by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
The American Council of the Blind board of directors held its fall meeting in Louisville, Ky. at the Galt House Hotel. All board members were present except M.J. Schmitt, who participated from her hospital bed by speaker phone. The agenda contained 26 items.
The board worked hard to keep discussion relevant and move as expeditiously as possible through the diverse issues needing consideration. President Chris Gray mentioned in his report that the months between July and December are particularly lean months for ACB to generate a positive cash flow. He has been working with the committee developing enhancements to the MMS program and taking a greater role working with the American Council of the Blind Enterprises and Services (ACBES) corporation as well.
Committee assignments for the 2005-2006 year were almost complete. Gray reported that he has found a chairperson for the finance advisory committee, William Hawkins. Although the board voted some years ago to form such a committee, he felt that he had found a person of the right caliber to give the expertise necessary to advise ACB in its investment decisions.
Gray reported that Leonard DuBoff had agreed to serve as ACB's trademark attorney at no cost. ACB would need to pay filing fees for copyrights and trademarks but DuBoff would not charge legal fees. Charlie Hodge made a generous offer to pay filing fees for several ACB names such as "The Braille Forum." M.J. Schmitt had also made the offer to cover filing fees so that no unbudgeted funds needed to be spent to begin protection of ACB copyrights and trademarks.
Mitch Pomerantz questioned whether work has been done to put into operation the recommendations to enhance web site accessibility made last year by Laura Oftedahl. Gray replied that steps have been taken but that the work was progressing slowly because a single person was having to make the necessary modifications to improve the web site.
Michael Garrett, chair of the ACBES, presented his report. Garrett stated that he felt the ACBES was in a time of transition and that there would be a shortfall from the projected $450,000 for this year. Operating cost containment has helped, but best to worst case projections are for a $90,000 to $190,000 drop in the money ACB can expect to receive. After his report was accepted, the board meeting adjourned to open a corporate meeting of ACBES.
The board had a lot of questions for Garrett concerning the whys and wherefores of such a drastic drop in the expected revenues. He felt it was imperative to have a chief financial officer in place for ACB as soon as possible. Besides cost-cutting measures such as letting some staff go, prices on some things have been raised to competitive market levels. Price elasticity needed to be instituted to compensate for increasing fuel costs. The visual aesthetics of the stores have been improved. The board has also looked into the issue of opening stores in better locations and closing unprofitable ventures. Paul Edwards praised Garrett's hard work and stated that the ACBES board had been meeting by conference call weekly for the past two months and was better informed than any previous board on the workings of the corporation.
Patrick Sheehan wanted to know what factors contributed to creating this shortfall and asked for a list of the steps being taken to minimize the negative downturn in revenue. Garrett listed increases in lease costs, gasoline prices for the trucks, the need for repairs for the aging fleet of trucks, and the drop in sales due to bad weather. The closing of one location that is not proving profitable and opening in a better location was up for discussion. This must be done with care, as closing costs might be higher than remaining open until an existing lease runs out. An increase in bulk sales is one means of increasing profits that the corporation has taken. Some donations from the thrift stores have gone to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Brian Charlson asked for a breakdown of the status of the various thrift stores. Garrett replied that there are nine stores open at this time. Five of them are operating at a profit, three are not, and one is swinging back and forth. He stated that personnel and operating costs have been cut. The aging nature of our fleet of trucks and an unexpected expense to repair air conditioning in one store that should have been covered by the landlord but was not have meant higher expenses. Only 12 of the 14 trucks are rolling, with the other two nearly parted out to keep the others in repair.
Oral Miller spoke to the fact that the thrift stores have been declining in their ability to generate revenue for several years and that it was all the more important to have a chief financial officer in the Minneapolis office as soon as possible. Gray moved that the membership of ACBES direct the board of ACB to create a comprehensive set of goals and objectives by which the executive director of ACBES is to be measured. One of the primary goals should be profitability of ACBES. The motion passed unanimously.
After some discussion as to which positions on the ACBES board were up for election, Carla Ruschival was elected unanimously. The second position was filled when Mike Godino defeated Paul Edwards, 11 votes to five. Those voting for Godino were Beatty, Bradley, Edwards, Godino, Gray, Keith, Miller, Ruschival, Schmitt, Seliger, and Trott. The votes for Edwards were cast by Charlson, Pomerantz, Sheehan, Soule and Towers.
Charlson moved that the ACBES corporate membership require written quarterly reports from the ACBES board of directors. This motion passed.
Bob Seliger reported on a situation which has arisen regarding the thrift store formerly owned by ACBES in Des Moines. The store has been advertising that profits go to the blind but has no apparent ties to any blindness-related organization. Edwards gave some background on the sale of the inventory in the store to the landlord who stated that his daughter intended to open a thrift store. Miller suggested that question be taken up with the attorney general of Iowa. The ACBES meeting was adjourned and the ACB board meeting resumed.
The first order of business was to review the bids from Denver, Colo. and Louisville, Ky. for the 2008 national convention and possible return to either location at a later date for a two-year contract. Carla Ruschival stated that the two hotels were comparable in accommodations. The Galt House Hotel in Louisville offered sleeping rooms for $85 and suites for $105 for 2008. The bid from the Adam's Mark in Denver was $89 for single or double with an increase for quad occupancy. The Galt House would hold the price for the second year of the contract. The board directed Ruschival to pursue a contract with the Galt House for 2008 and 2012. Denver would be a second choice and she should pursue a bid from them for 2010 or 2011.
