by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

The ACB board convened in Jacksonville, Fla., on Presidents' Day weekend. All members were present except for Naomi Soule (due to the illness of her father) and Cynthia Towers (who had resigned). The agenda for the midyear board of directors meeting was lengthy -- so much so that two conference calls were scheduled to finish examining the deficit budget for 2006 that the budget committee had proposed.

The first agenda item was to hold an election to fill the position formerly held by Cynthia Towers. Those nominated were Becky Floyd Collins of Mississippi, Brenda Dillon of Tennessee, Gene Barton of Pennsylvania and Carol Ewing of Nevada. After two rounds of voting, Carol Ewing was elected.

My respect for the complexity of secretary Donna Seliger's task is boundless, especially since I miscounted Billie Jean Keith's vote in my efforts to record the voting on the Maxi-Aids issue in a previous summary. I extend my apologies to Billie Jean.

Two sets of minutes were approved. Then the board heard a report from President Chris Gray. He requested volunteers to work on a new long-range plan for the organization. Mitch Pomerantz asked for clarification on where the funds would be found to underwrite such an undertaking. He estimated that a grant to cover the expense would be at least $50,000. Gray suggested that a board training session should be scheduled for September.

Ed Bradley presented a report on the MMS program. Only 81 individuals have signed on to the program so far. He was disappointed and requested greater board participation. In these difficult financial times, it is difficult to convince grant sources of the worthiness of requests if the governing boards don't show that they are dedicated enough to give generously to support their organization. He felt that the board needed to work harder to promote this painless means of showing support through automatic withdrawals or credit card donations. Pomerantz requested that an appeal be written to be included in "The Braille Forum" along with the mention of bequests and other gifts. It was decided that the chair of the fund-raising committee would prepare such an appeal by the April deadline for its first appearance in the May edition. Oral Miller requested that all board members take greater responsibility for promoting the program in their home affiliates.

Michael Garrett commended the ACBES board for its tireless work, which increased with the resignation of the executive director. Two thrift store managers also left the organization. He reported that store pricing systems were changed to increase sales and move merchandise. Sales are up in most of the stores. A mentoring program to assist new managers by pairing them with more experienced ones has begun. He also felt that the managers' enthusiasm has improved since they joined ACB at the Las Vegas convention. The networking and sharing of ideas to increase sales and donations has started to show positive results especially among the stores that were performing badly last year. Garrett was confident that ACBES would be able to make a $450,000 contribution for the 2006 budget.

Pomerantz questioned the decision not to replace the CEO of ACBES. Garrett responded that, after checking out the stores with ACB's controller, it was decided that increasing the networking of store managers and making themselves available for consultation to the manager pool, it wouldn't be necessary to hire a new chief executive officer for ACBES at this time.

David Trott presented the resource development committee report. He was frustrated by not having the statistics from all of the revenue sources such as the MMS program, direct mail appeal and other sources. There has been some difficulty locating the original documents regarding the time share. The ACB raffle did not generate sufficient funds to print an additional issue of the Forum as was hoped. Trott requested that the committee be allowed to determine where the revenues it generated should be allocated. Brian Charlson moved that the resource development committee be authorized to proceed with the raffle and that funds raised be earmarked to support existing programs rather than new projects. The motion passed. The bowling tournament was deferred to either the post-convention or September board meeting to be considered for the 2007 convention.

Mike Godino estimated that ACBES was able to generate $319,000 and that $150,000 would need to be moved from reserves to meet the shortfall. Melanie Brunson wanted the board to schedule a conference call at a later date to have the opportunity to get more exact figures for both the revenues and deficits; the board agreed. Godino wanted the board to put in place some policies regarding which signatures should be accepted to deal with ACB assets and holdings. He favored having the board adopt a corporate resolution to authorize one elected and one employed official signer on contracts and banking transactions. Charlson moved that a committee to develop such policies consisting of the treasurer, chair of the budget committee, the ACB controller, and executive director be formed. He also moved that the controller be authorized to move stock certificates to the Morgan Stanley Investment Bank for safekeeping and that American Insurance Group, the holder of our trust accounts, be notified that Don Gardner is authorized to act on ACB's behalf. This will handle the immediate problems until the committee can develop a set of corporate signature policies.

