by Deb Cook Lewis
On March 30, 2020 the American Council of the Blind board of directors held an emergency telephonic board meeting to determine if or how ACB would conduct its annual conference and convention in light of the coronavirus pandemic which is sweeping the world and at least temporarily changing life as we know it. All board members were in attendance, and the meeting was carried on ACB Radio with an audience of more than 300 listeners. The meeting began at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, and adjourned at 11:30.
The first order of business, after adoption of the agenda, was approval of the February meeting minutes. Then, president Dan Spoone and executive director Eric Bridges presented the Mission Moment focusing on the ACB staff and member response to the coronavirus. Eric explained that staff are working from home as of March 16 and are able to perform all functions thanks to the technology available. Staff and members have organized many activities, particularly conference calls on hundreds of topics, to assist and inform the membership. ACB is operating at an energized level throughout the organization.
The board then moved into the primary agenda item, which was to determine the venue for the ACB 2020 conference and convention. Dan began by explaining the logistics and requirements of the contract with the Schaumburg Renaissance Hotel. The only way ACB could cancel the contract without penalty would be to invoke the impossibility clause. Janet Dickelman, ACB convention coordinator, spoke with the hotel representative, who stated they were only canceling events through April at this time and ACB would therefore be held liable for the cancellation penalty. He recommended, however, that ACB send a letter strongly stating its case. Dan noted that the nation has been impacted heavily by the virus since March 16 with Illinois under a “stay at home” order as of March 20. Our members are elderly, and many have health conditions that make them more likely to become ill if exposed to the virus. The convention steering committee and the ACB executive committee strongly felt the only option for ACB was to cancel the on-site convention and hold a virtual event because of the high risk to members and other participants. Dan and Eric sought legal consultation, and were advised to notify the hotel immediately. The executive committee unanimously adopted a motion to cancel the hotel contract, paving the way for Dan and Eric to work with ACB’s attorney to craft a letter which was sent to the hotel. The executive committee asked the board to ratify the motion to cancel the hotel contract under the impossibility clause and consider whether to hold a virtual convention. Dan concluded by stating that he had contacted each board member to explain the background and to prepare them for this discussion. Then he asked each board member to comment before taking the vote. The overall theme of the comments was that canceling the in-person convention was the only good option for ACB, and they were looking forward to a virtual convention. The motion to ratify the decision of the executive committee was adopted unanimously.
Dan next outlined the impacts and options associated with the board’s decision to cancel the in-person convention. Janet explained that parallel planning had been under way over the last few weeks to prepare for the possibility of a virtual convention or a reduced in-person event. Using the resources of ACB Radio and conferencing platforms such as Zoom, ACB could hold many of its events, including general sessions, many affiliate activities, the auction, the walk, and even the banquet. There will be registration, an official program, door prizes, and much more. Many who have never been able to attend convention will be able to participate. She will begin working with the program committee immediately. John McCann and Ray Campbell, on behalf of the constitution and bylaws committee, explained that ACB’s constitution prohibits any official business such as elections and resolutions outside of an in-person meeting. Therefore, there will be no business meeting as part of the virtual convention and all board and BOP seats up for election will be extended one year. There was discussion that policy decisions typically resulting from resolutions could be voted on by the board as recommendations from the resolutions committee. Jeff Bishop reported that ACB Radio is preparing to carry convention coverage on all streams and is coordinating the virtual meeting spaces that will be needed for affiliate and committee events. Deb Cook Lewis indicated that the BOP will have timely convention information included in the May and June publications, and plans to have a convention newspaper, but will not hold a candidates’ forum or candidates’ town hall meeting. Cindy Van Winkle, staff lead for the scholarships and awards steering committee, indicated that all scholarships and awards will be given. Scholarship recipients along with DKM First-Timers and Leadership Fellows will be invited to attend the 2021 convention in Phoenix.
Dan then moved on to a discussion of the financial impacts to ACB resulting from the coronavirus. David Trott, ACB treasurer, explained that the market was moving up and down, which has an overall and undetermined impact on our investment portfolio. Michael Garrett, ACBES chair, reported that ACB’s two thrift stores have closed to protect the employees and public. Michael is working with Tony Stephens to determine if ACB will qualify for any of the federal programs in place to help small businesses during the pandemic, and he is particularly concerned that we need to help our thrift store employees. Nancy Becker requested authorization to draw down additional funds from the reserve if needed. The board authorized up to $150,000.
Dan concluded by thanking everyone for their hard work and commitment to the organization.