None of what follows is a criticism of the members of the PST board, or any of the other members of the Trust generally. Many of them have put huge and devoted effort into securing the future of Portsmouth FC and deserve a place in the history books, as well as the thanks of their fellow supporters. However there are some aspects of the PST’s rules which need updating – to take account of the new situation where the club is owned by the community and to remedy a couple of defects in principle. Several people have been discussing this on Twitter lately, and maybe some of us can get together ahead of the AGM and see how improvements can be put into effect. Scott McLachlan, who knows a lot about this as a retiring member of the PST board, has just published a blog himself which is definitely worth reading.
Ballot papers for the Trust board elections will be posted to members on August 15th, and voting closes at 6pm on September 6th. Full details of the procedure are available here. As with any election, there are rules which candidates are expected to abide by, and they are here (opens as a Word doc).
The thing about those rules that causes more head-scratching than anything else is the rule that candidates may not campaign as such, and should all be judged on the basis of their 400-word manifesto. While I can understand the attempt to create a level playing field for candidates, it is counterproductive. Some candidates already have a large presence in social media and the community generally before deciding to stand. They have a huge automatic advantage over someone who doesn’t but who may still be a valuable candidate. Those who aren’t so well-known are going to struggle to establish their credentials if we keep the “no campaigning” rule. It is hardly likely that Trust elections are going to become the sort of dirty campaigns we see in politics, even if they did voters should be credited with the intelligence to make up their own minds.
The rule as it stands reads
“No candidate is allowed to campaign for election using any platform other than their submitted candidate statement”
I propose that we delete that completely. There is another clause:
“Candidates shall not in their statements make threats, insults or derogatory, abusive, racist, sexist or homophobic statements. The EMG will reserve the right to edit any statement to ensure that it does not breach these rules”
We could amend that to cover a wider campaigning situation by saying “Candidates shall not, either in their campaign activities during the election period, or in their statements, make threats…” and I think that would cover the new situation well enough.
There is another problem with the election rules in that they require candidates to certify that they are not suffering from a “mental disorder”. I suspect this is inconsistent with disability equality legislation and requires either re-wording or (preferably) straight deletion.
I don’t feel the present elections are made invalid by being contested under the rules as they stand, but the sort of changes I’m proposing above would be beneficial before we have next year’s election.
The main Trust rules are a much more complex document, available here, but I will quote excerpts where relevant below. As I understand it these are based on a template from Supporters Direct, and in the changed circumstances where we own the club (I haven’t got tired of typing that yet), they need some tuning-up. As they stand they say nothing at all about how Community Shareholders may become members of the Trust without first paying their annual subscription, though I understand they have been granted this concession.
Firstly, transparency is an issue. I could understand in the heat and urgency of the last 18 months that the Trust board would need to move quickly to secure the club’s future, and that some things could be allowed to slip a bit. But it really is essential that we have minutes of board meetings and trust meetings available on the website. At the time of typing, the newest board minutes on the website (here) date from the end of January 2012. If we need to amend the Trust rules to make it an explicit duty of the Secretary to make them available on the website “in a timely manner” then we shouldn’t shy away from it. The Secretary’s duties are found in clauses 33 & 34 of the rules at the link above.
Secondly, “objects” and “powers”. The rules state that one object of the Trust is “to be the vehicle for democratic elections to the board [of the football club]”, and empower the Trust to do a number of things, including to “acquire an interest in the Club”.
I think there is a debate to be had about how PST is represented on the football club board. At present there are three representatives from the Trust board on the club board in their capacity as members of the PST bid team which oversaw the takeover. How the Trust should be represented in the situation we now find ourselves in is not stated in the rules at present. In addition to any selection of club board members from within the Trust board, I’d like to have a representative directly elected by the Trust membership (and that Trust board members be ineligible to stand for this).
The relationships between the club and the Trust, and the Trust and the wider support base really do need to be clarified and explained. I read a lot of stuff about the Fans’ Conference which it seems we have to accommodate somewhere as well. It’s a pity when the Trust was in its infancy that it didn’t become an umbrella group for all the various groups which exist; very few people outside the online community or the groups themselves have much understanding of what all these groups are and whom they represent. Had PFC insisted when it was still in some sort of position to do so that the Trust should be the lead body in fan dialogue, things might be a lot clearer now and the Trust much better off.
Clause 9, “Membership”, looks a bit odd:
“The following shall be conditions of membership for any member who holds shares in any company owning or controlling the Club:
The member must give proxy voting rights for all such shares to the Society or its nominee so that the shares are voted in accordance with the policy of the Society.
The member must sign as many blank proxy forms as the Society Secretary reasonably requires whenever requested to do so.
If the member intends to attend a general meeting of the Club:
(1) 7 days notice must be given to the Society Secretary; and
(2) the voting rights attached to the shares must be exercised in accordance with the policy of the Society.”
I don’t see how that squares up to the situation Community shareholders find themselves in. What does it mean?
Under “Rights and Powers of Members”, Clause 27 states:
“The members may by a resolution carried by not less than two-thirds of the members voting at a general meeting but not otherwise give directions to the Society Board.”
The clause adds some sensible provisos about the nature of those directions, but why should the membership need a 2/3 majority to direct the Board? A straight majority should do for that purpose.
Under “Constitution of the Society [ie Trust] Board”, Clause 62 states:
“62. Members of the Society Board will normally serve for periods of 2 years in accordance with the Board Membership Policy. Co-opted Society Board members may be re-appointed for a further period subject to these Rules.”
I’d like us to limit co-opted members to one two-year term, after which they should be obliged to stand for election if they wish to continue.
Clause 64 has an inappropriate reference to “mental disorder” as a disqualifier for Board membership – it should be deleted.
Clause 69 deals with removal and suspension of Board members. This can be done at a Trust meeting by a majority of votes cast, or at any time by the other members of the Board acting alone. Such a turn of events seems sufficiently extraordinary that the Board should be obliged to call a general meeting of the Trust to ratify the decision if they themselves suspend a Board member, and I’d like the clause to be amended accordingly.
There are a mass of clauses dealing with the “Executive Board”. Are these still relevant, or are the Trust Board and Executive Board one and the same?
Clause 98 is an interesting one, “Performance Audit”:
“A general meeting of the Society may require the Society Board to appoint appropriate people to act as auditors of the achievement by the Society of its objects or any aspect of the Society’s performance of its obligations under these Rules.”
I think we should have a “scrutiny panel” independent of the Board to report to the membership on the Trust’s performance against its aims, but what the composition and powers should be isn’t specified in the rules and it should be. There is plenty of scope to debate composition and powers, but no immediate need to change the rule this year. It’s something for everyone to consider perhaps and introduce at the 2014 AGM.
All of these are examples of things that could be improved. It’s probably not practical to expect all of them to be done in one go, and these are just my own views – other people will have spotted different points to focus on, I’m sure. There is a tremendous amount of activist energy bubbling up in the fanbase at the moment, and while a huge amount of good is coming of it, diverting a bit of it to these issues of governance would put the relationships between the Trust, the club, and all its supporters on a firmer footing for the future.