EXECUTIVE BOARD CHOICES
an editorial by ChessNews.org editor Bill Goichberg
Members aged 16 and older have recently started to receive their ballots for the USCF Executive Board election. This is the first such election open to the membership; previously only about 500 Delegates and Alternate Delegates were allowed to vote. Six candidates are running for three seats, so members may vote for up to three.
Following are comments on the candidates in order of their appearance on the ballot, with a summary at the end.
Don Schultz is by far the candidate with the most experience in chess governance and chess organization. He served three years as USCF President, another three as an at large Board member, has held several FIDE positions, has been president of four state chess associations, and has organized and found sponsorship for numerous successful events, including the 1990 World Youth Championships in Wisconsin, the 1994 US Championship in Florida, and the 1996 New York International.
Don's extensive knowledge of various aspects of the chess world should be a significant asset to the Executive Board. The main criticism heard of him is that USCF lost money while he was USCF President. Some who make this charge even blame him for money lost during the early months of his first fiscal year, before he was in office! However, the federation has lost quite a bit more per year on the average since his term ended. No one has been able to figure out how to counter the continuing decline in adult memberships, which many attribute to a trend away from over the board play and toward online play.
Internet postings also repeatedly accused Don of billing USCF excessively for his attendance at FIDE meetings. The truth is that he is our only recent president who attended FIDE meetings at his own expense, charging the federation only for a small fraction of his expense at one meeting.
I was Vice President while Don was President, and believe he did a good job under very trying circumstances. He had the misfortune to be on a Board on which the atmosphere for constructive discussion was poisoned by the false charges and personal attacks repeatedly made by a Board member against the President and all but one of the rest of the Board.
As President, Don initiated the practice of having confidential independent interviews done of employees. The Board learned of significant office problems that we never would have known about otherwise. Unfortunately, future Boards have not continued this practice.
Don strongly opposed the idea of USCF committing itself to a single online play provider. After his term ended, USCF unwisely did just that, with disastrous results. As Don rightly states in the July issue, "Suppose USCF announced that all over-the-board rated tournaments would be done by a single organizer- not a very good idea, right? Yet that is precisely the approach the USCF has taken towards Internet chess."
Don supported the USCF book and equipment sales program. Subsequently under the presidency of Tim Redman, this service was almost destroyed. It has been rebuilt under Frank Niro, but today's profits are small compared to what we will see some day when software improvements lead to better service. In the interim, it is vital for the federation to maintain its customer base by offering a wide variety of products.
Don believes in encouraging the affiliates and volunteers who are USCF's greatest asset. As President, he initiated a monthly "Volunteer of the month" article in Chess Life, another good idea now discontinued.
Don states, "There is too much secrecy in the way our current Executive Board operates. I would like to see fewer closed sessions, more open forums and periodic reports from all EB members both posted on the internet and given at open forums during major chess events." I fully agree, and Don is the only board candidate to raise the secrecy issue in his Chess Life campaign statements. Even though the current Board has reversed the regressive policies of its predecessor, secrecy remains excessive and the use of our publications to keep the membership informed inadequate.
In the July Chess Life, Don also supports a separate USCF Internet rating system, a USCF organized National Chess League, a reduced Internet-only membership fee without OTB privileges, seeking sponsorship from all online play providers rather than locking into one, a return to monthly consolidated financial statements (operations plus LMA), full compliance with GAAP, better direction to committees, continuation of affiliate commissions (wisely restored by the Delegates last year), a return to traditional time controls for world class chess, limits on gift acceptance from FIDE by USCF officials, opposition to mandatory drug testing, etc. I agree with him on all counts.
Sam Sloan has run in every USCF Executive Board election since 1996. He is a prolific and outspoken chess reporter who has set up many chess websites and internet discussion groups. He also operates websites of a sexual nature. At USCF meetings he speaks at length on many motions, often in favor of positions that are about to easily prevail without his comments. He thus causes unnecessary delay at Delegates meetings and would probably do the same at Executive Board meetings. Many of his arguments at meetings begin, "Everybody knows that..." and then he says something controversial that many people disagree with.
