Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Incorporated Societies

I've been having a think on the whole "Incorporated Society" thing of late.

What is it?

Well... for a non-profit organisation, without jumping through the hoops of becoming a charitable trust, you can register as an incorporated society. The barrier of entry is REALLY low. This is why it's used for community groups (Tangleball is an incorporated society, as are most sports clubs).

One of the conditions to becoming an incorporated society is that you have to file rules. These rules are public record. You can find them here. Do a search for the society you're interested in and it will bring up any submitted documents.

This is where the low barrier of entry starts to become a problem.

While there are guidelines about the absolute minimum requirements you need to include in your rules, they're not really checked and they really are the absolute minimum. Instead, it's all rubber stamped and scanned and put online. Essentially it's a "It's your rope. Tie it in a noose or use it to mark a boundary as you wish" situation. You probably won't know it's a noose until it's time to pull them out and make sure all due diligence has been followed. And by then, it's too late...

So, for example, your rules could reference 'rules' which don't really exist. They may not offer any remedies to breaches of rules, in some cases, may not even define misconduct or gross misconduct.

BUT these rules are a legal document. They're going to suffer a bit of "legalese".

"When things go bad™", not abiding by these rules can make "things go badder™". Anyone who feels put out by not following these rules can cause no end of legal issues essentially resulting in an incorporated society liquidating.

It can be hoped that the members, those most likely to be effected by these rules, share a common goal with the incorporated society and thusly, if there are issues, will choose to leave rather than disrupt the incorporated society further.

This, patently, isn't always the case. These rules, as a result, need to be rock solid.

They need to:
  • Find a balance between an individual's rights, and the rights of the society as a whole.
  • Be careful of any phrasing that gives management committees full rights to discipline or change rules as they see fit.
  • Be able to stand up to cases "When things go bad™". Never assume it's an if. Assume it's a when.
    • Define different levels of "When things go bad™" i.e. Misdemeanour could be a 3 strikes process.
    • Gross misconduct, which I would define as anything breaching the laws of the land, should be an entirely different process.
  • Be widely known. There is nothing worse than a set of rules that no one knows about and so those rules aren't at all, in anyway whatsoever, followed as "When things go bad™", you want to be able to say "We followed our own procedures". Going off script is not advisable.
  • Have a way for the rules to be altered. This HAS to be defined in your rules. Usually it requires a super majority to have voted in favour of a rule change.
  • Be updated. Update, at the very least, after every AGM to define the people in the various roles (chairperson or president, treasurer, secretary etc.). It shouldn't be a document that's festering away in a dark corner of the Internet. It should be one which everyone knows gets some attention. On this same note, if it's being updated often, it should hopefully make people aware of when applications for changes should be made.
  • The role of secretary is a burdensome one. Make sure the secretary has the authority to farm out some of their tasks, but ultimately takes responsibility.
  • Use references to working documents. Don't rely purely on your submitted rules. There's a cost to updating them. Instead, if it's rules around, for example, behaviour, these can referenced from the registered rules. This is important as it means you have more flexibility in defining them, BUT they also have legal standing. So, if a person were to breach rules stated in the code of conduct, defined as a misdemeanour, the remedies taken against them, as per the registered rules, can be applied without fear of stepping outside of the legal protections the registered rules offer.
  • Given that a registry of members must be kept, also make your rules around becoming a member are really clear and adhered to. This may be the processing of an application or a process whereby members of the society are given the opportunity to discuss the inclusion of a member into the society.
  • No body wants to think about it, but ... what happens if the society liquidates?
Are you a member of an incorporated society? I urge anyone and everyone to go and have a look at that societies registered documentation and have a bit of a read. Is it fair? Does it respect the rights of individuals AND the society as a whole? Does it cover fringe cases where legalities are likely to be an issue?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Zealand Roller Derby - Paving a More Positive Way Forward

I've been engrossed in this issue for the last couple of days and I've come to a few realisations.

The NZRDA, while their statement was unfortunate in the worst possible way, are essentially trying to find their way in the dark. The words I've seen bandied about, that seem most apt, is "trial by fire".

It seems really important to note that, although this doesn't belong in any sort of press release, the NZRDA is made up of volunteers from the NZ derby scene. They're spread across the country (meaning anything they do takes time as it takes time to communicate).

More interestingly, the thing about being volunteers? The interesting part isn't the fact that they're not paid, but rather, they're the ones who volunteered for the task.

They're hindered by their own rules. It's that classic problem around control. The fastest way to get anything done is through a dictatorship. The least worst way to keep things honest is through a democracy. I've struggled with this one myself in various organisations I've been a member of.

