A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” (John C. Maxwell)

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
(Martin Luther King, Jr)

Ever since the Squamish Chief published the story “Four resign from SAC board”, the writing was on the wall for the remaining Squamish Arts Council (SAC) board members. In a letter to the Municipality, the four resigning SAC board members claimed that the board was not functioning as a “proper democratic process“, there are “a lot of people that are really sort of disenfranchised”, “SAC’s actions have alienated some arts groups” and the chair was “acting independently and disregarding board decisions.” Regardless of who’s opinion you accept on the state of affairs within the SAC, the fact remains that repeated stories of dissension, tension, alienation of artists along with the exodus of at least six board members in the past year and other concerns raised by some in the community, all point to the conclusion that the leadership and decision-making process over at the SAC is broken.

Shortly after the article in the Chief, many in the local arts community, previously outcast, disengaged or discouraged by the current SAC board, began to chat on social media, blogs and some even responded to the article in the Chief. The local Squamish arts community began to re-engage and re-visit the possibility of taking back control, as a community, of the SAC which they felt was in need of change. Partly through emails, public & private discussions and of course social media, the SAC AGM managed to draw in 60 members of the Squamish arts community. Last year there were 10 people at the AGM. Clearly something was about to change. Clearly the community was now calling the shots, as they should be. In a way, one can even draw comparisons between the Squamish arts community’s impressive engagement and collective efforts to encourage political and leadership change within the SAC, with the Arab Spring where governments run by despotic, autocratic dictators have been overthrown by the collective and democratic will of the people, often with the help of social media.

As the room began to fill on July 11th 2012, one could not help but sense both an air of tension, rebellion, even anger, as well as an unmistakable aura of optimism, empowerment and a sense of pride at (hopefully) returning the SAC back to the community of artists the SAC was intended to support and represent. But the most powerful emotion or intent felt in the room that evening was an overwhelming and universal desire, even demand from most in attendance, for new SAC leadership.

Rebellion and defiance were in the air, and so were demands for openness, transparency, and accountability.” (Squamish Reporter)

Now of course I have no first-hand knowledge of what has taken place over the years with regards to SAC leadership, decision making, infighting or what was at the heart of the issues which led to so many board members to resign. What I do know, along with most in that room, is that the Squamish arts community was not happy with the current SAC leadership and they wanted  a clean slate, no continuation for three previous board members.

Demands for a clean slate was made even before the election went underway, yet another proof of how [divided] the arts council had become in the past few years.” (Squamish Reporter)

Unfortunately, in spite of nearly the entire room of 60+ members of the Squamish arts community voting yes for all remaining board members to voluntarily step down, all of them refused (Krisztina Egyed & Martin Thorne refused to step down – Martin Vseticka was not in attendance). Certainly it begs the question, how does one “represent” the best interests of a group, when you completely dismiss their nearly unanimous request?

Other than this one unfortunate demonstration, and irrefutable confirmation, that some of the previous SAC board members are indeed acting independently and in defiance of the membership, the AGM in my opinion, was a glowing success and an example of Squamish’s best. Although there were moments where I thought some yelling, screaming, insults or personal attacks might erupt, everyone managed to keep their cool and even encourage those about to escalate, to reign things in and back towards civility and respect. Overall I was thoroughly impressed with the huge turnout at the SAC AGM, how well everyone behaved and of course the exceptional, unbiased and diplomatic moderation provided by Kirstin Clausen from the Britannia Beach Mine. If it were not for Kirstin, I am certain that things would have gotten out of hand, emotions might have escalated, more accusations could have been levelled and there would have been a far less productive, democratic or worthwhile result in the end. But where the most credit is due, in my opinion, is to the 60+ members of the Squamish arts community who took control of their organization, came out and engaged in a process of change, demanded accountability and encouraged a respectful and democratic process while simultaneously suppressing any attempts to grandstand or devolve the meeting. I believe I was witness to some of the best of Squamish. I believe I may have witnessed what may be the early stages of Squamish becoming an “Enabled Community“.