I am in agreement with Sam on many issues, but do not recommend voting for him for the Executive Board.
Sam is often accused of lying, but I think he is actually a truthful person who is careless in his reporting and has difficulty distinguishing rumor from fact. For instance, in his statement in the June Chess Life (which, strangely, he repeated without change in the July issue), he says, "I have just received a confidential report that $200,000 in USCF funds have gone missing." It sounds like he is charging that USCF funds have been stolen or squandered, but as he provides no details to back up his charge, all he accomplishes with it is to damage the reputation of the federation. Indeed the federation has lost a lot more than $200,000 in recent years, but no purpose is served by repeating undocumented rumors.
Sam also says in his statements, "A recent scandal has arisen because the FIDE Zone President for the USA demanded and received a special deal under which his scholastic players got to join the USCF for only one dollar. This was illegal and wrong. If I am elected, I am going to demand that he pay back the money."
The "special deal" Sam refers to is an experiment by the ED in which one scholastic tournament was allowed to waive the USCF membership requirement for new players, charging them $1 instead. But they did not obtain real USCF memberships for $1, only "one week memberships" giving them the right to play in the tournament. Also, the FIDE Zone President (actually the former FIDE Zonal President) did not "demand" this deal, did not negotiate it with the ED (the CalChess President did that), and did not receive any money, so there would be no money for him to return. If Sam is elected and demands that the former Zonal President "pay back the money," he will get zero support from the Board and the Delegates and the episode will only be an embarrassment to USCF.
I should add that I agree with Sam that the "deal" by the ED was unwise, though not that it was illegal, and I am not a supporter of the formal Zonal President, a member of the Redman alliance.
Another example of Sam's
internet postings is his unwarranted attack on IM Igor Khmelnitsky. Sam
wrote, "It is abundantly clear that Igor Khmelnitsky lost by forfeit on
purpose to Olga Sagalchik in the last round of the US Open at Cherry Hill so as
to guarantee Olga Sagalchik a spot in the US Championship." I
reviewed all the arguments regarding this controversy, and my conclusion is that
it is very unlikely that Khmelnitsky forfeited on purpose. He says that he
told the Director the previous day that he was withdrawing and posted his
withdrawal on a pairing sheet. The Director does not remember being told,
and the pairing sheet shows no withdrawal- however, there was a duplicate
pairing sheet used which no longer could be found.
Khmelnitsky says that the following evening, he checked the US Open website to make sure he was not paired and found that he was paired by mistake. The Directors received his phone call about 15 minutes before the round, but decided not to redo the pairings, which would have delayed the round as many players had already seen them. Had the Directors realized that qualification for the US Women's Championship was at stake, I believe they probably would have redone the pairings. Sam says, "By withdrawing only 15 minutes before the round started, he knew for certain that Olga Sagalchik would qualify for the US Championship..." This is absurd as if Khmelnitsky wanted to forfeit, he would not have called at all! He had no way of knowing whether or not the pairings would be redone as a result of his call. They could have been and they should have been.
To have a member of the USCF Executive Board making public, totally unsubstantiated charges of unethical behavior against a member (let alone a respected IM) is a frightening prospect. The federation's reputation has been tarnished enough in recent years, and it must not become associated with such conduct.
Sam says, "every member must receive a magazine." On this issue I completely agree with him. Every type of non-magazine membership (Participating Juniors, Tournament Members, Junior Tournament Players) USCF has ever tried has been a flop. Members who do not receive a publication have abysmal renew rates, buy little merchandise, and play in relatively few tournaments. I would like to see the new "economy memberships" without a publication (scholastic for $13 and adult for $39) ended. The slightly lower fees do not bring in enough members to justify the poor future prospects of these membership classes.
However, Sam also favors "A reduction of regular dues to $39." This would be one of the biggest mistakes that USCF could possibly make, as experience makes it very clear that the cost sensitivity of the dues rate is extremely low. USCF has no competitors, and very few players who enjoy rated play and/or reading Chess Life are going to abandon these pursuits in order to save $10 per year, which is less than a dollar per month. Every dues raise in USCF history has been a big money maker, and with the current financial crisis after six years of losses, it would be a catastrophic blunder to reduce income by rescinding the essential dues raise passed by the Delegates last year.
