Wow. Wow. Wow.
Sunday’s Special General Meeting of the Ontario Curling Association was at times shocking and at other times encouraging. At times it was calm and civil and at other moments unruly.
When it was all over -- after about three hours – I was left with a number of different feelings. I had some sympathy for the board members, who are volunteers, but also with the sense that curling in Ontario is truly lost. The folks at the top really have run this ship onto the rocks. The two themes that kept coming out over and over were that that governance model of the OCA is in need of a major overhaul and that that this board is a disaster when it comes to communication.
There were about 150 people in attendance, 34 of them voting members, the rest either zone reps or concerned curlers of various shapes, sizes and talents. There were world champions there and once-a-week knee sliders, folks from down in Windsor and up to Ottawa, all looking for answers.
There was also a Durham Regional police officer at the back of the room. I asked him if he was there as a curler or for security. He said security and then said: “I thought this was a gentleman’s game.”
The meeting got off to a shocking start when it was learned that a day earlier, the board voted to remove Dale Curtis from her position as first Vice-President (she kept her spot as a board member).
Curtis, of course, was the woman who bravely used her position to call for a Special General Meeting after the board ruled the request for an SGM by a group of voting members didn’t qualify as a request due to a technicality.
More on Curtis and this situation a little later.
After some opening remarks and some housekeeping from president Ian McGillis, Gord Gark was called up to make a presentation on behalf of the board, which was a basic time line of the events that led the OCA into a position of being a member not in good standing. It was pretty much the same information that has been recounted in the statement that appeared on the OCA web site.
The story was that everything was based on a confidential OCA memo forwarded by someone to the CCA, the OCA wanted a mediator to settle things, the CCA never provided a copy of the investigative report. There was nothing new here; it was the party line. Many parts of this story are in dispute with the CCA and Peter Inch, who was there on behalf of the CCA (No one from the CCA was invited to attend), stood up to mention that a bit later.
The OCA said the original memo was confidential but that was disputed by several people who said that just typing confidential at the top of a piece of paper doesn’t make anything confidential. It can still be defamatory as this letter clearly was.
One interesting piece of information was that the OCA consulted a lawyer to see if the CCA did indeed have the power to push the OCA into the member not in good standing status. Apparently there are no rules or standards for what determines if a member association can be put into this position, which of course makes it tough to know how you stay out of it.
The floor was then opened up for questions and comments they came fast and furious.
Many had to do with issues of the sanctions placed on the OCA by the CCA. Others were about the by-laws and the governance.
A great many people spoke up about the lack of communication from the board.
One speaker, Rod Bemister, presented a petition against the OCA board that was signed by more than 750 people.
Another questioner wanted to know how much money has the OCA spent on lawyers.
Another asked why Dale Curtis was removed.
George Cook, former president of The Dominion, asked if the OCA managed to re-sign the Travelers (which bought The Dominion) as a sponsor.
For those last two questions, the board decided to take a recess to figure out how to answer.
When they came back 10 minutes later, the answer on the Travelers was a vague one, that negotiations with the sponsors are continuing and they OCA was hoping to have some good news in a few months. That drew a few hearty disbelieving laughs.
Cook, an eloquent speaker and a passionate curler, also made those in attendance aware of the meeting he and seven other stakeholders had with the board in September, bringing up issues and offering to help the board. That was turned down and further, the group never received a response from the board.
Cook also asked the board if it could provide a job description for the new Executive Director and the plans to measure and assess his performance. He asked that that be made available to all curlers in Ontario.
He described himself as “a frustrated Ontario curler” and added that he had very little confidence anything would get done after this meeting, especially in regard to the new executive director’s role.
At one point, a speaker asked the question many Ontario curlers have been asking for some time: How can Ontario curlers have any faith in this board? McGillis responded by saying that was up to the curlers. For that answer, he was loudly booed.
Several times during the meeting, the OCA’s version of events was disputed by Colin Sinclair, a member at large, who had documents to disprove a number of OCA’s claims on time lines and whether or not letters had been received. Each time, he seemed able to embarrass the board with his corrections and that clearly irked them.
During one heated exchange, McGillis defended what he’d done and uttered the words “I don’t lie.” That drew loud boos and one person at the back of the room yelled out loudly “Bullshit.”
At one point in the meeting, Gark admitted that the OCA had done a poor job at communicating information and apologized. Speaker after speaker gave examples on the poor dissemination of information, which incredulously seemed to shock a few of the board members. At one point board member Joan O’Leary said: “Are we not communicating?” as if this was a revelation to her. Laugher followed.
Gark said the board had discussed hiring a co-op student to help with the communication, which drew another loud laugh.
But the hottest part of the afternoon came when discussing the expulsion of Curtis from her position as vice-president. At first, it appeared the board had done so because she exercised her right to call a Special General Meeting. But then O’Leary gave more details. She said Curtis hadn’t been a co-operative board member for some time, that she had disagreed with a lot of positions taken and then accused Curtis of leaking confidential information to “blogs and media.”
It was pretty clear she was speaking of this blog and so I gave O’Leary a bit of information: Curtis has never communicated with me in any way nor sent me anything. However, I did reveal that at least four other board members have, which seemed to shock a few of those at the front table.
Curtis was allowed to speak and she said the same thing and even asked me point blank if she’d ever sent me an email. I happily answered no.
O’Leary tried to use a document that had been presented by Colin Sinclair (Curtis’s partner) as an example, saying it could not have come from anywhere else. Sinclair asked O’Leary if she had proof that he got it from Curtis to which she sheepishly had no answer. Unless she had that proof, it would be pretty hard to say it had come from Curtis since the document was in the hands of at least a dozen people, each one of whom could have passed it on.
Clearly, the other board members railroaded Curtis using some pretty weak evidence and the people in attendance were obviously upset at this, voicing their dissatisfaction. In my opinion, this move by the board was truly disgusting.
Following this, a speaker from the floor asked if it was possible to have a vote to re-instate Curtis to her position. It was determined that the agenda could only be changed by a two-thirds vote. In other words, there was a vote to see whether they could vote.
That vote was done by ballot and it ended up 17-17 so there was no vote for Curtis but it was made an agenda item for the April 27 meeting.
There were a few more questions and comments from the floor and some pushing the board to seek outside help, but it seemed the energy was running out of the room and eventually the meeting was adjourned.
I’m not really sure what was accomplished at this meeting other than allowing curlers to speak their minds and to let the board know how they are feeling.
Board member Linda Lott said that the board would come to the April 27 meeting with at least the framework of the next steps. I think more will happen at that meeting which has a broader agenda, which includes a vote of confidence in the board.
At times, I had a little sympathy for the board members; Gark at one point described that past few months as “a living hell.” They certainly took a beating for about three hours.
However, I couldn’t help but think that all of this was avoidable had the OCA issued an immediate apology after the original email that caused the issues. Or if they'd been smart enough not to put defamatory statements down on paper. How that simple email was allowed to escalate to the point where the OCA was on the brink of being suspended is mind-boggling.
And that seems to be a problem. These folks seem to have a great knack for pouring gas on the fire. A match turns into a brushfire because they simply can't help themselves.
Either they truly don’t understand what is going on or they choose to ignore it.
One way or another, I don’t think they’ll be allowed to do that much longer.