AFSA 2009: Four Post Election Possibilities

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Here is what I got from an individual familiar with deliberations inside AFSA:

  • A re-vote is not a prospect anyone in AFSA looks forward to.

  • A new election would embarrass AFSA and cost the organization tens of thousands of dollars in things like postal fees, printing costs, etc.

  • The DOL investigation has moved to the adjudicative phase, and it was the sense of the leadership that the membership should be informed, thus, the AFSANET message.

It is my understanding that there are three items pending before the Department of Labor with respect to the 2009 AFSA election:

  1. Complaint by one of the slates alleging that several sitting AFSA Board members and committee chairs lobbied improperly for the competing slate. I was aware of this complaint but did not know this was formally submitted to AFSA or to DOL.
  2. Challenge filed by a number of candidates who lost the election, asserting improper use of email addresses. I understand that one slate used a mailing list which had been previously distributed to candidates in the 2007 election but not in the 2009 election. NDS has something about this specific issue here and the Elections Committee response.
  3. Challenge filed by one individual alleging a number of technical violations, like the wrong placement of paid advertisement, etc. This is the first time I’ve heard of this complaint.

The ruling from the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) is supposedly expected to happen soon. Four months after the 2009-2011 Governing Board was officially seated, here are four post-election possibilities:

— No significant wrongdoing, results stand: If OLMS decide that no significant wrongdoing occurred and that despite some minor issues the election was essentially fair, it could rule that the results stand as is.

— Wrongdoing occurred but results stand: If OLMS decide that wrongdoing occurred but it did not affect the outcome of the election, it could rule that the election results stand as is.

— Order AFSA to re-do some races: If OLMS decide that wrongdoing occurred that affected the outcome of some races, it could order a redo of selected races, and let the other results stand.

— Order AFSA to re-vote: If OLMS decide that wrongdoing occurred that affected the outcome of the entire election, it could order AFSA to redo the entire election.

Each of the above possibility will not make everybody happy but by far, the last possibility would be the most expensive and embarrassing possibility of all, specifically for AFSA but also for the Foreign Service community.

This may sound preachy — but politics is often ugly, whether it is the high office or the school board, but it need not have to be ugly. As Secretary Gates said, “If you took all the Foreign Service officers in the world, they would barely crew one aircraft carrier.” The FS, in fact, is a very small world. And in that very small world of an “aircraft carrier,” you need every crew to move that ship. You need people who can fight tooth and nails on the issues, but you also need them to maintain a sense of decorum, and collegial harmony. Because on this one – jumping ship is seldom an option.

I do think that the Election Guidelines need some work and some teeth. If a new one ever becomes available, I think it ought to be posted for comments before it becomes final. That would give the membership a chance to participate in crafting the ground rules of their election engagement. The challenges submitted and the corresponding decisions of the Elections Committee also ought to be publicly available and easily accessible in the union’s website. The membership has a stake in the outcome, and should be aware of this information.

AFSA’s challenge is not unique, of course, as it is the same for all who engage in politics. The people must be able to believe that their representatives are concern about the state of the country/organization/board more than they care about the state of their own parties/slates or their own individual interest. Perhaps this is a naive way of looking at it, but when people stop believing, they stay away.

You can read the AFSA By-Laws here. The AFSA 2009 election materials are archived here. This matter is out of AFSA’s hands now, but it might not be too late to let the Governing Board hear your thoughts on this. After all, the next election is just around the corner.