The controversial three-phase property plan that divided the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama (GSNCA) — which approved the sale of 88-year-old Camp Coleman in Trussville, among other properties — is under official review, according to a resolution unanimously adopted by the board of directors.
After a yearlong grassroots uprising among the Scouts — from protests to court motions — today, the board voted to reevaluate the property plan with the intent to include membership input along with outside experts and community partners.
According to the resolution, no GSNCA camp properties — including both closed and rested camps — will be sold during the re-evaluation process pending the outcome of a new comprehensive strategic plan that will be developed for the organization.
Currently, the deadline for a new strategic plan is January 2014.
GSNCA Community Partnership Chief, Russell Jackson, said, “[The board] understands this is going to be a pretty in-depth process to take the information already there and go even deeper from the original plan. The goal is in January…for the various committees…to come back with all the components a comprehensive strategic plan, and the board will be able to review that to make a better determination: Are they in a position to make resolutions? Or are they going to need more time?”
The original property plan, announced May 2012, outlined a divestment of assets, including the sale of four of six camp properties, to combat 2011 operating losses of $1 million.
“Since the plan was unveiled,” said Board President Rachel Russell, “a number of our membership has raised concerns about the closing and sale of camp properties as detailed in the three-phase property plan and the impact it may have on Girl Scouts as a whole. Many firmly believe that if given the opportunity, they can help GSNCA by raising enough community support to aid in the ongoing operational and capital needs of the camps.
“We will continue to include our membership in this new strategic planning process to help garner the best and most creative solutions in determining how we best meet, grow and sustain our Girl Scout outdoor programs for generations to come.”
Grassroots members are pleased to see GSNCA extending a welcoming hand to community support for the camps. In a March interview with Weld, Hilary Perry, GSNCA’s director of communications and advocacy, said of volunteer efforts, “it is not just a question of a one-time campaign to fix camp.”
Such a denial of volunteer efforts led many members to raise questions regarding the motivations for divesting of property.
And in the wake of what seemed to be the council’s determination to move forward with the plan, Scouts voted several members on to the board who are advocates for keeping the camps open. With new blood on the board, the three-phase plan began to lose steam.
In April, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Don Blankenship granted Scouts member Karen Carroll access to nearly 10,945 pages of operational documents in a discovery petition against GSNCA. Now the petitioner in a declaratory judgment complaint to determine who has the authority to decide on selling the camps, Carroll called today’s decision “a victory,” because GSNCA is now ready to recruit membership time, money and effort.
“We already have a list of people who will help us,” Carroll said.
“We’ll work with those groups to focus on a fundraising strategy; it’s got to be a coordinated effort, whether that be to raise funds for operational dollars or raise funds for capital improvement. We’ve heard loud and clear that there are certain groups who want to help,” Jackson said.
Still, Carroll intends to pursue the standing declaratory judgment. According to her attorney, William Bradford, “Ms. Carroll is pleased with the general direction that the resolution takes GSNCA in and also believes that the new board is certainly being more open and responsive to the concerns of membership. However, reconsideration is not the equivalent of rescission. For that reason, she is concerned that the resolution leaves in place the possibility that the camps could be sold depending on the results of the reconsideration of the three-phase plan.
“The goal of the declaratory judgment action was to resolve the issue of whether the board, as opposed to the members, possess the authority under the state statute and the GSNCA by-laws to make decisions about the disposition or sale of assets of the magnitude of those involved in the three phase property plan; namely the camps. The resolution today does not answer that question. As such, it is her present intention to go forward with the legal action in an effort to resolve the ultimate question.”
Carroll explained, “We need the question answered: Does membership actually have a say in it or not? ‘It’ being the involvement in decisions to sell more than 50 percent of our assets.”
Because of today’s decision, though, the general mood among membership is positive.
Among those most excited are the Coleman Girls, the Pell City-based troop led by April Ellis Smith. The Coleman Girls joined 30 other Scout members outside the service center where this morning’s board meeting was held. Weld spoke with the troop while they celebrated the decision at a local Chuck E. Cheese.