Don Gardner presented a "state of the Minneapolis office" report. He recommended that the office be moved from its current location to a less expensive space when the lease runs out. He stated that the accounting software upgrade is progressing, but that until the data can be completely transferred to the new system, three separate accounting systems and sets of software are running. He felt that most of the 2004 audit recommendations have been resolved. Brunson stated that as soon as the 2005 books have been closed, the controller will be ready to present quarterly financial statements to assist the board in its decision-making.

Patty Slaby presented the scholarship committee report. She requested that the scholarship presentations be moved to first thing Tuesday morning so that winners could have a guarantee of their allotted time. She also requested that second-time winners not be required to attend the convention, and that their alternates be brought to convention. She thought the breakfast meeting should be moved to a luncheon one. Much discussion ensued as to how to improve the involvement of scholarship winners in ACB. Sending winners' contact information to the affiliates was one suggestion, as well as requiring scholarship winners to attend the convention unless they are prohibited from doing so by medical, employment- or school-related reasons.

President Gray presented the direct mail report. He reiterated his belief that this program is the best option for developing another funding source outside the thrift stores. He outlined two possible programs. In one, a monthly newsletter would be developed to be sent to existing donors. The other program would require six mailings similar to those sent out in 2006. He felt that by the May mailing, the program would reach the break- even point. Oral Miller felt that the mailings needed to be more intriguing as he felt that they didn't compare well to others he had received. Action was tabled until later in the agenda.

Melanie Brunson presented the national office report. She outlined various projects and funding sources she was working on. Day Al-Mohamed bubbled over with enthusiasm as she outlined the actions on various resolutions, the number of legislative alerts sent out and the work she has done to keep the phone messages current. Sharon Lovering reported that Forum readership was 24,358. Terry Pacheco reported that Universal Studios is including descriptive video on all DVDs. She stated that additional assistive listening devices have been purchased and that she is pursuing the funding to add additional transmitters so that more events can be covered simultaneously. Applications for scholarships have been coming in, but the number of applicants is down.

One hundred and one members participated in the legislative seminar representing 28 states plus the District of Columbia. Carla Ruschival questioned why the rates at the hotel were so high since moving the date to so early in the year was supposed to mean a lower rate. A change in hotel management was given as the reason. Charlson stated that he felt the information access committee should look at the inaccessibility of emerging HDTV technology. He felt that we needed to address this issue both legislatively and through coalitions with descriptive video promoters as having DVS available on broadcasts that couldn't be received because the technology was completely inaccessible.

Charlie Hodge regretted that his heart attack had forced him into retirement. His offer to pay the filing fees for the copyrighting of ACB's intellectual properties would need to be modified. But he presented a check for $600 to begin the copyrighting process.

David Trott moved that the board authorize proceeding with the March, April and May direct mail appeals but look at improving the look of the material used. Bradley seconded the motion. Brian Charlson spoke against the idea of continuing to spend funds we didn't have in a deficit budget year. Trott and Bradley offered to withdraw the motion and Charlson moved the adoption of the monthly newsletter expense be moved into the budget and the projected income be set at a break-even figure. This motion passed nine to five, with Seliger, Bradley, Keith, Pomerantz and Ruschival casting the "no" votes. Paul Edwards moved that the resultant figures from the mailings be presented at the pre-convention board meeting so that the direct mail issue could be revisited. This passed on a voice vote. After a careful review, Brian Charlson moved acceptance of the revenue side of the budget. The expense side was deferred until the next day.

Rhonda Trott apologized for not having a report on the ACB store as eye surgery had prevented her from moving quickly on taking on this responsibility. She still needed to receive the store inventory, and wanted to establish a store committee which would include herself, Carla Ruschival, Donna Seliger, and Don Gardner.