The 60 members of the Squamish arts community nominated nine new directors of  the SAC. Combined with the existing three, there is now a “full-house” of 12 directors which include Freida Hoff, Andrea Hoff, Toby Jaxon, Doreen Ramus, Martin Thorne, Breanna Wilson, Jan Durocher, Zoe Evamy, Linda Bachman, Lilani Beckett, Martin Vseticka, and Krisztina Egyed. Although this line-up may change over the next few months, as it should since the SAC board is still divided into two groups of old vs new members, there is certainly ample representation of the Squamish arts community now and this should (hopefully) result in some positive changes in the near future.

For those of you interested in reading more, what follows are a few more detailed thoughts and observations from the SAC AGM titled “The Good“, “The Bad” and “The Strange“. As always, comments, opinions and corrections are expected.

The Good

The best of Squamish truly was in attendance at this years Squamish Arts Council (SAC) AGM on July 11th 2012. In spite of all the elevated emotions, resentment, even anger between current or ex-board members, and many in the community who were rightfully demanding accountability and change, nothing got out of hand and the best of Squamish and a “community spirit” shined through. As one who has worked in academics, business, scientific research and with the youth justice system, I have attended, even chaired many meetings with an abundance of emotions, bitterness, even anger over a variety of emotionally-laden or contentious issues. They don’t always go well and there was plenty of emotion, frustration, even anger to go around at the SAC AGM. As one who tends to watch and observe human behaviour more intensely, more discriminantly than most due to having spent some time conducting research into human emotions and facial patterns (Paul Ekman’s FACS – Facial Action Coding System), I was fully aware of the discomfort, fear and anxiety plastered across the face, and body language of the current chair, Krisztina Egyed.  Her discomfort was palpable to me and my sympathies truly went out to her. The best decision she made that night was to temporarily hand over the role of meeting chair for the AGM to Kirstin Clausen from the Britannia Beach Mine.

I believe there were (at least) two significant factors which made this AGM so successful. Two factors which facilitated, encouraged and ensured an open and fair democratic process which simply refused to devolve into an angry mob of insults or other ad-hominem attacks. The first was the respectful, unbiased, calm and disciplined manner in which Kirstin Clausen kept things moving. Kirstin allowed everyone to speak, accommodated numerous complex or contentious issues on-the-fly, including an unprecedented request by the members to vote on asking the remaining board members to step down right then and there! On more than one occasion, members of the audience had something to say and some appeared to start down that emotional and personal path, but were quickly and respectfully encouraged to step back, or move on, by either Kirstin or the group as a whole. This was collaboration, mutual respect and the collective will of a group of people who share similar values of collaboration, community, democracy and accountability.

I was very, very proud to be part of this meeting. Over the years I have often criticized many local groups, even the Squamish community as a whole. On more than one occasion I felt that some individuals or groups in Squamish were not acting ethically or in a manner which served the community, their responsibilities, their position or some other community interest and so I have spoken up. But this experience with the Squamish arts community was very different. This time I had the privilege of being part of what may actually represent the roots of a new and “Enabled Community“. What I witnessed were passionate, intelligent and engaged members of the Squamish arts community who came out as a collective, as a group and not only took back their local arts council and demanded change, but they did so in a respectful, transparent and democratic manner. Not only did the Squamish arts community and the SAC benefit from this show of community spirit, engagement and motivation, but Squamish as a whole benefits by way of demonstrating such noble and community-minded actions. For the first time in a long time I was proud to say I live in Squamish. Thank you to Kirstin Clausen and each and every one of the 60+ members of the Squamish arts community who made this happen.

