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Wow, I do seem to be out of touch
I was a little mystified, a week or two ago, when I got the Board's letter about changes to the Sanctions and Investigations policy on the SCA Announcements mailing list. My initial reaction -- "okay, somebody's clearly accused the Board of doing something incredibly stupid" -- turns out to have been entirely correct.

Today's news is much more interesting -- TRM have signed a petition calling for the impeachment of the majority of the Board. From what I've been able to discern so far, I would tend to agree. If you, like me, were kind of wondering what the heck is going on, I recommend following this trail from TRM's letter:I suspect that none of this is news to folks who have had more time to keep up with events, but having been following only a modest number of LJs recently, and little other social media, I'd missed the whole kerfluffle. It's a little one-sided, but presents enough documentation to make the chain of events (if not necessarily the original incident) clear.

Basically, it appears that the Board of Directors of the SCA got a scary-sounding letter from a lawyer, alleging some awful behaviour from a Duke and Duchess down in Atenveldt (who, I infer, have made a few enemies over the years). It sounds like the Board panicked; started proceedings to kick them out of the club; didn't get the response they wanted from the investigations; kicked them out of the club *anyway*; and all hell broke loose.

It's all depressingly familiar, frankly.

Those who hang around me will occasionally hear me refer to The Crisis -- when you hear me capitalize the words (and yes, you can hear the capitals), that always means the Membership Crisis of 1994, when the SCA came within a hair of schisming. That was a heady and horrible year, with Carolingia pretty close to the center of the mess simply because we've always been the group that doesn't put up with nonsense. (In the wake of the mess, it led to the creation of the Grand Council of the Society, with three current-or-sometime Carolingians -- me, Tibor and Caroline Forbes -- deeply involved in setting it up.)

In the abstract, the current debacle and the Crisis seem pretty similar -- the Board got panicked about something, made a decision in haste, got its collective pride wounded when folks told them they were committing procedural errors, dug in their heels, rationalized left and right, and turned what *should* have been a self-contained matter into a constitutional crisis. Then as now, the Board was made up of good people doing a performance-art interpretive dance illustrating the old principle that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Because when you get down to it, it's all about Rule of Law. The SCA *loves* Law -- loves it to death, and loves it way too much, as I often rail against. But at the top, the Board has always tended to be a little contemptuous about the idea. It's easy, when you are the ones writing the laws, to suddenly find that the law is inconvenient, sweep it aside and say, "Oh, no -- we just made a mistake there". That seems to be what's going on here: the Board managed to publish laws that they didn't even believe (possibly, didn't even know about), and have been rather too cavalier about brushing them aside.

So -- yeah, the petition. I have to agree with it, albeit more reluctantly than I might once have done. I have a nasty suspicion that it will come to naught unless someone gets as bloody-minded as goldsquare and company did back in '94, using legal action to force the Corporation to follow its own rules. But the situation isn't tolerable: while we may *play* Middle Ages, we demand modern-world accountability from our leaders, and that means things like following the rules and transparency. Above all, it means that the Society needs the ability to demand redress from the Board when they act stupidly, and drive home the lesson that good intentions aren't an excuse.

The Coronation of Edward and Thyra ended with a detail that I think was brilliantly apt -- the Latinized chant of "You rule because we believe". That's absolutely true within the game, and monarchs have occasionally been taught that lesson the hard way. It is every bit as true of the Board, though -- the SCA *works* only if folks actually believe in it, and that demands believing in the folks at the top. By being so blithe about their own rules -- the rules that are the only tiny check on their power -- they've broken faith. I'd like to hope that they will finally get the message from this near-ultimate slap in the face, and start to make some real changes...

[EDIT: a couple of the links above are now broken -- this is apparently because someone got concerned about the postings being on an subdomain. Personally, I think that is a *great* example of the sort of stifling over-rationalization and bureaucratic paranoia that causes so many of the SCA's problems, but I'm not really surprised -- it's very typical. I'll update the links once this is resolved.]

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I've been a little distracted lately, so I hadn't paid much attention to the prior message from the BoD regarding sanctions, but due to the EK Gazette message, jesseinboston and I started discussing this this morning. Should be interesting to watch play out.

And having been 10 in '94, what happened then?

[... will not grouse about feeling old...]

Short version (and I'm sure that goldsquare will correct me if I get anything wrong): the Board got reason to believe that the Society was bankrupt. They panicked, and declared, essentially on the spur of the moment, that henceforth only paid members were welcome at events any more -- if you weren't a paid member, you were freeloading and were hereby persona non grata. The rationale was apparently that, given this ultimatum, everyone would buy paid memberships and the Corporation would suddenly be swimming in money. (In retrospect, it's pretty clear that there was a movement arguing this, probably centered in the Midrealm, and they took their opportunity to push their agenda.)