On Monday morning, it was decided to move the review of the expense side of the budget to two conference calls to facilitate careful study without placing an undue burden on the east coast participants.

Pam Shaw introduced the new international relations committee. She stated that this committee does not intend to oversee ACB's involvement with the World Blind Union or BANA. It will act in collaboration in its international activity. Oral Miller was elected as the board liaison to this committee. The board accepted Shaw's report.

Ruschival gave her convention report. Conventioneers will be pleased that the committee intends to provide quick meals in Jacksonville. There is a shopping area two blocks from the hotel called The Landing with many restaurants, a food court and shops, but it didn't appear they were open on Sunday mornings before 11. Godino moved and Charlson seconded that the same firm of accountants be hired to audit this year's books. The motion carried.

Mitch Pomerantz gave a report on the National Telecommuting Institute (NTI) problem. This company offered home employment but denied jobs to visually impaired people because officials said it would be too expensive for them to make their software accessible. They claimed it would cost $400,000 to alter their software. ACB had made a freedom of information request to the IRS which was denied. A 508 complaint has been filed. This report was accepted.

M.J. Schmitt presented a membership committee report. She briefly outlined the committee's activities and asked that the board go on record as supporting the development of online payment options as appropriate. Her report was accepted.

Melanie Brunson asked to be authorized to negotiate with an organization wishing to offer training to the deaf-blind in the Ukraine.

Brian Charlson made a request on behalf of Kim Charlson of BANA for clarification of ACB's stand on the proposed Louis Braille coin issue. A letter representing the ACB view was part of the material distributed at the presidents' meeting.

Schmitt gave the National Accreditation Council report. NAC worked to develop standards for service to low-vision clients. Paul Edwards stated that if the Commission for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Services (CARF) were to continue developing standards in this area, such standards would be process-driven rather than outcome-oriented, which would not benefit the low-vision population. This report was accepted. The remainder of the budget was tabled until the conference calls.

Summary of the March 6 and 16 Conference Calls

On March 6, the call convened with all voting board members except Paul Edwards in attendance. Also present were staff members Melanie Brunson and Don Gardner.

Brian Charlson was pleased to report an amended figure for the revenue side of an additional $25,000 to the donations category. $5,000 of unrestricted donation funds and $20,000 were logged in for the 2005 year from car donations. This further reduced the deficit for 2005 to approximately $72,000. The board-designated reserves were also in a better position than previously thought. Ruschival moved to increase the figure for upgrading the web site to $23,000; the motion passed. Some billing adjustments for the cost of ACB Radio required shifting this figure as well. Moving amounts up or down proceeded as some items were reassigned to different categories and board members attempted to trim expenses or increase areas that were underfunded. Line items where additional information was needed were deferred to the March 16 call. Following this decision, the meeting adjourned.

The March 16 call permitted all of the pending figures to be entered and adjustments made to several items. Naomi Soule was unable to attend due to a death in her family. Guests included Kathey Wheeler and staff members Brunson and Gardner. President Gray began the meeting by informing the board of the death of BITS president Rob Hubbard in a traffic accident.

Carla Ruschival expressed concerns over cost-of-living increases being fairly distributed between the support staff in the Minneapolis and D.C. offices.

Brunson discussed the ramifications of relocating the D.C. office to less expensive quarters. They included incurring greater travel expenses for staff members to attend meetings. She indicated that the current line item was sufficient to cover the cost of moving because of the money saved by receiving a lower rent. She also presented an additional amount to "The Braille Forum" budget to cover the cost of a CD edition once the equipment to produce it was in place.

Adjustments to various lines freed up additional funds without increasing the overall numbers in the budget. The board voted to use this surplus to bolster the direct mail program. The 2006 budget finally passed.

Brian Charlson brought forward a request that ACB sign on to an effort to increase funding for deaf-blind programming from Congress. This motion passed. With no further business, the meeting adjourned.

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