Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tulsa Ham Radio Club Merger

Sometime last year, the Tulsa Amateur Radio Club and the Tulsa Repeater Organization began to explore the possibility of merging the two clubs into one.  Both clubs had a joint meeting on 05 JAN 16 to discuss the merger.  A proposal will be generated from the notes taken at that meeting and it will be presented at the regular meetings of both clubs this month.  Then the clubs will mail ballots to their members, with a return deadline around 15 FEB 16.

Lots of discussion has appeared on social media since the discussion meeting.  Some of the comments brought out new perspectives, and some brought up questions from people that weren’t at the meeting, but their questions were answered there.

This blog post is my perspective on the merger.  I’m posting it here because it might be too long for a single post on social media.

My Experience With Both Clubs

I have connections to both clubs.

The TARC played a role in my efforts to become a ham.  A club officer recommended to me the book that I studied to pass the Technician test in 1997.

Through TARC, I learned about the Creek County Emergency Management Agency.  That group helped get me started in storm spotting and emergency communications, my two main reasons for becoming a ham.

For a time, I was a member of both clubs.  However, when my financial situation developed to a point where I could afford to belong to only one club, I chose the TRO, because their priorities more closely matched mine.  While examining the by-laws of both clubs, I noticed that TRO mentioned emergency communications at the beginning of their by-laws, but TARC had it listed at towards the end of theirs.

My Approach To Club Membership
When I attended the meeting and other functions of both clubs, the competition and contention between the clubs surprised me.  You see, I came into the hobby with an idealistic view of hams, and I didn’t expect any of the negative comments and behavior I encountered.

I was part of the CB craze of the 1970’s, and in Sapulpa, where I lived at the time, CB’ers looked up to hams.  This was when you still have to have a license to operate on CB.  We admired hams because they could legally do more that we could, they knew more about radio than we did, and they policed themselves.  Many of us wanted to become hams, and some did back then.  I finally did, but much later.

I didn’t like the competition between clubs.  To me, it seemed inconsistent with what ham radio was all about.

But then I realized that hams are human.  We all have faults.  We all have differences of opinion.  To illustrate, a business instructor I had back in junior college said that you could take all the economists in the world, stack them end to end, and still never reach a conclusion!

Well, I did come to my own conclusion concerning my own membership in, and support of ham radio clubs:
I don’t have to like everyone in the club, I don’t have to like what everyone does or says: I don’t have to like every thing the club does.  As long as the club is doing something I want to support, I will support the club.  If I can, I will join.  If not, I will support the club with my efforts and money, as much as possible.

Even though I have not been a member of the TARC for a long time, I have supported the club by volunteering for the Tour de Tulsa and Tulsa Tough bicycle events.  I know they do other events, but I haven’t worked those events because I’m not sure my car could get me there.

So, you might think that I would be in favor of the merger.  Well, hang on, I’ll get to that later.  I’ve got two more areas to cover before I tell where I stand.

Details of the Merger Process
I’ve already given an overview of the merger process at the beginning of this post, but I need to add some details.

According to my notes, Bart Pickens, N5TWB, President of TARC, and TRO member, mentioned at the April 2015 TRO meeting that discussion had already begun in the TARC concerning the idea of the merger, and he asked that both clubs begin informal discussions on how to proceed.  People present there made quite a few comments, and a group was formed to conduct talks.  At that time, I made two comments:

1. We should consult with a lawyer concerning what the State of Oklahoma would require for the merger to take place.

2. We need to look at maintaining all the repeaters both clubs own, and also look at all the public service events both clubs support.

I did not participate in the merger workgroup.  I had enough to do with my PR duties and serving as Net Control for a couple of public service events.  I can only report the details of the plan in a second-hand manner.

Both clubs have members that are accountants.  They report that because the IRS is currently reluctant to grant 501(c)3 status to new applicants, forming a new legal entity is out of the question.  In order to preserve the current 501(c)3 status, the TRO should transfer assets to TARC.  The TRO would survive as a shell corporation to preserve its 501(c)3 status as a backup.  But all the club’s money and property, mainly repeaters and other equipment, would become the property of the TARC.  In return, the TARC will modify its organizational structure to blend the two structures into one.  Because TRO memberships expire at the end of February, TRO members could then join the “new” TARC.  Those that are, or have desired to be, members of both clubs would then have to pay only one membership fee per year. 

Several months ago, Bob Buford, W5RAB, mentioned at a TRO meeting that he had been involved in several club mergers before.  They way the other groups managed their mergers was through secret, anonymous, mail-in ballots.  This was to prevent individuals from being “targeted” for their votes.  If anyone publicly expresses their opinion on their own initiative, then the club could not be held accountable.  That would be the same as someone putting a political campaign sticker on their car.  So, the clubs will send out separate ballots after their club meetings this month, and the return date should be sometime before the meetings next month.

The merger procedure, as it now stands, is that the vote will be to approve the merger, the legal paperwork will be done, then details will be worked out.  The details to be worked out are the changes in organizational structure, meeting times and places, if any repeaters need to be shut down, and if so, which ones, which public service events will be supported, who will lead those public service efforts, when membership fees are due, and so on.