Hell predictably broke loose, more or less instantly -- my apprentices Gwydden and Fiammetta were at the Board meeting in California (at the end of January 1994); they called me that evening; I posted to the Rialto, and *boom*.

At this point, things got a little weird, because of time dilation. An online movement started, almost instantly, to reform the Board and restructure the Society. The Board got entirely whiplashed -- at this point the Web was still fairly new, and many people didn't even have email yet. So the Board, used to operating on a basis where change happens once every three months, got utterly flummoxed when confronted with a Society-wide movement that was evolving hour-by-hour.

Things got *very* heated -- so much (and so quickly) that by the time Estrella rolled around, all the Royalty of the Known World (with one notable exception) signed The Estrella Compact, agreeing that, if the Corporation collapsed, they would work together to hold the Society together. I still consider that to be the SCA's finest hour.

Anyway, a bunch of folks (led by goldsquare) took the Board to court, pointing out that they had broken better than a dozen rules, and demanding that they repeal the change. The court ruled fairly promptly in favor of the plaintiffs. Then things got ugly: the Board appealed the judgement, and started playing hardball against the petitioners. Some very expensive months later, the Board lost *badly*, and got slapped down hard by the court.

And in the end, it turned out that we weren't even bankrupt in the first place -- the Corporation was just so badly mismanaged that nobody really understood how much money we actually had. (Part of the demands of the lawsuit was to open up the Corporation's books, which until that time had been a closely-guarded secret.)

I have *extensive* files on the whole mess -- boxes of them, as well as a raft of disks of email archives. (Caitlin and I sort of sat at the edges of the debacle: we were never among the key players, but were in on a number of the central conversations on the reform side.)

Someday, I still hope to sit down and write up the history of the Crisis in detail, if and when it ever seems possible to do so without hurting people too badly in the doing...

[sorry, I have that effect at NESFA too. ]

....dude. I wish there was more stuff written about past mistakes than seems to be out there. When you have time (hah), write it up, then sit on it before any sort of publication. Check it over, send it around to those involved before the whole thing fades too much out of memory. </p>

It's nearly two decades, after all.

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Apparently nobody ever bothered to come up with a index of past actions, and in fact some of the Minutes are AWOL.

Interesting. I may well have all of them -- Caitlin may have been the Society's most talented and dedicated acquisitions librarian. At some point, I may look into whether there's anything rare in there.

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Not to worry. still has them through the end of 2010. Sometime in 2011, the minutes were taken down "for technical review"

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I am likewise interested in seeing some of the history of the SCA written down. I've always assumed that the BoD became a Star Chamber as a natural consequence of the doctrine of King's-Word-As-Law, but I'm curious how it all went down.

Nah -- the Board is much older than that, and has historically tended to be worse than today.

Keep in mind that the Board declared itself into existence in 1968, and basically declared that it owned the Society. (Which I gather was its own bundle of controversy in the early days.) Since then, it has always been self-appointing, and started out *ridiculously* secretive. Note that the original copies of Corpora couldn't even be held by non-Seneschals -- you were officially required to surrender your copy when you stepped down. (To this day, I don't know who originally owned the copy I have, but I'm glad they held onto it: it's a fascinating historical document.)

So basically, the Board has *always* been something of a star chamber. Far as I can tell, most members of the Board in recent times have understood on some level that that was a bad idea, but institutionally they've never had the political will to do much about it...

The challenge couldn't have happened without goldsquare (and several others), but just FYI, I was the lead plaintiff. We didn't sue to reverse pay-to-play (though that was obviously an input); we sued to see the books of account, a right specifically provided to members under the bylaws, after their newly-hired executive director evaded numerous requests for that (and ultimately denied access).

We did eventually get a box of unorganized, incomprehensible papers, but not until after the corporation ignored several court orders and tried to bankrupt the plaintiffs.

Sorry about that -- he tended to be so front-and-center publicly, I had forgotten you were the official plaintiff. My apology...

No need to apologize! goldsquare played an essential part, one at least as important as mine if not moreso. I only brought it up because you seemed to be asking for corrections.

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My kneejerk reaction is that it reads like, "I am an attorney who happens to be personal friends with people who have an axe to grind, so I'll fire this off as a favor to them."

Yep. That was incredibly unprofessional.

Yeah, points like that pop up throughout the argument. The original accusation is *quite* fishy; I'm honestly surprised that the Board even took it so seriously...

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Seems to me that way back during the original alleged assault, the cops should have been called by the alleged victim. Dunno why the SCA should ever try to judge this kind of behavior on its own.

As I understand it, there was some noise that a number of R&Ds from the last few years might get overturned as a result of this kerfluffle.

Sadly, the first two links in the trail have apparently been taken down. I too was scratching my head when I saw the board letter. It came across as -all- too connected to a specific incident. Like a lot of product safety warnings, there because somebody did something, and now the company is doing CYA.

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Can we get an article from you on this?

Your perspective would be great to add to the FedUp page.

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