Wednesday, June 10, 2009

AFSA Election Engagement Needs a Makeover

Completed AFSA ballots should already be received at the designated address COB June 11. According to the AFSA Elections Committee instructions, on June 12, 2009, the Elections Committee will count the ballots at AFSA Headquarters and declare elected the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes for each position. In case of a tie the election will be decided by a coin toss in the presence of the candidates concerned or their representatives. The committee will inform candidates individually of the election results by the swiftest possible means and will publish the names of all elected candidates in the next issue of the Foreign Service Journal and via the AFSA e-mail listserve. The elected candidates will take office on July 15, 2009, as provided in the bylaws.

I supposed this is a good time as any to propose areas for improvement for the next AFSA Election.

Online Videos

It’s about time for AFSA to create its own channel at YouTube. The channel could be used for normal AFSA business, such as appearances in Congress, but also during elections. Candidates who are overseas should be able to send their campaign video to AFSA or upload it directly to YouTube. With current technology, this should not be impossible. Having videos hosted by YouTube also help ensure that the media format is viewable just about anywhere with an Internet connection.

Town Hall Meeting

Election candidates must commit to attending the sole town hall meeting during the election. During this election, there were candidates who were unable to attend the meeting due to other concerns. The way I see it, if somebody is campaigning to represent your interest, he/she must at least show that he/she will be present. The town hall meeting should be announced three weeks ahead of time to give everyone a chance to put it in their schedules and make arrangements to attend.

Endorsements by Incumbent AFSA Governing Board Members and Staff

The AFSA election guidelines say that “AFSA staff has been directed to avoid any action that gives advantage to one candidate over another, and to deal with candidates as instructed by the Elections Committee. Also that “AFSA representatives at posts abroad, when acting in their capacity as AFSA representatives, must scrupulously avoid actions tending to favor one candidate over another.”

The AFSA Election Committee should probably clarify the endorsements by incumbent AFSA Governing Board Members of one slate over another. If an AFSA official endorses a candidate in his/her personal capacity, does it mean that the official cannot use his/her AFSA title? Does it mean that an AFSA official cannot send email with his/her title while campaigning for or endorsing a slate or group of candidates? This need to be clarified as using the AFSA title unavoidably lends the perception that it is an official and not a private endorsement.

AFSA Election page in Facebook or…

AFSA sends out one Special Election Edition of AFSANews. But it is printed material and not online. I understand the need for the printed edition, considering that in many places we still have dial-up connections, but AFSA can expand its member engagement by putting this out in Facebook or in a similar social media platform like Ning. Another option is to tie up with and use its Livelines forum for a limited discussion on AFSA issues. Although Livelines has a lot of family members, there are also active FS officers and specialists in the forum, and it is a large group. Another alternative is to run an election chat in for a limited time. These options should give AFSA members multiple options to stay engage on the issues.

AFSA Elections Forum

I have this for last because there are a few items on the Forum that are troublesome: 1) A lot of the campaigning and discussions do not seem to be happening in the forum but down the halls, and corridors, chanceries and via emails. Slates and independent candidates must commit to using the online forum. Due to the wide dispersion of AFSA voters, this is only one of the few options for discussion of relevant issues affecting the Foreign Service that is transparent and inclusive. I also hope that the forum can be updated so the messages appear in threaded format, making it easier to follow a conversation online.

2) Lack of participation. The Clean Slate forum did have some discussions about mandatory retirement age and WAE, while the Team AFSA forum seems to be overrun with discussion about campaign tactics. The other thing that is surely a turn off to voters is Team AFSA candidate for president telling forum participants asking about priorities “I invite you to visit our web site at” Why would AFSA members visit the forum if all they’d be told is to look it up in a website? Candidates must commit to responding to inquiries and campaign issues posted in the forum instead of sending them off elsewhere with a link. This is the only way AFSA can improve participation in this forum.

3) Shenanigans in the AFSA forum. Truth to tell I kept returning to it because it seems to have its own story to tell. I’m not sure what AFSA can do to clean this up for the next round. Perhaps an appeal from the candidates running at the top of the ticket to keep this forum real but dignified?

