April 23, 2020
The April 23, 2020 conference call meeting of the Board of Directors of the American council of the Blind was called to order at 8:05 PM Eastern Time by President Dan Spoone.
At the call of the roll, the following Board members were present: Dan Spoone, Mark Richert, Ray Campbell, Denise Colley, David Trott, Kim Charlson, Jeff Bishop, Donna Brown, Sara Conrad, Dan Dillon, Katie Frederick, Jim Kracht, Doug Powell, Pat Sheehan, Michael Talley and Jeff Thom. Board of Publications Member Deb Cook Lewis was present representing that body.
Staff present: Eric Bridges, ACB Executive Director, Clark Rachfal, ACB Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs, Tony Stephens, Director of Development, Claire Stanley, ACB Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, Kelly Gasque, ACB Executive Assistant and Media Design Specialist, Cindy Van Winkle, ACB Membership Services Coordinator, and Nancy Marks-Becker, ACB Chief Financial Officer.
Contractors: Debbie Hazelton, ACB Radio Managing Director, and Jason Castonguay, ACB Radio Technical Director.
Guest: Janet Dickelman, ACB convention coordinator.
Approval of Agenda - Dan Spoone, President
President Spoone reviewed the agenda. Trott moved and Conrad seconded adoption of the agenda as amended to add an Item C under the president’s report regarding a proposal to support our affiliates virtual conventions on our ACB Radio streaming services. The motion carried.
Review and Approval of the March 30, 2020 (Special Convention Decision) Minutes - Denise Colley Secretary
Revised minutes had been sent out with some punctuation and editing corrections. The term “Force De Jour Clause” was corrected to “Force Majeure Clause”. Powell moved and Trott seconded a motion to approve the March 30, 2020 meeting minutes as corrected. The motion carried.
Mission Moment - Dan Spoone and Eric Bridges
This Mission Moment focused on the success of the DC presidents meeting and legislative seminar, and acknowledgement of all the logistics and support that Kelly Gasque did with our new hotel venue. This included finding a new hotel venue to managing contracts, food selection, staff training, etc. Follow-up was done with the hotel after our event to debrief about the positives, negatives, and what could be improved on. There was discussion about doing a two year contract with them and they were very amenable to working further with ACB.
President’s Report - Dan Spoone
Dan just wanted to take a moment to thank the Board, ACB staff, committees and special interest affiliates and our membership for stepping up, getting involved, volunteering and taken the can do spirit to move forward and pull together our virtual ACB Conference and Convention, and doing so under trying circumstances.
Status of the 2020 Hotel Contract:
Dan reported that Janet Dickelman and ACB staff has done some excellent negotiating with the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel. What has been negotiated is a Waiver of Cancellation of all liquidated damages associated with our 2020 contract in lieu of ACB holding our 2023 convention in Schaumburg, Illinois, along with a $15,000 deposit which will go toward our convention expenses in 2023. We were also able to get the damages waived for the overflow hotel. They are still working with some of the tour venues about getting some of our deposits back.
It was moved by Trott and seconded by Frederick that we authorize staff and the convention coordinator to move forward with the negotiation and signing of the contract to hold our 2023 ACB Conference and Convention in Schaumburg, Illinois. The motion carried.
Supporting our affiliates virtual conventions on our ACB Radio streaming services – Jeff Bishop
Several of our ACB affiliates are asking ACB Radio to support the virtual streaming of their state conventions coming up in 2020. We normally charge our affiliates to stream their conventions. Given our current circumstances with Covid-19, it was felt it would be a nice gesture on the part of ACB to waive the streaming fees for this year and to do whatever ACB Radio can do to support any affiliates that are seeking their assistance to stream their virtual conventions. Jeff said with our virtual convention coming up in July, it would be to our best interest to support the affiliates as we normally do. We would also be able to use these opportunities as a training ground to allow for us as an organization to get ready for our national convention with the practice we’d get assisting our state affiliates. It was felt that if we are going to assist affiliates in this way now, it would be only right to continue the practice until the end of the calendar year. To make it all even, this would mean reimbursing those affiliates whose conventions have already taken place this year.
It was moved by Campbell and seconded by Brown that ACB Radio waive the streaming fees for affiliate conventions for calendar year 2020. The motion carried.
Dan said that another way ACB is trying to help affiliates is letting them use our Zoom licenses because having breakout sessions as a part of a convention becomes quite expensive for affiliates to have to purchase multiple licenses.