The Bad

Although there is much to praise and be thankful for with regards to the 2012 SAC AGM and the incredible show of community engagement and civility, there was at least one aspect, one decision by (at least) two people, which could have been handled differently. A decision or choice which was offered to the existing board members Krisztina Egyed & Martin Thorne (Martin Vseticka was not in attendance), which would not only have ensured a near PERFECT AGM, but would have also allowed them to retain some dignity and self-respect. In spite of nearly everyone in the room, all/most SAC members, voting to start fresh and requesting that ALL existing board members willingly and voluntarily step down, the two existing board members in attendance CHOOSE TO IGNORE ALL OF THE PEOPLE THEY REPRESENT. The existing board members in attendance, Krisztina Egyed & Martin Thorne, declined the opportunity to step down and allow a fair and democratic process to prevail. There can be no more unmistakable and irrefutable evidence that an individual is making decisions based on ego or self-interest, than when they demonstrate total defiance to the desire and wishes of the community they claim to represent. This was without a doubt the single most disappointing aspect of the SAC AGM of 2012. Once again I am not drawing any conclusions on the validty of the claims made against some of the previous SAC board members. What I am concerned with was the complete lack of awarenesses of the profound and unmistakable hypocrisy, duplicity and general lack of respect for the membership or the democratic process, when one claims to represent the best interests of a group, yet completely ignores a nearly unanimous vote to step down. This was your chance, in spite of the alleged mistakes of the past, to demonstrate a capacity to learn. This was your chance to demonstrate some contrition, humility and mostly, respect for the people you claim to represent.  This was your chance to show integrity and a willingness to put the best interests and wishes of the SAC membership FIRST, and you blew it.

Krisztina Egyed, Martin Thorne and Martin Vseticka. Nobody is discounting any of the work you have done for the SAC, nobody is questioning the significant contributions you have made towards the Squamish arts community. Acknowledging and respecting the wishes of the people you were voted to represent, does not detract from or diminish your accomplishments or contributions in the past. Most people are good at some things, not so good at others. Even if you have had no complaints levelled against you by anyone in the community, the simple fact that the people who voted you in have asked you to step down is reason enough to accept their wishes. To do otherwise puts to rest any doubt whatsoever that you may not be a suitable representative of the SAC. To do otherwise is a clear demonstration that you are putting your own needs and wishes before the needs and wishes of those who voted you in. You will only lose face by continuing to deny or fight this process. You can however, retain your dignity, demonstrate courage, integrity and a respect for the members of the SAC, by willingly stepping down now, or accepting without complaint or criticism, any future efforts to hold an SGM to determine if the members would still vote you off the board. I hope for your sake you will see the personal and community benefits to graciously accepting whatever are the results of a fair and democratic process. And if you are not voted off the board, then you can be satisfied that the MEMBERS have accepted and approved your role as one of the leaders and representatives of the SAC.

Krisztina Egyed, Martin Thorne and Martin Vseticka, the AGM was (likely) your last chance to show that in spite of any claims of wrongdoing, you were willing to put the wishes and best interests of the Squamish arts community first, by stepping down willingly and allowing the democratic process to proceed. Instead, two of you stood your ground, refused to step down and were adopted as part of the new 12 member board. Fortunately, now that there is a full set of 12 directors and a far more engaged arts community, the new directors have the option of  proposing a “special resolution” to request or vote on the removal of any directors (under the BC Societies Act, Section #31). I am not sure if this is something the SAC membership participates in ( I believe so), or if it is handled entirely by the board and directors, but I am confident someone on the board will confirm and follow the correct process under the Act. Whatever the correct process, I am hoping any directors selected for removal will accept this request gracefully, respectfully and with dignity. You already shamed yourself and destroyed any remaining trust or confidence in your leadership by refusing to step down willingly at the AGM when nearly all 60 people in the room voted yes. I hope you won’t damage your self-respect and dignity even further by fighting against any efforts to allow the SAC membership to carry through with a democratic process of determining if you are still the one they want to represent their interests. I hope you can make the right decisions in the future, which should be without exception, in the best interests of the community and the people you represent.