The pitchforks and torches are now out. In this age of clicktivism, there's now a petition to remove Stacey Roper as head coach. It's interesting to note that after over 12 hours, it hasn't reached it's horribly low ball target of 100 signatories.

Which begs a few questions:
  • The people who would be directly affected by any such action are the final 20. Have they been consulted? Can they be consulted without fear of repercussion from their coach? People on both sides of the argument are making, what I think are, unsubstantiated presumptions on the effect this would have and what the options are.
  • What are the actions available to the NZRDA under their own rules? I would hazard a guess and think that ANY actions taken would have to adhere to their rules as they currently are. This is a difficult one as we discovered with Tangleball (though we didn't reach a crisis. It was realised that the society's registered rules did not reflect the practise as Tangleball is, by design, an anarchist society. It was decided to do a few review and rewrite of the registered rules due to possible legal repercussions).
  • Given the gravity of the situation, is this something that can be done quickly? A quick indictment, without having gone through due diligence, could be just as dire as being seen as complicit in discrimination.

I'm finding myself extremely conflicted on this issue.

Stacey Roper, from what I've seen, has gone about doing the wrong things willingly and without remorse. For example, I was told that she did issue an apology via her personal facebook page. The original comment was made elsewhere so this would seem to me to be underhanded. But worse than that, any such apology seems to either have disappeared, or to have been made private. Then calling discriminatory comments "off the cuff" would suggest to me that she doesn't understand the gravity of the situation.

I find it really hard not to condemn her outright. It's embarrassing to have this sort of controversy surrounding the only sport I've gotten invested in. One that's known for it's inclusiveness.

However, due diligence needs to be done and, like it or not, there are conflicting concerns. It's become an amazingly polarizing issue and there are no easy answers. This is where I think we need to address things. There's A LOT of anger directed toward NZRDA, but, if you step back and have a look, they've only really released a statement. It was a horrible, entirely regrettable statement, sure. But given the anger directed their way you'd have thought they'd had spent the intervening time killing kittens.

I found myself reading back through my last post. It's angry... really angry. Truth be told, I never really thought anyone would read it. I average around 30 hits a day though for the last month or so, that's dropped even further to around 20 hits per day. And then, suddenly, today... over 600 hits. I never got that sort of hit rate even when I was trying to do a post a day. It's an indication of just how personally invested people have gotten on the issue.

I'm really starting to regret the post. The problem with it is that I consider myself to be a ... positive entity? ... in (and kind of outside) the roller derby community. I don't necessarily get along with some individuals in the community and there are even a couple of leagues that I'm best to avoid BUT, for the most part, I would like to think that even my criticisms of bouts are all for the good. It's me hopefully offering an independent view into bouts. Away from the "Ra-ra! Look at how fantastic we are!" horribly biased write ups that seems to be the norm (I think there's only ever been one league that got took exception to this though they seemed to have issue with anything approaching criticism). But looking over that post, I can't help but feel that I've done the community a huge disservice. It's not in keeping with how I view myself within the community.

For that, I'm sorry.

Does this mean I don't think there's a case to be answered? Absolutely not! But it does mean that I think I, and I kind of hope I'm not the only one, should throw a lot more support behind NZRDA. For me, this means I'm considering becoming an "unaffiliated member". Hell, I may even offer to help where I can.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The New Zealand Roller Derby Community In Crisis

[Please note: I've come to regret this post. I'm not deleting it as I don't do that (it's a thing). I've written another post, as kind of a clarification, on my feelings towards this and what I hope is a more positive way to proceed.]

The New Zealand roller derby scene found itself on TV for the wrong things this week. It's been dreadful. A complaint has been placed with the Human Rights Commission for discrimination following the selection for Team NZ to represent NZ in the Roller Derby World Cup held in Dallas, Texas at the end of the year.

The complaints revolve around the head coach, "Pieces of Hate" (shortened to Hate).

Back in early October, the Team Manager, "Danger Spouse", quit, citing issues with bullying from the Team Coach and issues with the division of labour. She also went on to say that there was no supervision or mediation to settle the disputes and that key members of the governing body, the NZRDA (New Zealand Roller Derby Association) were caught in a conflict of interest due to their also trying out for Team New Zealand and "Pieces of Hate" having a big voice on selection.