ACB Staff Reports
Eric Bridges, Executive Director
Be My Eyes: Eric was contacted by Be My Eyes about the possibility of ACB joining their platform. The negotiations and discussions started in February, and they were talking through what a partnership could look like, as well as what sort of service we could provide on the platform. This led to discussion about what we could provide during this crisis, and we are now a part of the Be My Eyes family under specialized support. We will be providing support to individuals who want to learn more about ACB, and we will be doing this from noon to 3pm Eastern time Monday through Friday. The phones will be answered by members of the staff. Within the description of who we are that is in the Be My Eyes ap there is a lot of information, including links to go and learn more about ACB including our 800 number. There is going to be a ramp up process on Be My Eyes for people to know about our presence. Cindy Van Winkle will be managing the project as well as being one of the four staff agents. The others are Claire Stanley, Nancy Christine and Kelly Gasque.
VisionServe Alliance Policy Forum: The National Policy Collaborative meeting that was held the previous week that VisionServe Alliance helped to coordinate had 10 national blindness organizations participating, initially to talk about the broader universe of public policy issues faced by the blind community. Given this current Covid-19 crisis, however, this meeting centered more around those sorts of issues the blind community is dealing with related to the stimulus bills or other issues such as special education and the potential for IDEA waivers, accessible voting and issues coming up around social security and the stimulus checks going out that were cropping up in states. People were feeling each other out, but those attending seemed able to pick different areas where people had different strengths and let them take the lead to take certain policy positions forward. Another meeting is scheduled in two weeks to see where things are with some of the issues. The understanding is that the group will continue to meet with some level of consistency.
ACB Server Migration: Initially, ACB was going to migrate our server over to Microsoft Azure, and we had a vendor in place to perform that task. On the day selected for this to be done, the vendor said that they couldn’t do what they had agreed to do. The following Monday ACB terminated the contract with this vendor. We then reached out to Louisville Web Group who does all the design work for ACB.org, and who has the knowledge and capability to do this work, and they know our server. An email was received from them on the day of this board call, the process has been started, complete snapshots of the server have been made, and we are all working through the process of vigorous testing and analysis to ensure that we have a smooth process moving forward. We are also consulting with one of the members of the Microsoft Azure team to provide us with guidance on any issues that may arise during this migration process. It is expected that there will be a period of down time, however, we expect it to be short. There is no estimate on when this will occur, but everyone will be given ample notice of the date.
Kracht asked Eric what, if any, are the financial ramifications of the contract cancelation and the negotiation and entry into a new agreement? Eric responded that, year to date, ACB has paid roughly $7,000 in server-specific activities. He said he believes we had budgeted for roughly $45,000 or $50,000 for this project to be done. One of the nice aspects of us going with Azure is that we are getting a significant discount because we’re being able to utilize Philanthropy For Good, which is a Microsoft nonprofit arm that makes available to nonprofits significantly discounted software and other services such as Azure. Going with Azure will cut rates quite a bit for ban width, server allocation and server resources. Much work has been done already and we are awaiting some numbers from Louisville Web Group on what the total cost of this will be, but it will be far less than what they initially quoted at the time of budget development. Dan asked Eric and Nancy to lay out for the board what we had budgeted and the current estimates once received from Louisville Web Group.
Alexandria Office lease renewal: Eric said that we are starting in year 5 of our lease for the Alexandria Office. In March he and Kelly sat down with the owners of the building to get an understanding of what level of interest they had in us continuing in a lease with them and to see if they would give us a proposal for a 3-year lease extension. Our lease is up at the end of April of 2021. Over the past week the owners got back to Eric with a proposal that he believes is very good. What Eric had requested from them was to remain in our current space, but also carving out a little bit of extra space for 1 or 2 extra head count. The owners were initially in agreement of a 3-year extension with a rate increase of 2% for each of the 3 years. They also had gone out to get a bid on the space renovations we were requesting and they were given a bid of $25,000 which they agreed to split with us. It was felt that bid was too high, and they were asked to look at other options. What they came back with was to waive the construction costs altogether and complete the renovations while ACB staff were working from home. The lease would run from May 1, 2021 through April 30, 2024.
It was moved by Richert and seconded by Talley that the board give staff the authorization to proceed to sign a contract for a 3-year extension of the Alexandria Office lease if they believe the contract looks like it is in the best interest of the organization. A friendly amendment was requested and accepted by the maker of the original motion and seconder that language be added that the 2% yearly rate increase and the completion of the space renovations be specifically stated in the contract. The motion with the friendly amendment now reads: It was moved by Richert and seconded by Talley that the board give staff the authorization to proceed to sign a contract for a 3-year extension of the Alexandria Office lease if they believe the contract looks like it is in the best interest of the organization, and that the 2% yearly rate increase and the completion of the space renovations be specifically stated in the contract. The motion carried.