The Strange

As if all the excitement and potential turmoil of the meeting itself were not enough, there was also a personal component to the SAC AGM. I had a strange experience, or encounter, at the SAC AGM with someone I have never met, but have very, very publicly denounced, criticized and exposed over various issues of misconduct and ethics which I felt crossed the line in the past. For those who know me, I have on more than one occasion stood up for something I believed was wrong or come to the defence of someone exploited or neglected. On more than one occasion I have taken a firm, unwavering, principled and often very public stance on misconduct, negligence or questionable ethics, especially when others are harmed or affected as a result. I have come to call these “Johnny Crusades”.  In attendance at the SAC AGM were at least three individuals from the Squamish community whom I have publicly humiliated, criticized, attacked, insulted, demeaned and exposed unapologetically and relentlessly. You may think what you may about these ‘crusades’, or my motives but before you pass judgement consider this. First, how can you make an honest, fair and accurate judgement on complex social, psychological or ethical issues without having all of the facts to review? Second, not one of my public and written defamations against these three, or other individuals has ever resulted in a successful “Cease and Desist” request, or any other form of legal action against me. If you understand Canadian Defamation Law, and also assume that there were legal efforts attempted to have these defamatory statements removed, then one can (probably) assume the statements are true. Truth is what is known as an “absolute defence”  in defamation law and any lawyer approached with the details of such statements and claims of defamation, will always ask first, “are any of the statements true?” and “can they be proven?” You may not like what someone says about you publicly. You may be embarrassed, shamed and even have your reputation tarnished by public statements about your conduct. But if the statements are true, you have almost no recourse to getting them removed. “Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim.” (EFF) I say “almost”  no recourse in getting defamatory statements removed because if nothing else, I am a reasonable and fair man and always consider and weigh all options and usually take a very utilitarian approach on matters of ethics. Ego or self-interest generally do not play any role whatsoever in my actions, in spite of how they may appear to some.

Everyone makes mistakes, there is nothing profound in that statement, nor is there anything worthy or deserving of judgement when an honest, genuine and isolated mistake has been made. However, how one responds to a mistake, the choices we are faced with when there has been an indiscretion, is where an opportunity is presented to demonstrate genuine integrity and sincere regret. Every time we make a mistake which harms others, there is an opportunity to demonstrate you recognize the mistake, regret the mistake, show your willingness to accept full responsibility and to demonstrate that you have learned something, thereby decreasing the likelihood of the same mistake being made again. You also earn the respect of the person you harmed by the mistake, by showing contrition and accepting full responsibility for your actions. You also elevate your own self-respect and dignity by showing your self that no matter how personally, psychologically and emotionally difficult it may be to show remorse, regret and accept full and unconditional responsibility for your actions or mistake, you are willing to do what in your heart you know to be right. Accept full and unconditional responsibility and apologize. With so many personal, social and community benefits directly attributed to something as simple as accepting responsibility, you would think that everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately the ego is a fickle and often reckless driver of the human animal and we are all susceptible to imperfect, false, or flawed ideals and motives which put self-interest ahead of rational choices in the best interest of others.

Anyway, back to the story. Just before the SAC AGM got under way, I was completely caught off guard when someone walked up to me, extended their hand and asked “are you Johnny Stork?”. I shook their hand and said “yes”. This person then introduced themselves and once I realized who it was I said “had I known who you were I would not have shaken your hand”. They replied something along the lines of “why not?”. I then said “because in my opinion you are a moron and a coward”.  Although I am sure that had I know ahead of time who this person was I may not have insulted them so publicly, this person had the misfortune of hearing what might have been the last thought I had ever given towards them, long ago. Anyway, I later felt bad about my outburst and although I am not convinced (yet) that this person is sincere in their efforts to reconcile or accept responsibility for their actions, I later apologised for my insult. I also made it clear that I was impressed with the courage it took to come forward and introduce themselves to me after all I had said and written about them publicly. I believe I then heard the person say that they had been trying, or maybe it was wanting to try, to apologise to my partner Bonny and myself for some of the actions which led to my publicly exposing and criticizing them. I also think, but can’t recall completely, I might have even heard them say “I had no way to reach you” or something along those lines. Well, if I did hear that statement correctly, then my lack of confidence in their sincerity might be justified since I am one of the easiest people to find on-line. Have you ever typed “Johnny Stork” into Google?, the first page alone provides at least a 1/2 dozen ways to contact me. Therefore, although I am grateful for having received an apology for this person’s previous actions, and it is the first step towards considering removing the public statements, it really is Bonny that deserves the apology. If  there is to be any trust built up, if there is to be any confidence in the sincerity of this person’s desire to make amends and accept responsibility for mistakes of the past, then it can only begin with an apology to Bonny. Time will tell. I can’t say I could ever become friends with this person, but anything is possible and at least for me, honesty, sincerity and integrity is the first place to start.

A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life, and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.
(Denis Waitley)

To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.

Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…The power to choose, to respond, to change.
(Stephan Covey)

The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.
(Margaret Smith)