Only a few days later, the final 20 (cut down from 30) was announced. The one player with disabilities, "Meat Train", wasn't picked. What followed though was an interesting response... the head coach wrote a facebook status which is the crux of the complaint. In it she said the following:
Liabilities: This one I hate because I tried so hard to make it work. If someone can't hear a penalty given to them and needs a team mate to skate over to them and shake their arm to get them off the track before an insub (short for insubordination foul) is given and while they do that they leave their position in the wall creating a space for the opposition to exploit, then we have a serious problem...
This is discrimination. It wasn't her abilities by which her selection or lack there of was based on. It was her disabilities.

Funnily enough, they would have been on better footing if "Meat Train" hadn't been selected in the top 30. Those issues cited by "Pieces of Hate" existed well before selection. But to lead a player on, ask her to travel around the country and give up weekends (which apparently she gave up paid employment for) to be rejected from the team based upon information that existed well before selection is cause for some serious concern.

The NZRDA had this to say on it:
In light of recent comments by the Team NZ Coach on her personal Facebook page NZRDA would like to make an official statement. We would like to apologise on behalf of NZRDA. Pieces of Hate's statements were not sanctioned by NZRDA and did not represent us as an association. Our task is to support all members.NZRDA offers congratulations to the 20 skaters selected to represent New Zealand in the Roller Derby World Cup 2014. We understand the extreme effort made by every single one of the 30 strong squad. Thank you for your passion and commitment.
"Pieces of Hate" was apparently also asked to issue an apology though I have not seen any such thing. The page, the Pieces of Hate fanpage, has disappeared from Facebook.

On the 15th of October, the NZRDA were sent a letter from Meat Train asking for a full investigation to be done on Pieces of Hate's conduct. The letter was made public on the 23rd of October. The story was reported on TV news on the 24th of October and the NZRDA finally responded on the 25th.

Their response was TERRIBLE. They apparently did conduct an investigation, and I'm told the investigation was fair, BUT it's a completely moot point.

The statement sounds like it's written by someone trying to do a terrible imitation of a press release. They got some things horribly horribly wrong. For example (the greatest hits):

  • In concluding we found that standing down Hate at this pivotal stage would be detrimental to the final 20 squad.
  • Hate was voted into this position from the New Zealand Roller Derby Community. Therefore she deserves respect in terms of her commitment and dedication to an unpaid NZ Head Coach position.
  • As a newly established association we have our own Code of Conduct which is stipulated in our Constitution.
  • In our findings Hate knew the final decision was going to be difficult due to the high calibre of skaters selected in the 30 training squad.
The first point reads as "we can't afford to find anything other than what we found". A strong reason for bias. And that was their conclusion?!?....

The second point... Where do I start?
  • In the entire statement they don't refer to "Pieces of Hate" but rather, just "Hate". Given that this has had national exposure, and it's pretty bad practise anyway, the term "Hate" should not be used. 'Pieces of Hate' or her real name should have been used instead.
  • This is sounding like "You, the roller derby community, voted for hate and hate is what you got. Your fault. Not ours".
  • Unpaid position... NEVER EVER do that in a press release statement. It reads as "we don't mind poor behaviour so long as it's for free".
The third point just has me scratching my head. What are they trying to say here? It's either "We're ill-equipped to handle this situation because we're a new organisation" or "Because we're new we have a new shiny code of conduct". I've been told to read it as "We acted according to our code of conduct to this situation by...." but that's not what is reads. A statement is about what's read into it and what is said rather than the intention. This is why they sound so guarded.

The fourth point: They used Pieces of Hate's words verbatim. That is no way anyone following this could conclude that this investigation was impartial based upon the information contained within this statement. 

The question remains if the NZRDA understand just how serious this is and if they do, why are they then not giving the situation the gravity it deserves? An ill-worded statement which highlights the issues they're choosing to ignore would imply that they're not taking this at all seriously.

To add to this, they deleted the comments off the post containing the statement with the following reason:

Hi all , Ive deleted the comments due to a physical threat been made and inappropriate comments made towards members of the top 20 .
I didn't see such comment and I watched in horror as the comments were deleted individually (A refresh showed some comments whereas a lot were missing. Another refresh, more comments had going missing).

The NZRDA have put themselves squarely in the firing line as they have been complicit to the bullying behaviour and discrimination through their inaction. Their soft stance has unfortunately been reinforced by a terrible statement. As a statement, it couldn't be better written to put the NZRDA further down the hole. However, given their "administering" to the comments made on the statement, it would seem that they stand behind their statement.

Pieces of Hate has been offhanded about the situation, saying this to "3 News":

It was a silly off-the-cuff comment. It meant no disrespect. It was just trying to explain to people the thing you go through when you are looking at considering people for teams.