Troop leader Smith said, “I am just so grateful, absolutely just tickled, and it was a very emotional moment for everybody who was there. The overwhelming feeling, though, was gratitude that they finally listened to the members. We’re so excited at the potential that we now have to work with our board to renovate our camps and get them back up and running the way they need to. The next step would be to work with our board. … We’re going to be working with them to figure out when and what we can do.”
“We’ve worked very long and hard to get this decision made,” said 14-year-old Scout Beth Smith. “I think there is still a lot of work to do.”
Another trooper, 9-year-old Randi Morgan, said, “I felt really excited that they saved Camp Coleman because that camp means so much to me, and there’s a lot of memories to make still.”
Present, too, at the meeting were the Waggoner sisters, who have followed closely the dispute among local Scouts.
Lita Waggoner, ambassador Scout, explained that the camps have yet to be “saved.”
“They didn’t decide to reopen the camps,” Lita said. “They decided to reevaluate the property plan at a later date, and they will not sell the camps until they make a decision.”
Waggoner is hopeful the board and GSNCA council will continue to value membership input and will come to a reasonable decision. “I know that [the board] is going to be pressed for time to make a decision by January, and we’re very hopeful that it will work out, but we’ll just have to see.”
Lita is excited by the prospect of the reevaluation, but said, “What was especially inspiring to me today was that there were a lot of women who came down from north Alabama to participate in the group of Girl Scouts outside the council office this morning. For the most part, originally, this movement was about saving Camp Coleman, and it was a lot of women from central Alabama heading this movement, and now we’ve got women from north Alabama and the [Camp] Trico area. It’s not just about one camp anymore.
“It’s about the council as a whole and making sure that all the girls get the outdoor opportunities that they would like.”
Her sister, 12-year-old Mallory, added, “I feel like Scouting is outdoors. You can’t really be a Girl Scout without camping so if they sold our camps, what would we do?”
Jackson said service units are planning various outdoor programs for this summer. “The summer programs that were already scheduled, the camping programs at KPC and Camp Cottaquilla, are already underway.”
You can read the GSNCA resolution in its entirety below:
Girl Scouts North-Central Alabama
Resolution – Special Board Meeting – 12 June 2013
Whereas on May 9, 2012 the GSNCA board of directors adopted a three phase property plan to consolidate our property holdings with the intent to continue to offer camping in fewer facilities across the Council’s geography while expanding program opportunities and improving standards;
Whereas, a number of the membership of GSNCA raised concerns about the closing and sale of selected camp properties as detailed in the three phase property plan;
Whereas, the current board of directors has undertaken a process to re-evaluate the three phase property plan;
Whereas on May 29,2013, the GSNCA board of directors resolved to change the status of Camp Coleman and Camp Trico from “closed” to “rested” pending further action of the board;
Therefore be it resolved, the board of directors will reconsider the three phase property plan with a focus to incorporate current input from the membership using different collection processes on how best to grow Girl Scout outdoor programs in a manner that meets the current needs of the membership and provides for a continuation of outdoor programming in the future;
Be it further resolved that the board will re-consider the status of Camp Coleman and Camp Trico after the strategic planning process that evaluates current and future uses of these camps that align with the goals and desires of the membership that seek an active outdoor program is completed;
Be it further resolved, that the board of directors will not sell Camp Tombigbee and Camp Anderel that were closed in phase one of the three phase property plan and will re-consider the status of the properties as part of the strategic planning process of GSNCA;
Be it further resolved that no GSNCA camp properties will be sold during the re-evaluation of the three phase property plan, the planning process to evaluate current and future uses of the properties, the development of a strategic plan to best suit the outdoor programming needs of the membership; and the camp properties will not be sold pending the outcome of the strategic planning process and upon further action of the board of directors;
Be it further resolved that the Property Committee, in conjunction with other necessary committees (such as but not limited to the Strategic Planning Committee and Finance Committee), and input from the membership, outside experts, and community partners, shall complete the reevaluation and planning processes and prepare resolutions to be presented to the board of directors at the January 2014 board meeting.
For more information on the GSNCA, visit girlscoutsnca.org.