WASHINGTON - In response to an open letter criticizing the National Association of Hispanic Journalists leadership for "working against transparency and accountability," the executive board of the organization has issued the following:
As officers of The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and members of the board of directors, we would like to respond to several of the points raised in a recent communication to the membership from one of our fellow board members.
We respect and practice transparency. The claims of a lack of board transparency are unfounded. For the first time an NAHJ president routinely gives an account of each major vote, usually within 48 hours of passage by means of a website posting. Those messages are still available on nahj.org. The messages were also e-mailed to all members. Members are able to communicate with the president or the members of the board at any time to raise questions or make comments. Contact information for the president and e-mail addresses for each of the board members are posted onhttp://www.nahj.org/2009/07/board-of-directors/.
Directors and officers are encouraged to talk with members of the organization. That’s the only way we’re going to engage members, cultivate leadership and find solutions to address the significant problems NAHJ faces.
When it comes to communications with the media and the public at large, however, it is the policy of the NAHJ, like that of many other organizations, to have one or more designated spokespersons. In the case of NAHJ, the spokespersons are the president and the executive director and not individual directors. The reason for this policy is not to restrict the flow of information. Rather, it reflects the consensus of the board of directors who feel that it is important to ensure that the information that’s released to the media and the public at large is correct and contextual and presents a coherent image of the organization.
NAHJ has always followed this policy and will continue to do so. It is a good governance practice advised by our attorney and nonprofit governance experts, and one that is in the best interest of the organization. Adherence to this policy will enable the directors and management to devote their entire efforts on behalf of the organization to addressing the very tough challenges facing NAHJ.
Consultation with the membership. Under California nonprofit law and the NAHJ bylaws, the board of directors elected by the membership is charged with the responsibility of managing NAHJ’s business affairs in a manner that the board in good faith believes is in the best interests of the organization. It is a misconception of the law to contend that the board is acting improperly by making business decisions without first consulting the membership. As we have noted, the board members are open to the comments and questions of the membership, but to solicit the views of the membership before every business decision is simply impractical and would paralyze NAHJ, thereby making it impossible for us to fulfill our fiduciary responsibilities under the law and our bylaws.
Tough money issues. All members of the board are committed to returning NAHJ to sound financial footing and to repaying loans borrowed from the scholarship and stock funds. In 2010, we cut $270,000, lost two staffers and trimmed convention offerings. For the second year, the staff was furloughed, this time for the week between Christmas and the New Year. We continue to look for ways to reduce expenses and improve fundraising through realistic goals and projections and better, more accurate budgeting practices. The 2011 budget and fundraising plan are currently being developed and will be closely scrutinized before adoption.
Board meetings. With regard to the holding of board meetings, the board and staff are very aware of spending money judiciously. The board meetings have been trimmed to one day, three times a year. That’s one time per year less than nonprofit governance experts recommend. The October board meeting was held in Atlanta and combined with legal and governance training, a regional conference and fundraiser to give the board an opportunity to meet with members and sponsors. We conduct business by conference call as much as is practical.
Internal board relations. Finally, we would like to address the issue of board collegiality and director responsibilities. In our view, the members of the board on the whole work well together. This, of course, doesn’t mean we all agree all the time. Far from it. We believe that the expression of strong views and vigorous debate, combined with a healthy respect for the views of fellow board members, can only strengthen our organization.
Moreover, we believe that, as a general rule, members of the board understand their duties and responsibilities as directors, come to the meetings prepared, and contribute constructively to the work of the board. They are ready and eager to move NAHJ forward and address the important issues facing the organization.
At the same time we have been frustrated and disheartened in recent months by the premature release of NAHJ news and information to the public through unauthorized channels, which only harms the organization and makes the job of each director that much more difficult. In this regard, we are continuing to work to make sure that all directors understand their legal responsibilities and discharge their duties as a director in a manner consistent with those obligations.