On January 2, nineteen former members of the RWA Board of Directors, who've held various offices going back many years, sent a letter to the current Board of Directors. In we expresitsed concerns about many of the policies that we believe might have been violated during the investigation into the ethics complaint filed against author Courtney Milan.
We laid out very careful examples, asked very pointed questions, but also offered to help in any way we could. All 19 of us want only what is best for RWA, and are willing to do anything we can to help the organization weather this crisis.
We asked the board for the courtesy of a reply, assuring them that we would not release the contents of this letter immediately.
It has now been four days. We received one thank-you letter from one board member in the first 24 hours and then radio silence. When we warned the members that we intended to go public with this letter today, two more responses came in. Neither of them answered any of the questions posed in the letter. Tonight's response from a member of the Executive Committee repeated the public talking points that have been circulating social media regarding the pending audit.
For most of us, that wasn't nearly answer enough. So we are now sharing this letter that we wrote.
Note: There were 19 original signatories. Three of those 19 decided they would prefer to not have their identities made known publicly. They all signed on with that assurance, and we absolutely respect their decision, and appreciate their involvement.
The letter appears below, in its entirety, with the redaction of three names.
January 2, 2020
Dear RWA Board of Directors—
We are writing regarding our concerns about what has been happening with the organization since December 23, when the details of the ethics complaint against Courtney Milan were made public. We have been in board positions during periods of crisis and understand the pressure you are under, especially since the recent spate of resignations has greatly reduced your numbers. We also understand the limitations you are under per the rules of Executive Session.
We are, we believe, in a better position to examine what happened than most members, given our own board experience. We believe that if honest, understandable answers to these questions are provided to the membership, necessary faith and trust in the organization can be restored, enabling RWA to begin the process of rebuilding.
The primary issue is the formation of a new Ethics Committee to investigate the Milan complaint. A Past President has come forward and publicly stated that she asked Milan to step aside as Chair of the committee, on advice of RWA’s lawyer.
A: Were all voting members of the Board of Directors notified of this change in leadership of the Ethics Committee?
If yes, was this done in an Executive Session environment?
Were the Advisors informed of this change in leadership, and the reason for it?
If the advisors were n
ot informed, was the issue ever discussed in general session, or on the general Board Loop, to which Advisors are subscribed? (Possibly leading to an indemnification issue should a lawsuit ensue?)
B: The Ethics Committee was informed that Milan had resigned and an interim Chair had been appointed, but they were not told why.
If this is true, why were they not informed that Milan had been asked to resign under the advice of legal counsel?
Was the interim Chair informed of this and told why he/she was asked to step in?
C: Was the person appointed to serve as interim Chair a member of the original committee?
If not, who decided to bring in a non-member to serve as Chair, rather than elevate one of the other members of the committee?
D: Beyond not elevating an existing member, why was the existing Ethics Committee not informed of the complaint and tasked with evaluating it? An email sent only to chapter leadership, from President Suede, suggested that the existing committee was bypassed in an effort to relieve them because they had too many burdens. The committee members who’ve spoken publicly have said this is not true. We believe that contradictory statements such as these have inflamed the situation and really are not helpful in the effort to move forward.
E: The above referenced email also indicated that the committee was not informed because there might be a perceived conflict of interest, since Milan had recruited members of the committee. If this is the case, why was Milan not asked to resign in last March’s (plagiarism?) complaint that also involved her?
F: Further regarding recusal – if there was perceived conflict of interest, why were the committee members not given the opportunity to recuse themselves? Some members of the committee have publicly claimed they found this personally offensive. As RWA relies on volunteers and committees, this is one area where we believe an easy solution would be a public apology to those committee members.
G: Section 184.108.40.206.1 states that the Ethics Committee will begin an investigation “within a reasonable period of time.” The complaint was received the third week of August. Did the population of a new, one-issue Ethics Committee delay the evaluation of this complaint?
H: The “call” to the membership looking for new members of the Ethics Committee was made on October 1. There was already a committee in place and they had another year on their term. Why did a new call go out?
I: Who formed the new Ethics Committee? The President’s statement to the leadership states that the board did not select the slate; they merely voted on the slate as presented.
J: Was this choice of a slate of candidates done before or after the October 5th board meeting? When was it voted on by the entire Board?
K: Did the members of this new committee know they had been recruited outside of the existing Ethics Committee?
L: Does this second committee still exist alongside the original Ethics Committee?
Does this second committee have a separate email loop?
If so, is/was that email loop hosted on the RWA server or is/was it hosted elsewhere?
If there was no loop created, why not?
Why were they not added to the pre-existing Ethics Committee loop? We don’t believe that having two committees with the same name and purpose is in line with existing RWA policy.
There were several policy changes made by general consent at the in-person meeting the weekend of October 5. Most pertain solely to the Ethics Committee. Considering the Ethics Committee is at the heart of this controversy, this stands out and creates an appearance of impropriety.
A: Who made the decision to propose a change of population date of the Ethics Committee from the first quarter of the year to the fourth quarter? What rationale was given? Is that reasoning something that can be shared with the membership?
