A simmering dispute within the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
(NYG&B) has risen to a boil as the society’s 5,000 members consider a proposal from the Board of Directors to divest themselves of voting privileges.
The dispute began in September 2006, when the board voted to sell the society’s 58th Street headquarters in New York City
. In a letter to members, chairman Henry C.B. Lindh cited a shortage of funds for crucial building upgrades, and said that a sale would let the organization focus on the "research and education that are the core of [its] mission."
Members voted to approve the sale at an Oct. 12 meeting, and beforehand by proxy. The society hasn’t announced its new home, but is permitted to remain in the building for two years
In January, at least one member suggested, in a note on Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter blog
, that a mail merge glitch may have prevented some members from receiving proxy vote letters. President William C. Johns sent a response denying a problem occurred
and calling the e-mail “a fishing expedition attempting to identify any reason to delay or thwart the approved transaction.” (Johns hasn’t yet responded to voice mail messages left today.)
Members launched an e-mail campaign to protest the sale before the New York Supreme Court approval hearing
, but the Hampton Synagogue's $24 million purchase of the building was finalized.
In June, the NYG&B sent members and proxy voting materials and a letter about the proposal to remove their voting privileges and leave decision-making power with the 15-member board of directors. (The New England Historic Genealogical Society
operates in a similar way, but it has both a board of directors and a larger advisory board.)
In the letter, board chairman Waddell W. Stillman said passing the proposal would streamline the society’s operations and allow faster response to challenges and opportunities. About the NYG&B building sale, he added, “A handful of members, acting to thwart the unanimous vote of the board of trustees and overwhelming vote of the membership, delayed the sale for months. The NY State Supreme Court felt obligated to hear these few dissenters out, long after the NY State Attorney General had endorsed the sale, because our governance system gives each individual member legal standing to object to a proposed action.”
The full proposal was available by request and on the NYG&B Web site members-only section.
That’s when members’ e-mails and message board postings really began to fly, all encouraging members to vote down the proposal. (Supporters of the measure have been quiet.) Some examples we found:
Their messages express concern over the directors’ intentions for the society’s assets, which now include $24 million in addition to the library, online resources, and publications and education programs.
In-person voting on the proposal will take place at a July 19 meeting at the NYG&B headquarters. We’ll keep you updated.