After speaking with New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
(NYG&B) board chairman Waddell Stillman, I’m updating Friday’s coverage of the controversial proposal to eliminate member voting
The proposal is a response to members’ attempts to stop the sale of the society’s headquarters building (finalized in March), but Stillman says it’s not retaliation. “We’re updating our form of governance so the society isn’t exposed to a repeat of the loss of funds. If we stood by and ignored the six-figure loss we incurred, we’d be shirking our duties as fiduciaries.”
NYG&B trustees say “a handful” of members delayed the sale, causing a loss of investment income based on the $24 million sale price.
If passed, the proposal will do away with proxy voting system, which Stillman says New York State laws require. (The society must mail ballots to members, who can send back their votes, cast votes at a meeting, or designate meeting attendees to vote on their behalf.) If the proposal passes, the board would appoint new officers rather than hold elections.
Before issuing the proposal, NYGB’s board surveyed other non-profit organizations and consulted with the New England Historic Genealogical Society
(NEHGS), whose members passed a similar measure—after a similar debate—several years ago. NEHGS has an advisory board in addition to its board of directors. “I wouldn’t know what our board would say about adopting that structure, because we didn’t fully consider it,” says Stillman.
He says NYG&B members will still have access to the group’s services and online resources, though he doesn’t yet know what the society will do with its research collections and financial assets. (The board has two years from the building sale date to move.) “After we take care of housekeeping matters and governance … we will face those huge questions and we’ll benefit from all the debate.”
That debate won’t lead to reduced membership, he predicts. “I think people will act in their self-interest and then continue to enjoy the benefits of membership.”
Stillman also posted to Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter blog—visit
to read his and others' comments.