B: Was the new Ethics Committee formed before or after October 5, when section 10.2.6.1.1 was approved?
Formation before the change was enacted in 10.2.6.1.1 on October 5 would violate the policy that existed at that time, which stated that it was to be done in the first quarter. Formation after October 5 would violate the new policy, which states it is to be done in the fourth quarter. In either case, it appears policy might have been violated, and, again, causes suspicion in the membership.
C: The addition of 10.4.7 inserted a new policy that started with the comment “In the event a Chairperson resigns.” Later in the addition, it also adds the words “conflict of interest.” What was the purpose of this change? It appears that it might have something to do with this particular case and the request for Milan’s resignation. Did it, and if not, can the membership be made aware of the actual reason?
D: In that same Consent Agenda, an addition was made specifically to the Ethics Committee policy. 10.2.6.1.1 and 10.2.6.1.2 were both changed to move the responsibility for choosing a new candidate for chairperson from the President to “the President-Elect in consultation with the Executive Director,” and that the PE in consultation with the ED would present the slate of candidates to populate the committee. Again, the timing of this is raising concern.Was there a specific reason this had to be done at that time?
E: According to policy section 2.3.1, the board has a fiduciary duty to be informed and ask questions. Were these issues thoroughly reviewed and explained to all voting members during discussion of the Consent Agenda at the October 5 meeting?
If a thorough discussion with the other members of the board did occur during General Session, providing more details of the timing and content of that conversation might clarify whether or not the entire board, including those members who resigned December 24 and 26, were fully aware of reasons for and the potential ramifications of this Consent Agenda vote.That discussion would have been held during General Session and there should be no reason that its contents, or at least highlights, could not be revealed. That also might help the membership see policy at work.
As you can see, these are serious questions. RWA’s first public statement claiming a “difference” between policy and procedure greatly understates the matter and is insufficient in addressing the concerns of the membership.
All of us who sign below are former board members, former officers, former presidents, and members of the Executive Committee. We are not commenting on the ethics complaint against Milan or the board’s decisions regarding that complaint. You are the current board, we’re merely previous members. We are attempting to be part of the solution by outlining the policies and procedures used in this case and pointing out where possible deviation from those policies and procedures might have contributed to this rupture between the organization and its membership.
Unfortunately, it does appear to us that RWA’s procedures were violated and that a subsequent effort was made to mitigate the damage by making a rapid change in policy. A few vague and seemingly contradictory statements from the organization have inflamed passions. RWA has been the focus of a great deal of negative media coverage. It has also exposed a number of member accounts of ethics complaints that were apparently never addressed by the organization. [LK1] Trust has been lost. Regaining it requires clarifying any action that appears suspect.
We all care about RWA. We want it to survive and come out the other side of this trial by fire as a better and stronger organization that serves all of its members equally. That is why we are sending this letter—not to accuse in anger, but to assist and offer possible solutions.
We therefore offer the following:
A recall petition from the membership is said to be arriving at the RWA office this week. If all is in order, as laid out in section 18.6 of the PPM, we urge you to respect the will of the membership.
We urge you to cease issuing statements from the Board, Staff, or the President which answer none of the most piercing questions of the membership. There should be an open flow of information, but only if it is substantive and not ambiguous or accusatory in tone. Striking an “us versus them” position with the membership is only going to incite more anger and resentment and make this situation worse.
While a recall petition is being processed and the above outstanding questions remain unanswered, we strongly suggest that no more board seats be filled by appointment of the current president and approval of the current board. The organization can function for a short time with a small board focused on the necessary audits, external investigations and reviews necessary to rebuild.
Reported incidents of previous ethics complaints that might have been handled inappropriately must be investigated.
It is painful and difficult, but if answers to the questions above reveal serious policy violations, the president should voluntarily step down from his office so that trust can be restored in the organization’s leadership.
We would like to remind the board of the power outlined in section 2.4 of the PPM to prevent any further damage to RWA that might ensue if the Board leadership cannot regain the support of the membership. The organization’s existence is at risk. All focus now should be on recovering the membership’s trust in the organization.
We know the tasks ahead for you are difficult. We write to you from a place of genuine hope for RWA’s future. If it is to survive, quick and serious measures must be taken, and we offer our experience and knowledge with the goal of working together to do what must be done to rebuild the organization.
Former Presidents of the Board of Directors of Romance Writers of America:
Leslie Kelly (2016-2017)
Dee Davis (2017-2018)
HelenKay Dimon (2018-2019)
Former Members of the Board of Directors of Romance Writers of America:
Trish Milburn, 2007-2012 Victoria Alexander, 2013-2015
Lorraine Heath, 2007-2013 Alyssa Day, 2013-2017
Jeanne Adams, 2010-2014 Julie Kenner, 2013-2017
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Tessa Dare, 2014-2018
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Jamie Beck, 2016-2018
Karin Tabke, 2011-2013 Avery Flynn, 2017-2018
Janelle Denison, 2011-2014 Kelley Armstrong, 2017-2019
Pamela Moran, 2012-2014