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Ideas Should Come First

September 30, 2002

Our national authority, US SAILING, has two kinds of members–organizations and individuals–yet its fundamental structure is carried over from an era when its members were solely yacht clubs and sailing associations. Over the years, as its mission has broadened, the organization has had one addition after another tacked on, and now it’s a vast patchwork of 55 committees, six councils, five affiliated associations, 51 board members, and a 13-member executive committee.

What’s wrong with that? First, individual sailors don’t know who represents them. This is because the members of the councils that represent various facets of the sport aren’t directly elected. It’s also because few council members communicate consistently with constituents.

Second, while the bloated board of directors is technically in charge, most directors are committee-area specialists who appear at board meetings as a secondary function and rubber stamp most proposals. The real power resides in the committees, which supervise championships, develop rules and race administration, arrange training programs, etc., and produce most of the proposals. They’re coordinated by the executive committee, but it isn’t easy refereeing such a sprawling confederation of committees–each confident of the paramount importance of its turf. That said, the quality of the people involved throughout US SAILING allows many good programs and services to hum along despite the impotent board, but it often takes exceptional circumstances or people to overcome the inertia. (To learn more about US SAILING’s makeup, see www.ussailing/directory/)

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A new structure could make it easier to get things done and also promote a culture of policy debate in which members would know who represented them. Imagine how innovative the organization would be if driven principally by a steady stream of ideas from its members.

What if a small board consisted of, say, six officers elected from the ranks of the member organizations and six sailors elected by their peers in six regions. A small board could actually discuss policy ideas, issues, and priorities brought to them by the committees, ISAF, or either of two elected councils, which, like the U.S. Congress, would be directly accountable to constituents. Call one the “Associations Council,” which would represent clubs, classes, etc., the way the U.S. Senate represents states. The other one, the “Sailors Council,” would represent rank-and-file sailors in different regions, roughly as the House of Representatives does. Elected council members, like board members, wouldn’t join committees and would concentrate on the big picture. Committees would continue to deliver expertise and planning, and would be directed by–and continue to exist at the pleasure of–the board.

To reach out to members, the councils would use the Internet, e-mail, and print. Periodic regional forums of sailors would be held. And regularly scheduled debates at ussailing.org would be promoted using e-mail alerts. Sailors would become more informed about issues and learn who to contact with their opinion. Ideas would flow, and US SAILING would become more proactive in its leadership.

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President Dave Rosekrans is currently developing a plan for modest, evolutionary changes at US SAILING; I encourage him to be bold. The organization and the sport have a great deal to gain.

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