First there was “Joe Voter” who posted:

Subject: Who's running? From: "Joe Voter" Date/Time: Thursday, 07 May 2009 - 11:25 PM

I believe as a State Dept person, a great deal of issues needed to be addressed during the election. I have received the pamplets, I have received the SPAM and I have heard from the candidates, It's imperative and obvious that some have some (CLAEN SLATE) gone "overboard" with the money, the time and the effort - Do they work?. Does CLAEN SLATE work for the Depertment of State or are they free lance? They spend an increadible amount of time and $$ wanting to win but do they deserve it? Money isn't enough. Go independents and those running agiainst Mr. Hirsch and Finestine.

A few days later when I came back there was a post from Mrs. Joe Voter!

Subject: Hey look - Joe the Plumber, oops Voter is here! From: Mrs. Joe Voter Date/Time: Tuesday, 12 May 2009 - 02:06 AM

I've been looking all over for you, Joe. So this is where you've been lurking. Would you come home already? The kids are hungry! What -- somebody "overboarded" you? Is that why you can't spell correctly anymore? Just quit lurking there and come home already, ok pumpkin?

There were multiple posts from “Tim Johnson,” including the one below:

Subject: Who are you fooling? From: Tim Johnson Date/Time: Friday, 08 May 2009 - 03:35 PM

Who are you fooling? Kelly Brikhmonf, Shawn Mangiacotti, Steve Pretzman, Janice Hopkins and Alex Copher, whose anti-CLEAN Slate hate mail was entered above, cannot be found either in the GAL or in AFSA's membership roster. I invite anyone with access to State's E-mail system or AFSA's roster to look them up. They may or may not be real people, but they don't work for the State Department and they are not AFSA members. I would be willing to bet that they don't even exist.

My! My! Would these be called “ghost” voters? And just when you think, it could not get any hotter there’s this new post below. Apparently there is more than one Tim Johnson in the Department. Look it up in the GAL and let me know if this is not true. This tells you just how important reputation is in this universe.

Subject: A Message To The Forum From: Timothy R. Johnson E-mail: Date/Time: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 - 04:31 PM My name is Timothy R. Johnson. I am a Foreign Service Officer currently studying at FSI and on my way to Moscow this Fall. I was recently made aware of this discussion forum by a professional colleague. I am writing now simply to say that I am not the same individual who has posted here in the past as "Tim Johnson". Therefore, all views expressed by that individual, both past and future, are his own and should not be attributed to me. Thank you.

Then somebody took “Tim Johnson” to task for being “rude and unfair.”

Subject: Thanks Susan From: Jarrod Frahm E-mail: Date/Time: Thursday, 07 May 2009 - 10:48 PM AFSA Presidential Candidiate: I see an awful lot of hate eminating from the other folks (slates and independents). You have truly managed a respectful Regardless what what some have said, I believe you are straightforward, honest and have made a concerted effort to be fair and helpful. I met you twice and you have been fair and thanks. The CLEAN SLATE and Tim Jonhnson seeems rude and unfair. Thanks Johnson and I hope you win. I will vote due to people like Mr. Johnson

But wait! Then the real Jarrod Frahm showed up in the forum:

Subject: Forum Games From: The REAL Jarrod Frahm Date/Time: Tuesday, 02 June 2009 - 11:29 AM I have not endorsed either slate of candidates nor have I previously addressed any issue or experience in these forums. Anyone who claims to be me is committing identity fraud. Regards, Jarrod

Ayayay! Then there's this post from Bill Sutherland:

Subject: Tex - You ROCK From: Bill Sutherland Date/Time: Thursday, 07 May 2009 - 11:32 PM Tex: Your are the cement that binds AFSA. You have been attacked by some as old and already have the "Tee shirt". Poppy cock! You keep fighting and thanks. William

Oopsie! A Bill Sutherland showed up and renounced the prior post!

Subject: I did not write the above! From: Bill Sutherland Date/Time: Wednesday, 27 May 2009 - 05:56 PM My name is Bill Sutherland. I just want to state for the record that I did not write the posting shown above. I know Tex Harris. He has not stood for anything in many years. I would not vote for him. I would not endorse him. And I did not write the posting shown above. Bill Sutherland

You see how confusing this is? Remember what they say about a food fight? The AFSA election should not be a virtual food fight. Whoever wins in this election, I hope the new Board starts rethinking about the rules that govern the election and its engagement with the membership. There's every reason to do so -- diplomats do not look good in a food fight!

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