The board went into executive session to deal with personnel matters during a working lunch. Edwards moved that the board authorize a committee with representatives from the ACBES and ACB boards to conduct interviews and if qualified hire one of the two individuals under consideration for the interim comptroller position at a salary not to exceed the amount paid to our previous CFO, Jim Olsen. Edwards also moved that Melanie Brunson be authorized to negotiate with the Veris Staffing Agency to arrive at mutually acceptable arrangements for benefits and other fees for this position, not exceeding the current percentage allocated to ACB staff. Both motions passed.
Godino gave his treasurer's report. By June 2005, there was a deficit of $53,475.55. Brunson reported some additional revenues that were not included in the figures available to Godino. She stated that the lawsuit filed by ACB against the Social Security Administration will involve three plaintiffs. Brunson reported that Terry Pacheco, Brenda Dillon and Mike Smitherman have worked up a list of possible corporate sponsors. She said that the position of editor of "The Braille Forum" has been filled by Sharon Lovering. There was a setback in relieving some of the pressure on the ACB office staff when the person hired to assist with some clerical duties was injured in an automobile accident and will not be able to work. She also stated that some funds have come in to assist with aiding Hurricane Katrina victims and some requests for that aid have also arrived.
Ed Bradley brought forward from the MMS Enhancement Committee a change in the operation of the MMS program. In the future, donors could have their charitable deduction divided 50-50 between the ACB and an affiliate of their choice, either state or special-interest. The idea was discussed and passed as a motion. Other recommendations for the committee included having the president convene a conference call of affiliate presidents to promote the MMS program. Also that the program be advertised in "The Braille Forum," on listservs, ACB Radio, and any affiliate newsletters willing to publish an article. Another idea discussed by the MMS Enhancement Committee was that of having a reception for MMS participants. No action was taken on this idea.
The next order of business was the selection of the executive committee. Edwards, Pomerantz, Bradley and Trott were selected to serve. Rochelle Hart was elected to serve on the board of publications.
David Trott presented the resource development committee report. "The Braille Forum" raffle held during the convention netted $5,600. John Oliveira was given permission to organize a bowling tournament to benefit ACB. Twenty four-member teams would participate. Each team would be charged a $50 fee, which could be paid by an affiliate sponsor. Team members would also be asked to raise $100 in pledges. Trott asked that Charlson be retained as a liaison on the resource development committee from the budget committee.
Miller stated that two recommendations were to be presented on the Maxi-Aids issue. The majority report from the committee recommended that ACB take no action. The minority report wished for a ban on Maxi-Aids' participation in exhibiting at convention. Pomerantz moved that Maxi-Aids be banned from exhibiting at ACB conventions for three years. The motion carried on an eight-to-six split with one member absent. The majority votes were cast by Charlson, Edwards, Keith, Miller, Pomerantz, Seliger, Sheehan, and Soule. In opposition were Beatty, Bradley, Godino, Ruschival, Towers, and Trott. The primary issue being debated seemed to be whether ACB should police the business practices of potential exhibitors.
Billie Jean Keith presented a report from the Rehabilitation Services Administration Issues Committee, consisting of Pomerantz, Seliger, Brunson, Pam Shaw and herself. The committee produced three documents: a background, a policy statement, and an action plan. Edwards moved that the committee be commended for the work accomplished and that a report be given at midyear if there is further action taken. The motion carried.
The next day, Trott and Soule had to leave before all business was completed. Charlson gave the budget committee report. He moved that all new hires be frozen exempting the chief financial officer and the hiring of the acting editor of "The Braille Forum" as editor. The motion carried. The second recommendation was that there not be a November issue of "The Braille Forum." That motion carried with two dissenting votes. Charlson also moved that no further solicitation mailings be sent out with the exception of a single mailing to a list of previous donors. He moved that for this single time, the cap of $50,000 be lifted to $100,000 with the remainder to go into the board-designated reserve. He recommended that the board commit itself to contact at least three affiliates to ask for their support in meeting ACB's financial goals for 2005 and report those contacts to the treasurer. He moved that the exhibit fees at convention be raised to $800. He moved that the convention committee put together a system of room fees for third-party activities at the ACB convention to be implemented this year.
Charlson expressed concern over where the funds to purchase software to upgrade the record-keeping at the Minneapolis office were coming from. He moved that board members who serve on the convention committee receive reimbursement only for expenses they would incur for serving on that committee above those they would incur as a board member. The report was accepted and recommendations passed.
Brunson asked that requests for items from the national office be made in a timely manner so as to cut FedEx expense for overnighting. Towers moved, and it passed, that if affiliates or officers requested materials with insufficient time for them to be sent free matter, that they be billed for the express mailing fee. Ruschival stated that the Jacksonville hotel charges for room cancellation after April 15.
Gray reported from the direct mailing committee. Three mailings have been sent thus far, with an average donation of $25. The report was accepted. The budget committee (composed of Charlson, Godino and Ruschival) was re-elected unanimously.
Gray reported on the updating of the Minneapolis office software from an old DOS system to a more modern program. Brunson distributed a draft paper on sponsorships. The report was accepted as well as the idea of seeking sponsorships. Charlson moved the concept be fleshed out by the committee and brought back for final approval within 30 days. Ron Milliman accepted chairmanship of a committee to work on promoting the MMS program.
The board decided to hold the presidents' meeting in conjunction with the midyear meeting. The meeting adjourned.