Tim Hanke is a newcomer to the area of USCF governance. His Chess Life statements are very outspoken, and I agree with some but strongly disagree with others.
Hanke says, "I will tell FIDE it is unacceptable to the U.S.A. that FIDE is run by a criminal," refers to "the mistaken policy of letting a third-world dictator, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov of Kalmykia, run the World Chess Federation (FIDE)," and says, "Let's get this scoundrel out of FIDE." I agree with him here. The only opposition journalist in Kalmykia (who was exposing Ilyumzhinov's corruption) is murdered, Kirsan's people are found to be responsible, and yet the chess world turns a blind eye because the facts are inconvenient.
However, when the focus shifts from foreign to domestic policy, Hanke's candidacy weakens dramatically.
Like Sloan, he proposes reducing adult dues. This would be such an enormous mistake that I immediately eliminate from consideration any candidate supporting such a position. USCF must charge what people are willing to pay in order to survive, and dues are not cost sensitive. A dues increase was essential after eight years, and it was only 22% for direct memberships and 12.5% for those coming in through affiliates. In the past, increases of 25%, 33% and 50% have had very little negative impact on membership totals and have been big revenue producers. At a time of financial crisis, USCF must go with what has worked in the past, and not experiment with the reverse of what has been successful.
Hanke says, "It is becoming clear that last year's decision to raise adult dues... has not satisfactorily addressed our financial situation." He fails to mention, though, that the budget assumed no revenue increase from the dues hike, and dues income since the raise is way ahead of budget.
Hanke seems to be calling for Scholastic dues to be increased, though he mentions no figure. I agree with him that $13 is too low for a one year Scholastic membership. However, he also says, "I will consider spinning off the scholastic operation as a subsidiary 501(c)3." And on the internet, he has supported the idea of having a separate federation for Scholastic chess. USCF needs to increase conversion from Scholastic to Adult membership, has already taken a big step forward in this regard by getting rid of School Mates so kids are exposed to the real chess world, and Hanke wants to move in the other direction by promoting separatism. This is another idea I find completely unacceptable.
JOSEPH WAGNER, M. D.
Joe Wagner is the only incumbent Board member running for re-election. In his one year on the Board he has certainly earned the respect of his peers, as every other Board member has endorsed his candidacy. His presence contributes to the functioning of the Board as a cohesive unit, unlike the situation before the 2001 elections in which for many years, some Board members regularly made personal attacks on others. He is a great lover of the game who has played in many tournaments throughout the country, worked hard on Senior chess and chess history projects, and hosted many chess gatherings and famous GMs in his home. From Los Angeles, Joe is also the only candidate or Board member living west of Alabama.
While Joe has not said as much about issues in this campaign as Don Schultz, he has proven to be an enlightened Board member who conducts himself in a professional manner. He supports the USCF sales program, recognizes the need for the recent dues increase, and wants to move away from scholastic separatism.
Joe is the only candidate to identify, in Chess Life, a critical goal: "Increase conversion of scholastic members to eventual adult members." He continues, "An important step towards this goal was taken last year with the replacement of School Mates by Chess Life. This would be even more effective if all scholastic members received Chess Life." I fully agree. Chess Life has beginners material as did School Mates, but kids are also exposed to more advanced material and the real chess world. Currently the overwhelming majority of kids are gone from USCF by age 19. Giving them the opportunity to read a serious chess magazine rather than one focused almost exclusively on scholastic chess will surely improve scholastic to adult conversion.
Joe is also the only candidate to call attention in his Chess Life statements to the need for Chess Life to be issued in a timely fashion. Interesting that only an incumbent Board member suggests that the lateness of the magazine has been a problem, but it reflects the fact that Joe is not satisfied with the status quo and not afraid to complain when he sees improvement as necessary.
