In an email update addressing the reorganization of TBA which was sent to members the morning of May 1st, Chris Moore, president of Texas Beekeepers Association, said “My desire is to be as open and transparent – both personally and for TBA as an organization – as I can.” He followed this with “discussions and deliberations are, by necessity, confidential to the TBA officers and board until informed decisions can be made.” This has been the message we’ve received from the TBA board for quite some time now; they say they’d like to give the membership access to information about what’s going on… but they won’t.
I went to TBA Summer Clinic in Conroe on June 30th. I gave my “Fights About Mites” presentation and a presentation on bee removal work. I spent the rest of my time there chatting with beekeepers from around the state and listening to Dr. Jamie Ellis speak on a series of topics over the span of the day. It was a great day, and a huge success, which just makes it all the more disappointing and worrisome that TBA won’t allow members to attend board meetings, won’t provide board meeting minutes to the membership, and generally operates in secret behind closed doors. It’s strange to keep information secret if it consists of details that would impress and reassure. It’s strange for triumph to be marked with what essentially amounts to a gag order on the content of board meetings. At $50 per person TBA just brought in around $34,000 on Summer Clinic registrations alone. That doesn’t take into account TBA merchandise, or the money generated by having Roger Farr uncomfortably begging for twenty dollar bills to fill honey supers that TBA had the Texas Honey Queen Program girls carrying around the room. It’s strange that the TBA board members don’t seem to think that the members deserve to know how this money will be spent.
I have personally been asking for access to more information for some time now. My concern regarding transparency started last year, when TBA was pushing hard for House Bill 1293 to update Chapter 131 of the Texas Ag Code: a bill that they eventually and reluctantly admitted (after the information had already been leaked) that even some of the board members were against.
This Spring, after the TBA delegates meeting in Conroe, I asked TBA Director Tanya Phillips if members were allowed to sit in on TBA board meetings. As president of my local/regional club, Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association, I knew it was standard for us to encourage members to attend meetings of the board. Tanya pointed out that her husband had sat in on board meetings before, and encouraged me to ask President Chris Moore. When asked, Chris Moore said he wasn’t sure if that would be ok or not, and went to ask Leesa Hyder, who is the appointed TBA Secretary. Before long Chris returned and told me members were not allowed in board meetings.
Since Summer Clinic traditionally marks the next required TBA board meeting, I called and asked TBA Director Ashley Ralph when and where the board meeting was, and made it clear I wanted to attend. She said I should email the board asking for that information. I did so. My email was ignored entirely by the TBA board… not one of them has responded to it to date. I showed up for Summer Clinic still asking to attend the board meeting, and was told that Chris Moore should have answered my email, and that the board meeting had been held the day before. Requests for minutes from the Spring board meeting have been ignored. Requests for minutes from Summer Clinic board meeting have been ignored. If any board meeting minutes at all have ever been made available to the membership I’m not aware of it. Even the minutes from the 2017 annual members meeting have not been made available, despite conflicting versions of the resolutions which were passed at that meeting having been published in the TBA Journal.
Most beekeeping clubs operate with extreme transparency. Lone Star Beekeepers Association board meetings are open to members. In a recent social media inquiry every local club leader who responded stated that their club communicates openly with the members and allows members to attend board meetings. Comments included “All of our club board meetings are open to everyone.” and “Excluding [the members] cries out that something is deeply wrong with the organization.” The TBA board has a history of being fearful of its members; there was a lot of attention given to the possibility that “troublemakers” would “disrupt” the annual business meeting last year… presumably by asking hard questions or expressing an opinion contrary to that of the board.
Is there a downside to open and transparent conduct? Essentially, from the perspective of a board that has forgotten that they are servants of the membership, I would say yes, it is conceivable that there is. There is the risk that the membership will demand a process, or a timeline, or a bylaw wording, that the members want but the board does not. There is a history of TBA board members clearly viewing member input and contribution as opposition; most infamously, opposition by the membership to board actions was compared to Cain and Abel, to slavery, and to WWII-era Europe in a presentation by TBA Director Roger Farr at the 2017 delegates meeting… a comparison which he has never seen fit to publicly retract or apologize for, and other board members have never seen fit to expect that he do so.
So the question remains: what is the TBA board so afraid of sharing with the membership? Why meet behind closed doors and demand confidentiality? What secret could look worse than the secrecy itself?