Thursday, August 05, 2010

A letter from David Wahl, AAW Past President 1997 - 1999

Letter From David Wahl

August 4, 2010

Much has been written about the manner in which the Board of Directors terminated Mary Lacer as Executive Director.

I would like to add some perspective to counter the negative opinions posted on the AAW Forum. I was President of the AAW for two years, from 1997 to 1999. I worked closely with Mary Lacer when she was administrator.

First, however, some background about my personal relationship with Mary Lacer. We met at Arrowmont in 1994 at a celebration for the Osolniks, when she was then Mary Redig. We saw each other at subsequent symposiums in Davis, CA and Greensboro, NC. When Mary and Alan Lacer were married in 1997, my wife, Suzy, and I purchased round-trip airfares for Mary, her daughter, and Alan from Minnesota to Florida, and gave them the use of our beach house on Sanibel Island as a wedding present. From our first meeting in 1994, Mary has always been personally pleasant and cordial.

Sometime after the Charlotte symposium, a board member resigned and Mary asked if I would fill the vacant position, which I did in January 1997. At the 1997 San Antonio symposium, Mary told me that she did not want Charles Alvis to be President for another term, and that she had a majority of the Board members lined up not to vote for Charles as President. She wanted me to agree to be nominated for President. This was telling and should have been a warning to me. But, I was new to the organization, excited about the prospect, and flattered to be considered. Before the board meeting, I told Charles what Mary was instigating behind his back. We discussed at length the evolution of the AAW and the structure of the organization, and what he wanted to do. Charles decided not to be a candidate for President. The Board elected me President and Clay Foster Vice President.

The AAW was eleven years old when I became President in 1997. I obtained and read all of the previous AAW Board meeting minutes and all of the past President’s letters. It was apparent that, with each new Board, we were reinventing the wheel for all of our programs and operations.

Starting January 1997, the Board held several strategic planning meetings to discuss and evaluate where the organization wanted to go and how we could get there. In 1997, the Board was already considering hiring a conference coordinator and an Executive Director in order to manage our programs and operations. Our changing volunteer Board had no expertise in managing programs and operations and so kept reinventing them. In 1998, the Board established the position of, and hired, its first Conference Coordinators, Butch and Pat Titus.

The Board realized that we needed professional assistance to help us organize our thoughts about governing a growing non-profit organization. I purchased and sent to all board members pamphlets about governing a non-profit organization. The Board held its first Strategic Planning Session with a professional facilitator in February 1999. For three days, we discussed and organized our thoughts and plans for the development of our organization’s structure, finances, membership, local chapters, programs, and services. In our final report, one of our first conclusions was that the board of directors needed to begin the move from a working board to a governing board. Our report stated: “There is a time strain and constraint on the board members. It is time for the AAW to create the full-time top-level position. By creating the position of Executive Director, AAW will have the guidance of professional leadership to match the volunteer leadership of the board and committees.”

I was appointed to chair the Executive Director Committee, which was to develop a job description for an AAW Executive Director.

Before our symposium in 1999, in Tacoma, and at the symposium, Mary Lacer told me that she wanted to be the Executive Director. While at the symposium, as her friend, I told her that I did not think she had the recommended qualifications to be the Executive Director and I did not think she should apply for the position. I pointed out that she was earning $40,000 a year as the office administrator, a job that she was good at and explained to her that as a young organization grows and changes, it needs leadership with different strengths at different times. Executive Directors do not have a single job for life.

Obviously, her influence with the Board as office administrator would be diminished if the AAW hired an Executive Director.
At the September and November 1999 telephone Board meetings, I presented the initial and refined job description and advertisement for the Executive Director. At both meetings, Board members loyal to Mary questioned whether the Board had ever decided to have an Executive Director and wanted to postpone any decision to have an Executive Director until the face-to-face January 2000 board meeting. In January there would be two new Board members

At the November 1999, telephone Board meeting, the Board voted to establish the position of Executive Director and for the Executive Director search committee to start its search and report its findings to the January 2000 Board meeting.

At the January 2000 telephone Board meeting, before I was asked to give the report of the Executive Director search committee, the Board members loyal to Mary, made and passed, a motion rescinding the November 1999 motion which had established the position of Executive Director and started the search for the Executive Director.

The two new board members, Linda VanGehuchten and Bobby Clemons, who voted against having an Executive Director, were asked if they had read the report of the AAW Board’s February 1999, Special Planning Session reciting the need to establish the position of Executive Director. They said “no”. And when asked what their reasons were for voting against establishing the position of Executive Director, they could give no reason. I later learned that Mary had been maneuvering behind the scenes to influence board members, especially the new board members, to vote against establishing the position of Executive Director.

In January 2000, while preparing for the Charlotte symposium as Conference Chairman, I applied for and obtained the first grant for the AAW of $10,000 from the Bank of America Foundation. It was to support youth involvement in woodturning before and during our 2000 symposium in Charlotte.

At the post-Charlotte board meeting, a recess was requested before lunch. Mary and other board members left the room. Roger Austin and I remained. When Mary and the board members returned, a motion was immediately made, and passed, to reprimand me for making changes to the Editor’s contract, which I had originally drafted, negotiated, and signed as President. However, the discussion was mostly about my making decisions and starting projects without keeping other board members apprised (wrote and obtained the Bank of America grant without involving other board members); my spending AAW funds to attend woodturning events for apparently personal reasons (went to Charlotte in January, 2000, to get the Bank of America Grant and to get local AAW chapters to present woodturning demonstrations for youths at local schools and at the Charlotte symposium in compliance with the Bank of America grant, and in May to again talk to the local chapters about their youth demonstrations, and to represent the AAW at the Collectors of Wood Art event when the Masons donated their collection to the Mint Museum of Craft + Design); and my wasting AAW funds by not purchasing a discount phone card (using a corporate-rate long distance card instead). I later learned that Mary Lacer was the instigator of the motion to censure me.

That evening I tendered my resignation from the AAW Board. It was obvious to me that an employee, Mary Lacer, exerted a controlling influence over the membership-elected Board, and that she would stymie any changes necessary to have the AAW continue its leadership development as long as she was an employee.

Mary has a long history of influencing your duly elected Board members and of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to remove people she does not want in influential positions within the AAW. Her list of those she wanted removed included Merryll Saylan, past president; Rick Mastelli, past editor; Charles Alvis, past president; Dave Wahl, past president; Bobby Clemons, past president; and Betty Scarpino, present editor.

David Wahl

For more information see the Support the AAW Board website.


Andi Wolfe said...

This letter is posted at:

Greg Strange said...

Very enlightening, sure wish this had been posted on the AAW forum for all to see prior to the shut-down.
Wow, I had no idea that there was such a long history here...thanks for getting this out there Andi
Greg Strange