came to that town hall meeting to be heard.

And we will be.

[I would have posted this sooner, but between my job and my family, I just don’t have a lot of time on my hands.]

Published by Olmeda

At-large director on the national board of the Society of Professional Journalists. Former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and of UNITY: Journalists of Color. An extreme moderate, not committed to political ideology. Stepfather to two wonderful daughters. Father to two wonderful sons. Husband. Rogue karaoke singer. Humanist

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