transparency and openness in FSA politics

Posted on: Thu, 12/15/2011 - 22:02 By: Tom Swiss

Two posts I made to the Free Spirit Forum today, that may be of interest to FSA members who don't follow that list.

[name and address elided] writes:

> If one of the (reasonable) concerns about FSA and FSG leadership is
> transparency, it'd be valuable to have information like this posted/
> specified, rather than referred to.

I think that the concern with transparency and openness gets to the core of the idea of changing the rules for membership -- because it hits on why people choose to become or not to become members. If people feel that members are not being informed of what's going on and not being given a proper chance to participate in decision-making, why would they choose to become or stay members?

Unfortunately, from my time "on the inside", I believe that some of the current Trustees and Officers may have a preference to keep the membership from being too involved or informed. We shall see, I suppose.


I wrote this morning that:

> Unfortunately, from my time "on the inside", I believe that some
> of the current Trustees and Officers may have a preference to keep the
> membership from being too involved or informed. We shall see, I suppose.

I thought that was something that "we shall see" in the months ahead, from the new leadership's actions. But I've in fact gotten a direct answer: I've been asked by President Fred to "stop stirring the Pot!" and told that I should "come to the board if there is some thing you want to talk about!"

Because, in his words, "if we have every body saying something nothing gets done".

Perhaps I'm alone in strongly disagreeing with this; maybe folks are happy to have an organization where the board prepares proposals without much discussion or input, without taking a consensus-building approach, and just submits them for a minimal yea-or-nay by the membership, all in the supposed name of "getting something done".

If there's a consensus that we're not interested in consensus, then I'll just be the guy off in the corner ranting. I'm used to that. :-)

But I've been "stirring the pot" in various ways since the Great Upheaval. Before I held office in FSA, I tried to increase member involvement. As VP and as President, I tried to increase member involvement. And after holding office in FSA, I intend to keep doing it, hopefully more effectively now that I have a greater knowledge of the process.

I believe that dialog within the community is a valuable thing. I reject the notion that "if we have every body saying something nothing gets done". I believe that only when we have every body saying something can we best figure out what needs to be done. (That doesn't mean it's easy, or that I always successfully live up to that ideal of listening myself; but I try.)

And I believe that greater openness and transparency could have prevented some of the serious problems that FSA has had over the past few years in its financial and business affairs.

I'm sorry that this will apparently put me at odds with our new President. But it does not change my opinion, or my intention to continue to discuss these matters.

So if you're an FSA member -- or a potential member, any member of the Free Spirit community -- who's interested in a more participatory approach to directing this organization, I'd like to hear from you.


I joined FSA because I believed in the idea of a pagan "community". Learning, teaching, and having fun together. Fellowship, I believe is the word the more mainstream religions use. What I have always seen as the stumbling block for FSA is the lack of community participation. Once you pay your dues, then what? I've been to meetings where it was difficult to accomplish anything because there was not enough people to call a quorum. The recent change to the membership rules will make it more easy for people to not only become members, but to be voting members who will be able to enact change.

But only if they actually participate.

It's nice to be in the armchair on Monday morning and give the review, it's entirely another to be on the 20 yard line, ready to play.

Fred may not be perfect, but what he's trying to do insofar as opening up the membership, I think, is a good thing. It will, hopefully bring more attendance at the meetings and not just dollars in the coffers. With greater attendance, more ideas can be shared. I think it will also encourage what you seem to be looking for in your posts here: A greater transparency regarding the organization as a whole. Fred isn't trying to be opaque in what he's doing. I think his comment to you, in private, was an attempt to curb unwarranted negative exposure. He may not have expressed himself in the most eloquent of ways, but his requesting that you bring any concerns you might have directly to the board rather than express them in a negative way in a public forum.

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, and of course, you have the right to air that opinion in whatever way you choose. However, as a former member of the board and someone who professes support for the Free Spirit Alliance, I would think you would be more supportive of the positive changes Fred is trying to enact and bring your ideas and constructive criticisms to a more appropriate venue. Like, a meeting. Or to the trustees. Or the board in general. Anyone can email If not, then a quick check of the website: gives folks an entire contact list of board members they can email individually or enmasse to express an opinion or a concern. It's really quite simple.

Oh, and btw, the issues that were raised last week regarding the membership rule changes regarding the ban list ARE being addressed and I believe you will have the opportunity to see those improvements prior to the next regular business meeting (probably late January or February). Great pains will be taken to ensure the meeting announcement and agenda are sent out well in advance of the actual meeting date. The website will be down for a brief period while it is revamped and updated. (Folks can feel free to visit FSA's Facebook Page in the interim.)

I do hope that you will continue to be an positive voice for FSA.