Beatriz Marinello is a Women's International Master whose major organizational activity has been in the area of Scholastic Chess. She was USCF Scholastic Director when I was USCF Vice President, and I think she did a good job.
Her campaign statements reflect enthusiasm for promoting chess. Like most on the current Board, she is a strong supporter of ED Frank Niro, saying "I completely support our Executive Director, Frank Niro, and his strategic plan that includes relocating the office, cutting back personnel, and implementing a new computer system, which can effectively handle the daily operations of the USCF office." She also says that USCF needs to "Revitalize the partnership with state chapters and affiliates." I agree with her on both of these points.
One of USCF's most significant problems, discussed only by Dr. Wagner in the Chess Life statements, is the need to increase conversion of scholastic members to eventual adult members. I wish that Beatriz, as a scholastic oriented person, had addressed this issue.
Beatriz supports the undertaking by USCF of a variety of aggressive outreach projects to bring chess to the public. Past efforts of this type have not been very successful, and with the federation still in precarious financial shape, I believe that investing time and money on outreach efforts not proven cost effective on the past is risky. For example, she proposes that USCF "Leverage publicity to generate interest among key audiences," "Launch a media tour with spokespersons (grandmasters, young talented players, top women's players)," and "Roll out an aggressive outreach program through the following channels: Chess enthusiast websites, Chess shops, Chess clubs, Gaming and hobby websites, Children's organizations, Family organizations." She says that USCF "desperately needs a marketing program to successfully improve" the area of Chess in Education.
Few voters are likely to be turned off by Beatriz' support for such worthy efforts as the above, but I am concerned that such a course is financially unwise at this time. However, far better to be too enthusiastic than to be negative and slash worthy programs, as the Redman Board did. I cannot imagine Beatriz ever being part of such USCF self-destruction.
Mikel Petersen's chess background is somewhat different than the other candidates, as he has been active in state chess governance but not on the national level. He is a Life Master and longtime tournament player with experience as a chess organizer, writer, and instructor, and is respected in the Florida Chess Association as one who knows how to get along with people. Probably most important, he is a computer professional, serving as Network Manager of a major software firm, and he hosts and develops websites. These are areas in which USCF urgently needs to improve.
Mikel says that USCF must "Regain the confidence of our affiliates. Without them, nothing happens. With them, membership climbs." Well said. Too often in the past, the USCF office has seemed to believe that its main function was to promote chess directly, when actually the best way to accomplish this is to help and encourage the affiliates. Under Niro the office has become more affiliate friendly, but still has a long way to go to repair all the damage done under DeFeis, who actually raised TLA fees to $50 for one 3-line announcement at one point.
The emphasis of Mikel's campaign statements is largely on the need for USCF to improve its computer infrastructure and website. While I would have liked to see his views on more issues, these are very crucial areas for the federation, and it should be helpful having a Board member who is a professional in these fields and is determined to push for modernization.
USCF is fortunate that DON SCHULTZ remains willing to serve on the Executive Board after years of smear attacks against him that would have driven most people out of chess governance. His experience and knowledge will be very valuable to a USCF which often has lacked "corporate memory," and his positions on major issues have proven wise.
DR. JOE WAGNER is a dedicated, effective, and positive Board member, and I recommend his re-election.
I am also voting for MIKEL PETERSEN, not only because of his computer and internet knowledge, but also because I believe he too will be a positive Board member who will work to advance USCF, unlike the infamous 4-3 political alliance we suffered through in 2000-2001 which tried to destroy valuable programs and turned off many affiliates.
If for any reason you don't wish to vote for one of the above, Beatriz Marinello would also make a good Board member, and is clearly the best of the remaining candidates.
Tim Hanke wants to lower adult dues, a clear money loser for USCF at a time of financial crisis, and appears to support separating scholastic from adult chess. Either one of these positions by itself is sufficient to rule out my support for him.
Sam Sloan also supports the ridiculous idea of lowering adult dues. Otherwise, I probably agree with his positions on most issues. However, it is inappropriate for USCF to have a Board member who attacks so many people on the internet and is so careless with his facts.