Procedural Concerns
I have reservations about this procedure.  I don’t really have a problem with the basic idea of the merger.  It can be a positive thing, if we make it so.

But I think we might be rushing things.  If we’re not careful, we might wind up right back where we are now.  Or we could be in an even worse situation.

Some have already expressed the view that this looks like a takeover.

Someone else expressed the idea that Tulsa is capable of supporting two clubs.  To me, the important question is not whether or not Tulsa can support two clubs, or whether or not both clubs meet different needs, but what is best for Tulsa?  Could one group handle all of Tulsa’s ham radio needs?

I think so, but only after a major change takes place in one area -

Attitudes!
Ok, this is where I begin to venture into dangerous territory.  But this is my blog, so I can take it wherever I wish.

Where did the competition and contentiousness between the clubs come from?  How did we get to the place where we are now considering merging the clubs?

The TRO used to be part of TARC.  The split between them took place back in the 1960’s.

TARC for a long time was pretty much a traditional ham radio club.  They met at the old Radio, Inc. electronics store in downtown Tulsa.  From what I hear, most of the side conversations were about which DX stations were on which band, and how the propagation was to certain countries.

The traditional view of a ham was a guy, usually an older one, sitting in in front of a radio making contact after contact or ragchewing  with other old guys.  When it came to public service, they took a passive-reactive approach: “If they need me, they can call me.  If I hear someone in trouble on the air, I’ll try to help.”

But another tradition in ham radio is innovation.  Hams played a role in the development of repeaters on VHF and UHF, and the use of FM for two-way radio.  Because military, law enforcement, fire service, and ambulance agencies found these things useful for their day-to-day operations, hams also saw their usefulness in another ham radio tradition.: public service.

So, a group formed within TARC to put up repeaters for local use, especially for public service comms.

Now, this is just my speculation, but based on comments I have heard, I imagine that some of the leaders in the TARC developed an “Old Guard” mentality that downplayed the importance of innovation, unless it was for HF or DX.  The Old Guard must have refused to support the repeaters.

Frustrated by the opposition of the Old Guard, the TRO leaders must have decided they would just form their own club so they would not have to rely on the support and approval of the Old Guard.

The Old Guard probably resented the TRO splitting off to go its own way.  They couldn’t see the need for what the TRO wanted to do, and they probably thought that Tulsa needed only one club to represent ham radio the way they saw it.  Thus started the competition and contention between the clubs.

Now, I have heard more negative comments from TARC members directed at TRO than I have heard going the other way.  Because of this, I believe the Old Guard wanted to see the TRO disappear.  The TRO, on the other hand, only wanted to be left alone so it could do what it wanted to do.  They only fought back because they thought they had to.

Over the years, the two clubs did come cooperate in two areas: severe storm spotting and Green Country Hamfest.

For those that don’t know, Green Country Hamfest is its own legal entity, it is managed as a cooperative effort of ham radio clubs in northeastern Oklahoma, and the proceeds go into a scholarship fund instead of a regular club treasury.

For years, the two clubs hosted separate spotter training sessions, but they would cooperate during Skywarn nets - mostly.  I do remember one incident where someone reported severe conditions in a location where the radar didn’t show anything close to severe weather happening.  The manner in which the man made his report indicated to me that he might have been trying to discredit the Net Control Operator, who was a TRO member.

In the year 2000, I believe the memory of the May 3 - 4, 1999 tornado outbreak caused Tim Diehl, KB5ZVC, TARC trustee, and Kelly Baker, N5TUG, TRO treasurer, to come together with the Tulsa NWS office and the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency to schedule one combined spotter training session at the newly built Tulsa Tech campus at Jones Riverside Airport in southwest Tulsa, near Jenks.

Since that time, cooperation between the clubs has steadily increased.  TRO has often allowed TARC to use its APRS trackers that Ben Joplin, WB5VST, has built.  Ben has also assisted with Net Control during Tulsa Tough by monitoring the APRS system.  Both clubs have made use of each others' repeaters during public service events.  Both clubs also advertise each others' events.  For several years now, the clubs have held a combined Field Day operation at Chandler Park in west Tulsa, the long-time Field Day site for TARC.  The clubs also have a combined Christmas Party at the TRO’s regular meeting site, Tally’s Good Food CafĂ©, 11th & Yale.

So, I guess you can see why the idea of a club merger would make sense at this time.

But I still detect pockets of “Old Guard” attitudes, even in both clubs.  I believe these attitudes could lead to problems after the merger if we continue on the path we are going.  One of the ‘pro’ comments made during the merger discussion meeting was that the merger would cut down on the drama that has prevented some from joining or participating in either club.  Well, I’m not quite so sure, unless we deal with those attitudes.

While trying to blend the two structures into one, people might want to stick with how the club they belonged to used to do things.  They could try to stir up arguments, or just leave the club.  We could wind up with a club that has plenty of assets, but nobody willing to help out with club projects.

