Despite the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama’s (GSNCA) attempts to steer members from a grassroots-nominated slate, 11 Friends of Camp Coleman (FoCC) supporters are now on the board of directors — including Sarah Edwards, Tina Waggoner, Pamela Callaway and Ruth Ellen Yeager.
Delegates voted in the 11 supporters on April 27 when the GSNCA held its annual meeting — a long-awaited event for members who have closely followed the dispute between the FoCC and the GSNCA over council transparency regarding, among many disagreements, camp closures.
“Today’s a big day for Girl Scouting, because today is the day for the membership to vote and have their say,” said 17-year-old scout Lita Waggoner.
With nearly half current board members now supporting the grassroots group, GSNCA member Jim Franklin said, “They’re going to have enough people to be able to at least push for some changes and, if not do away with, at least delay the property plan.”
As Weld reported last month, 88-year-old Camp Gertrude Coleman, the longest-operated camp in Alabama, is on the list of closures despite opponents’ efforts to save the camp. Last week, the elected delegates, who are selected to vote via Scouting bylaws, received two letters from board members Chris Ross and Phyllis Davis, urging delegates to consider the possible detriment to the council by allowing nominations from the floor.
Although media was prohibited from the meeting and expelled from Mt. Vernon Methodist Church grounds Saturday, a few GSNCA members relayed the events from inside the church to Weld and partner CBS42.
Representatives of the GSNCA council have yet to return interview requests.
According to members, the focus of the annual meeting was to vote on changing bylaws and elect new board members. Both the GSNCA and the grassroots group prepared nominee slates for the vote.
An estimated 300 attendees participated in the meeting, which was scheduled for a two-hour time slot but extended to seven hours.
In attendance Saturday was 25-year Girl Scout member, Debbie Ellis. She reported the tension within the membership was handled civilly during the meeting. She noted other problems that arose. Electronic voting machines malfunctioned. To better serve membership needs, the GSNCA restructured the agenda to hold a question-and-answer session prior to voting.
The voting process was arduous, requiring multiple votes on candidates in order to receive the necessary 54-vote majority. Yeager, who ran for board president, allegedly lost the position by four votes.
Of the 11 elected supporters of the FoCC, now calling themselves simply “a grassroots group,” two of the six — Edwards and Waggoner — hold executive board positions.
Despite prior mistrust of GSNCA council operations, Tina Waggoner said, “We want to work with the remaining board members to do the best for our council and the girls.”
Her daughter, Lita, is aware of the significance of this election. “In the past year, I’ve learned more about the democratic process, bylaws and parliamentary procedure than in my entire life. I appreciate that Girl Scouts is broad, and I can learn about lots of different things, but that includes outdoor programming, of course,” Lita said, referring to the GSNCA three-phase property plan that includes the sale of four of six campgrounds in a 36-county service region that serves nearly 20,000 members.
“There’s very seldom a grassroots movement,” said Ellis. “Most of the time, we accept the board development committee recommendation.” Accepting nominations such as those from the grassroots slate or “from the floor” is a sanctioned Girl Scouting practice.
“I’m aware of only one other time when this happened,” Ellis said of the grassroots nominees, referencing the 1993 meeting during which Edwards and Callaway, president and vice president of the FoCC respectively, conducted a similar coup d’etat.
In December 2012, Edwards filed a discovery petition against GSNCA in order to review full supporting documentation backing the council and board’s decision to close Camp Coleman. Karen Carroll is expected to take over the discovery petition on account of Edwards being elected to board.
Edwards and Callaway’s first grassroots group ultimately led to a $3.2 million capital fundraising campaign for local Scouting.
Supporters of the grassroots group are cheering for a similar feat. With an atypical attendance turnout for such a meeting, Saturday’s seven-hour assembly was a showcase of the membership’s investment in the future of Scouting.
A newly elected board member said, “Very high on the agenda, of course — and I don’t think this is a mystery to anyone including the returning board members — is to stop the sale of the camps.”
Lita Waggoner said, “We didn’t discuss the three-phase property plan in much detail, but who we select to put on our board is going to effect future decisions.” Her hope for the new executive board is “to rescind the three-phase property plan and do what’s in the best interest of the girls, to make sure the membership is represented, to speak to the membership.”
Open communication, a point of contention in the yearlong GSNCA/ FoCC conflict, is of utmost importance to Ellis, who said, “[The dispute] started out as a concern over the sale of the camps, but after that, it came down to: Why isn’t this council communicating with us? Why haven’t their numbers added up? Why are they hiding behind lawyers all the time? Why can’t they just talk to the membership?
“I think that’s what it came down to. People wanted change. This is our Girl Scout council.”
What’s happening locally is representative of larger Scouting concerns. Girl Scout councils in nearly two dozen states face litigation and boycotts, often coordinated by grassroots similar to the FoCC.
“Things were tense in there,” said Lita. “The votes were very close. I’m glad that we’re getting to vote, and we’re getting our voice.”
The first board meeting for new members has yet to be scheduled, but board members are set to attend a May 7 retreat. Camp Coleman is scheduled to close May 31.
CORRECTION (4/30/13, 3:30 p.m.): The text has been amended to reflect that Pamela Callaway, FoCC V.P., was also elected to the GSNCA board of directors.