"Silly off-the-cuff".... Regrettable, sure. Describing herself breaking the law, yep.. Silly and off-the-cuff, nope. She broke the law. There's no getting around it. Should she get away with it due to stupidity? She's basically the dumbarse who wears a motor cycle helmet with their name on to do a bank robbery. Given that there's a history of "disciplinary actions" i.e. asked for an apology that doesn't appear to be given, there's no defence that could possibly be made in "the post was made by someone else and had nothing to do with me at all". Ignorance of the law is not a defence.

Pieces of Hate, I fear, is going to have a really hard time of it. The NZRDA have, in their incompetence, put themselves in the same basket and are likely to struggle to distance themselves from it.

Roller derby in New Zealand is going to have to take a long hard look at the structure of such an organisation. If excuses are being made due to their being volunteers.... They are voted to their positions. If they are unwilling to act in the position they are elected to, then they should have not stood for the position... The New Zealand roller derby community deserves better.

[Update: 25th October 11pm - same day as the statement] 
The statement from NZRDA has been deleted. The reaction to the statement has been sour at best. While there were some people who seemed to be struggling to be constructive, the general consensus was "This is not good enough".

As in the investigation looked to be completely irrelevant and therefore the NZRDA was supporting what is illegal behaviour. The stupid thing is that a proper statement would have taken all of 10 minutes. It would have been a guarded "we are protecting ourselves" kind of a statement but, if done properly, would have served a few purposes.
  • Take a stand neither which way which seems to be what they want to do.
  • Distance themselves from the actions of Pieces of Hate.
  • Assured the community that they would be working to resolve this issue and any others in the future.

[Update: 26th October 2:30am]
I managed to find a full copy of the statement here. Which is a Canadian blogging about NZ's derby issues....
In light of the story broadcast on TV 3 last night featuring NZ Training Squad Member Marcia Taylor, NZRDA would like to publicly issue a statement surrounding this broadcast.

We apologise for any misunderstanding it may have caused and we appreciate the opportunity to clarify what happened.

We received a complaint from Miss Taylor in regards to the Head Coach of the New Zealand Roller Derby Team. We had notified Miss Taylor that a full investigation was to be undertaken by us. As a newly established association we have our own Code of Conduct which is stipulated in our Constitution. The investigation was time consuming and a 7 day deadline set by Miss Taylor was just not practical. We wanted to ensure that we gathered all the relevant information before reaching a decision. Upon our findings we actioned the conduct of Hate under our discretionary powers in accordance with our Code of Conduct. She was also very cooperative in our investigation and understood the seriousness of her conduct. She complied professionally with all of our demands and was told to make a public apology regarding her conduct. We followed suit and publicly issued an apology ensuring that she understood that her conduct was not acceptable.
In our findings Hate knew the final decision was going to be difficult due to the high calibre of skaters selected in the 30 training squad. It was made clear that 10 players would not make the final 20 and unfortunately Miss Taylor was unsuccessful. We have sympathy for all of the 10 players not selected to represent NZ in the 2014 Roller Derby World Cup. She selected the final 20 in a fair and logical manner based on their overall performance and stat results, and we support her decision. In concluding we found that standing down Hate at this pivotal stage would be detrimental to the final 20 squad. Hate was voted into this position from the New Zealand Roller Derby Community. Therefore she deserves respect in terms of her commitment and dedication to an unpaid NZ Head Coach position.
We do not support any type of discrimination and want to rectify any hurt that this has entailed. We have established a Mediation Committee to conduct a Mediation process. Once again, this was a time consuming process where we wanted to make sure the right persons were voted in to conduct this. We hope that the Mediation process will help us to rectify any future discrimination issues. We hope that we can resolve this with Miss Taylor and ensure that policies and procedures will be put in place.

- New Zealand Roller Derby Association
Stacey "Pieces of Hate" Roper has been referenced elsewhere in regards to this issue. A few comments on the statement indicated that there is a pattern of bullying.

[Update: 27th October 12:14am]

It's been kind of a busy day and I've been getting all sorts of interesting information. The statement exists on the NZRDA website. The reasoning for removing it from facebook is that with the structure of the NZRDA such as it is, no individual is empowered to speak on behalf of the NZRDA, thus, with all the comments flying about, no one could address the concerns. Thus social media was not the best of places to make a statement.

Of course this has been taken with the hostility that you'd expect. Cries of censorship. I think I would have been okay with this whole episode if the statement had been done a lot better.  Communications with NZRDA have now defaulted back to the official channels i.e. Through representatives.