Clark Rachfal – Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs
Accessible Absentee Voting: As a lot of states are either rescheduling their primary elections or changing from in-person to entirely vote by mail, ACB and other advocacy organizations are leading the charge to ensure that, in addition to voting by mail with a paper ballot, states are offering an accessible alternative. ACB took the lead on a sign-on letter to Congress, because in the third Stimulus Package there was four hundred million dollars allocated for states for federal elections but there is no mention of accessibility or accessible absentee voting. The letter urged Congress to require funds to be spent for accessible absentee voting in further Stimulus Packages. ACB was joined by twenty other national disability rights and civil rights organizations and over seventy-five national, state and local organizations in total. Also signed onto this letter were over thirty ACB state and special interest affiliates. The other organizations primarily were the Protection and Advocacy Organizations within states, as well as Independent Living Centers. The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and the National Council on Independent Living are very active in this area as well. Other blindness organizations in the field such as VisionServe Alliance, AER and Blinded Veterans Association signed on to the letter as well.
ACB has also been in communication with the Disability Rights Section at the Department of Justice, and earlier in the week ACB along with ACB of New York, the National Council on Independent Living and their New York Association on Independent Living, and two ACB members as individual complainants filed an ADA complaint against the State of New York. This complaint highlights New York’s postponing their primary election to June 23rd, and offering No Excuse Vote By Mail with a paper ballot. It was pointed out to DOJ that the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires equal access to all parts of the voting process which includes absentee voting.
As this issue progresses many of our state affiliates are using these materials to help inform and share with their Boards of Elections or Secretarys of State. There is some progress on this front, in that Florida, Delaware and New Jersey are all moving towards a system that uses accessible electronic absentee ballots.
COVID-19 Impacts: Clark said that if something is not Covid-19 related in Washington DC it’s not getting done. The take aways from the bulk of the meetings he has attended recently is that all the advocacy organizations are in the same boat. They’re all doing much with the resources that they have, and they all recognize that they cannot do it all alone. Organizations like AFB and AER are helping to lead the policy work being done in the education area. ACB is willing and ready to collaborate with them on sharing information as well as hosting events and participating on panel discussions. ACB is at the forefront of accessible voting, as well as the work we are doing on transportation and accessible and assistive technology.
This time has also helped to build and strengthen relationships with the cross-disability community. Clark invited everyone to take a look at the ACB COVID-19 response page on the website. At the bottom of the page is a section that lists some of the sign-on letters that ACB has joined. Claire Stanley also put together and sent out to the membership a message about how, if and when people receiving SSDI and SSI qualify and may receive their personal Stimulus Payments from the IRS.
In late March/early April ACB and AFB sent a joint letter to Congress on the idea of waivers to IDEA. That language did pass in the third Stimulus Package so it is anticipated that the Department of Education will soon send their report back to Congress on what waivers they would like to see in IDEA. As an advocacy organization we took the correct stance that any waivers that limit the services being provided to students with disabilities are a nonstarter.
Other updates: One of the legislative imperatives we focused on at the legislative seminar was around the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act legislation. The goal was to have over 150 hill report feedback forms completed. We received nearly 200. We did not hit our SMART goal of getting fifty co-sponsors for the legislation, and while we did not reach our goal, we did double the number of co-sponsors that we had. We are now at eleven co-sponsors. ACB is reaching out to members of Congress as well as the HELP subcommittees to inquire about including HR. 4129 in a stimulus package as a vehicle that would help people age in place, and remain in their community and out of assisted and long-term care facilities. Our other two legislative imperatives have not had much in the way of legislative action.
Member Certifications – Cindy Van Winkle, Membership Services Coordinator
The results of the membership certification process still has a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of gathering statistical data so these numbers will be rough numbers. Right now they see about a 6.2% drop in membership at the state affiliate level. Once all of the numbers are in Cindy will be able to look at the work done by her POSSE to determine how many of those individuals they contacted either rejoined an affiliate or became a member-at-large. The larger drop was on the special interest affiliate side.
Community Chats: The first community call was held on March 17, and from March 17 to March 31, we held 14 community calls. From April 1 to April 23 we have held 59 more, making an overall total of 72. A lot of these calls have been sponsored by special interest affiliates or committees. There have been seven Hump Day Happy Hour calls for presidents, with the smallest number participating being 10 and the largest number being 22. Twenty-three state affiliate and seven special interest affiliate presidents have participated. Two community calls on how to reach out to your membership during the Covid-19 crisis were held with about 57 participants. The Comcast community call had the largest participation at 63. The coffee socials have ranged from 27 to 42 participants. Of the 55 calls she does have numbers for, 1,851 people have joined in. A daily schedule of the calls is being sent out every morning to those subscribed to the Community Calls email list and a weekly schedule is sent out through Constant Contact. There are several people coming on to the calls who are not ACB members but they’re in a perfect place for us to reach out to them. ACB Radio has shared several of our events on ACB Radio Live Event.
