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Robert Kopstein

Bob Kopstein: The Simkin Centre and the Selection and Terms of office of Boards Members, and other board practices

Robert Kopstein, July 6, 2012


[Editor's note: I want to thank Robert Kopstein for writing this piece outlining his views on this important topic. Readers are encouraged to write in with their views--I myself will likely tackle this subject at a later date]

Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre

During the 2011 discussions and publicity surrounding the governance of the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre in Winnipeg, a group led by Ms Harriet Berkal advocated an open and democratic process for the elections of directors to the board. Winnipeg’s Anglo-Jewish Press adopted Ms Berkal’s proposal, and questioned, a) the undemocratic process by which the board was constituted, b) the self perpetuating nature of its then existing board membership, c) the absence of access to community participation in the nomination and election of board members, and d) the lack of public access to board meetings. The critical facts implicit in the questions raised by the media are essentially accurate. But the issue of establishing an open democratic process for the election of directors requires some analysis to determine its merit. 




An undemocratic process

To develop a process for the democratic election of directors, one would have to consider and design a viable model prescribing, for instance, the process for nominations, who would be entitled to vote, and who would be entitled to run as candidates, to name a few factors, and there might be many suggestions. Assuming that such a model could be designed, however, there are other more fundamental considerations that should precede the development and implementation of an open democratic model, not the least of which is whether an open democratic model would be appropriate, or desirable for the selection of directors.

Democracy is a political system that requires an open process for elections in which the adult members of a given political district or constituency may vote for candidates who have been nominated to hold office. Candidates "run for election". They actively seek office. The successful candidate, upon taking office receives remuneration from funds raised by a taxing authority. Candidates are usually required to campaign, and to vie with other candidates who also seek the same office. The outlay of funds for the conduct of their campaigns is usually a necessary cost for candidates and/or their supporters. They are elected or defeated, generally, because of the political and/or social views they advocate, and by the image, favorable or otherwise, that they project.

By contrast, the board members of the Simkin Centre’s parent organization, Sharon Home Inc, are unpaid volunteers. They are characteristically successful business people. They are successful professionals. They are often senior members of the Community whose good reputations precede them. They are nominated, not because they espouse a particular political view or because of a social benefit they promise to support or promote, but rather because they are seen by sitting board members as principled individuals who will consider the issues before them carefully, and in the best interests of the Home. They agree to take on the office of directors as a commitment to public service, not for monetary reward, nor for any material reward, but because of a sense of responsibility to community institutions which depend on responsible and mature volunteer support to survive.

Requiring potential directors to run political campaigns or to vie with others for the privilege of volunteering their time, their talents, and the benefit of their experience; to require them to test their popularity by running for office, is hardly a sensible idea. Its most serious defect is that it would strongly discourage qualified people from considering a position on the board. A so-called democratic process is neither appropriate nor desirable for the election of directors at the Home, and would be counter-productive to the recruitment of qualified candidates. The act of having one’s name published as a nominee or candidate for the office of director for election by a public vote would discourage most.

The Anglo-Jewish media, seems to have been attracted particularly by the election model of the parent corporation of the Louis Brier Home in Vancouver. It seemed curious that Louis Brier’s model attracted the support of Winnipeg’s Anglo-Jewish media, because it is no less restrictive than the Simkin Centre model. Under the Louis Brier bylaw the right to vote is "restricted to those persons who are admitted as a member of the Society by an admission resolution…….", of the Board, and by payment of a membership fee of $36.00

Moreover, a survey of other not-for-profit personal care Homes in Manitoba reveals that none of them elects their board through an open election process. Also, a survey of the Jewish personal care homes in Canada, namely, the Baycrest Home in Toronto and the Donald Berman Maimonides Home in Montreal, similarly, reveals essentially a closed processes for the election of their directors.

Baycrest’s Policy statement sets out, in part, that in the process for the recruitment of new board members a Governance Committee of the Board may canvass "the board to identify individuals…..," and review other applications. In Quebec, membership of boards of directors of personal care homes, including the Donald Berman Maimonides Home, among other institutions, is governed by provincial statute. Under that statute boards consist of some 22 members. Except for one exception directors are not elected by an open process. They are designated individuals, often representative of certain bodies or organizations. Unique to Quebec, the Act does require a Home to invite the public, once in every four years, to elect two persons to its board. At the bottom line, given that minor exception, open democratic elections of directors is not an existing reality either in Manitoba or in other Jewish Homes in Canada.

Because, it is widespread, the practice of recruiting new board members essentially through a closed process suggests that the wisdom of that method is recognized. That suggestion, however, does not mean that other possible processes should be ignored. It means only that the present system should not be abandoned, lightly, in favour of another one unless someone who wishes to challenge the wisdom of the present process can demonstrate with clarity, the superiority of another process.

B. The self perpetuating nature of the board

In 1929 the Home was founded by volunteers within the community who saw the need for a Jewish Home for the elderly. Through the years since then the Home’s volunteer board members elected by its undemocratic process have been behind all its developments, as it evolved into one among the finest of not-for-profit personal care homes. The early dedicated board members, like those of more recent times sought and received no personal gain, and received little in the way of public recognition.

Each year a nominating committee is struck. Throughout the years men and women have become board members through a fairly informal process. Either they have expressed a willingness to serve on the board and have spoken to an existing board member who would put that person’s name forward for consideration. Or existing board members, because of an impending vacancy or vacancies, may seek out and put forward the names of persons of good reputation, or co-opt men or women of their own acquaintance whom they believe to be well qualified to be directors. The names are vetted by the existing board. A slate of directors numbering fifteen is proposed. Once approved, the slate of proposed directors is taken to a vote at the annual general meeting (AGM). Members of both the board of directors and board of governors may vote at the AGM.

Directors’ are elected for three year terms. There is presently no limitation on the number of terms a director may serve. There are both advantages and disadvantages to unlimited terms. Some Homes limit the number of terms a director may serve to three terms of three years each. There is a general recognition, the writer believes, that new members bring fresh ideas. The present board, no doubt, will review the present board practices.

C. No community opportunity to nominate or elect new members

That the board has not provided the opportunity for interested community members to seek nomination or election is true. It is true to the extent that the board had not actively notified the community or solicited the public for nominations. Again, the merits of greater publication than in the past may br considered by the present board.

D. Lack of public access to board meetings

The public has not been invited or permitted to attend board meetings. At least one among the other Jewish Homes in Canada do allow some access to board meetings. The board may consider the issue of public access to board meetings in due course. The Baycrest policy may be helpful in this regard.


Rovert Kopstein is a former Board Memeber of the Simkin Centre and former chair of the Nominating Committee.







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