I can see where those that leave might try to start their own club to do things the old way.  Without assets or  sufficient members, they would not be able to do much for a while, and that while might be a long one!

What To Do, What To Do…
My recommendation is to hold off on the merger until we deal with the attitudes and put together a new organizational structure.  If we can’t come up with a structure that we can agree on first, then maybe the merger is not such a good idea after all.

Also, one of my original recommendations has not be acted upon as far as I can tell, even though it seemed to be well received at the time I made it.  I haven’t seen where a lawyer has been consulted.

We have heard from accountants.  Now, I’m not putting down accountants, but they are not lawyers.  And as distasteful as it may seem to some, I believe we need a lawyer’s input.

A preacher friend of mine told a story of how his accountant got him into trouble with the IRS.  When he set up his ministry organization, he chose a highly recommended accountant who specialized in small churches and independent ministries.  After a few years, the IRS began to send him notices that he needed to report his income on certain forms that had not been required before.  When he asked his accountant about this, she said he didn’t need to use those forms.

Then the IRS sent him a notice stating that he owed several thousand dollars in fines!

What the accountant didn’t know, was that when the income of a church or independent ministry passed a certain threshold, the IRS requires they report their income on those other forms.  She had never had a client pass that threshold before, so when my friend’s income passed the threshold she thought he was still safe.

My friend not only had to change accountants, he also had to hire a lawyer to negotiate with the IRS to get his fines reduced.

Now, do you see why I recommend consulting with a lawyer?

Attitude Adjustment
I would like to finish by addressing the what I see as the major attitude that could cause problems down the line.  I call this attitude Partisanship.

Whether or not the merger goes through, Partisanship must end!

Why?  Partisanship is immature.

But to what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'
(Matt. 11:16-17 NASV)

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.  Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly.  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?  For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men?
(1Cor. 3:1-4 NASV)

Now, I could get my “preach on” here, but I won’t.  I’m just including these Bible verses to show that Jesus and Paul both pointed out a long time ago the immaturity inherent in Partisanship.

I’m not trying to set myself up as the Thought Police.  I’m just putting out information so that you can decide for yourself if you need to change your own attitude.

While this post addresses a situation in the Tulsa area, I’ll leave it up on this public forum because you never know who is facing a similar issue, and they could benefit from my comments.  I will try to follow up with further developments as they happen.

2 comments:

I Balogh said...

Doug,

May I say that your Blog thoughts are very well composed as to the proposed merger.

Doug, I am not a member of either organization. I have had an interest in HAM radios since I was a child and now that I am in my late 50's I just might act on it and become involved, thus my stated comments to your Blog.

I have had the honor of holding the position of President for two years in a large club / organization here in T-Town. The field of interest that the club was established around has one solid foundation and yet there exists four other clubs / organizations which share the same foundation and yes one or more of these are splinter groups.

To get directly to the point I would strongly suggest "not" to merge. The merger will give birth to new issues that possibly haven't even been thought of (human emotions are very unpredictable).

Look to history with other groups and their mergers / acquisitions, poll the end results before TRO and TARC continue. I will tell you that my past club / organization tried. It failed and was painful. It caused more harm than good.

Possibly create a "joint" organization subchapter that is supported by both the TRO and TARC. You may find that those interested and involved in the sub-chapter may bring light to new fresh ideas that can be incorporated into either parent organization. The subchapter may allow for those that wish a little more elbow room to express or design outside what they "feel" they can now.

From experience..... the merger does not look favorable.

Blessings

Charlie Calhoun said...

Excellent post Doug! You bring a lot of good and accurate information for us to consume. I do somewhat disagree with your "Old Guard" philosophy. True, there was contention, but a lot of that built up from the split you refer to in the 60's that grew into a nice treasure chest bank account for TRO throughout the late 70's through the early 90's. That's when TARC became competitive again and grew to an active membership around 100.

Now, I remember when this first started being talked about. Those interested requested volunteers who wanted to serve on an exploratory committee. As a past President of TARC and former ARRL OK Section Manager, I volunteered. I had information that would be valuable to the proposition. TARC obtained their 501c3 during my tenure as president. The only problem is that my help was not wanted by those on the committee. It appeared to me that this committee was being built from members who were only in favor of the merger. When TARC obtained the 501c3 status, it was obtained through the use of a lawyer which at the same time resulted in updates to the bylaws of the club in order to comply with the requirements of a 501c3 corporation.

My feelings weren't hurt but when I discovered that this process was going to be one which was probably going to result in an illegal transfer of assets, I gladly stepped back and wanted no other part of the process. I fear this will tear both clubs apart and could be very expensive for one or both clubs in court. So, your reservations about having this looked at by a lawyer are most warranted.

I wish my input would have been welcomed. I have quite a bit of knowledge pertinent to the situation but the fact that my input was clearly unwanted really did point to a one sided conversation focused in favor of the merger. I believe the vote that is scheduled for both clubs is illegal and in conflict with, at least, the bylaws of the TARC.