Friends of ACB went live on April tenth and we currently have seven friends. We haven’t really done anything yet to market this opportunity. It is up on ACB.org as another option to connect with ACB.
Tony Stephens Director of Development
First 50 Days: Tony began by thanking everyone who has taken time already to get on the phone and talk with him. One of the next things he wants to do is to speak individually with each member of the Board to hear our stories of what makes us passionate about this organization. There is even a stronger need to tell our story now because this is going to be a tough year for nonprofits, and voices will even be louder clanging for dollars over the course of the coming year. There are three areas to successful; persuasion to get others to follow in your footsteps as an organization; solid metrics and data to back up the work that you do, a strong narrative that is persuasive, and a strong value proposition. These are the things he wants to focus on in putting together ACB’s strong story.
Convention Sponsors: We are currently at $123,500 in sponsorships for the convention. One of the things that had to be redefined with a virtual convention was how to bring value to our corporate sponsors. We have an excellent opportunity to reach a significantly large audience.
Convention Fundraising Events: MMS and the Walk can help state and special interest affiliates raise money. Tony asked that we as Board members take that message back to the committees and affiliates that we serve as liaison to or have a connection with. We need to remind them that the more they can encourage their members to find ways to get involved with our fundraising activities the more that can bring back to their affiliate. We’ve raised about $24,000 this year in MMS money and a little over $7200 of that is going back to affiliates.
Nancy Marks Becker, Chief Financial Officer
Small Business Loans: ACB and ACBES applied for and received funds through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). ACB received $110,641 and ACBES received $91,600. These loans are eligible to be forgiven if we can provide documentation that the funds have been used to cover payroll costs, rent and utilities.
ACBES Thrift Stores: Both thrift stores were closed at the end of March by the mayors of the cities where they are located. The city of Lubbock is looking at having stores open with curbside pickup, so we are looking at ways we might be able to offer this service and still meet the requirements.
Drawdown of ACB Board Reserve: So far this year the Board has approved that $325,000 can be withdrawn from the Board Reserve Investment Account to meet operating needs. Nancy has withdrawn $34,900 from the Legacy Investment Account for operating expenses. She has also withdrawn $115,100 from the Board Reserve Account. Along with the funds that ACB received from the PPP Program and the additional $209,900 that the Board has approved so far this year, she does not anticipate needing any additional funds.
ACB Investments Update: As of April 22, the overall stock market YTD was down anywhere from 16% to 28%. However, ACB has set up our investment policies so our investments didn’t fluctuate as much as the market. Our investments YTD are down by 11%. It is anticipated that the next quarter will be choppy for our investments, but they should bounce back later this year.
Convention Update – Janet Dickelman, ACB Convention Coordinator
We did get a deposit refund from the bus company that we had contracted with. The refund from the White Socks baseball game should be coming in soon. We are still working with the Odyssey Boat Dinner Cruise.
The Convention Announce List is always up and running, and as of the morning of April 23 there were 1,679 people subscribed. We did revise our sponsorship information as well as our advertising and exhibitor information and those have all been updated, sent out and put up on the website.
Janet then explained how the convention was going to be set up and a lot of things that will be available. There will be a virtual exhibit hall channel on one of the ACB Radio channels along with a tours channel. The opening session will be Sunday evening, and general sessions will run from 10am to 1pm Eastern Time Monday through Friday. The board meeting will be the first Friday of convention. There will be a virtual information desk and a help desk for those who need assistance with Zoom.
Board of Publications Report - Deb cook Lewis
The Board of Publications is actively involved with everything convention related, and all of the pieces that operate under the BOP are very busy. Members are receiving more information through Constant Contact and other kinds of email changes are beginning to take place. Deb mentioned the monthly meeting of the BOP and invited any board member to join one of the calls at any time to learn more about the work of the BOP.
ACB Radio Report – Debbie Hazelton, Managing Director
Debbie thanked all of those who have helped ACB Radio with all things convention related. They are working with the advertisers and the exhibitors to get their prerecordings. Anthony Corona is starting a new show on Sunday called Sunday Addition With Anthony. There are a couple of new broadcasters and a couple who have returned.
Jeff Bishop announced that April is the twentieth anniversary of Main Menu, which is ACB Radios technology and flagship program. ACB Radio will be celebrating that throughout the month of May. They have obtained, through the generous donation of Jonathan Mosen, almost two thirds of the original programs. They will have a special show the first week in May with an interview from Jonathan, and then they will air the very first Main Menu show. Then, Main Menu Live returns.
There being no further business Campbell moved and Brown seconded a motion to adjourn. The motion carried. The meeting adjourned at 10:57PM Eastern time.
Date submitted: 06/18/2020
Date revised: 07/01/2020
Date Approved: 07/03/2020