I've sat patiently while watching events go by, largely talking to my friends and refraining from commenting in public other than to refute the usual Voller-haters (who were also Parker-haters two years ago). But I do feel I must make a few comments on the whole ED firing/Dr. Ben Chavis matter.
Previous Chairs largely made the selection of ED, with their selection validated by the Executive Council. Certainly some ED candidates were trotted around to various constituency groups - including elected officials - but the Chairs largely made the choices on their own. The job of the ED is not to be a celebrity - it's to be a competent administrator of the Party for the officers, delegates, electeds/candidates and donors. A good ED should follow the directives set by the Chair and the SEC and Executive Council at the state level, and the CEC and the elected county-level officers (the "board") at the county level. Their job should be to properly administer the Party so that the officers and delegates can decide what the party stands for and elect candidates who can turn that party platform into public policy.
Nowhere have I ever seen the NCDP or my county party take a vote and decide that all our only business is winning elections for Democrats. You usually hear that from folks (or friends of folks) who have a vested financial interest in keeping the money flowing through the party so that some of it sticks to them. Now that we are not the majority party, these folks are still saying the same thing even though it's clear that their "business as usual" methods didn't work after 2008.
And once we lost majority control at the state level, they are pushing "business as usual" on one hand, but working to "privatize" politics by bypassing the Democratic Party on the other. And when they can't buy that control, they are trying to otherwise take it by creating PACs and 501(c)3/4 "leadership" groups to redirect money from the Democratic Party so that rich folks can continue to write big checks and pull the strings with even less transparency and oversight than before. And so their pet consultants (some of whom are nothing more than grifters, con-artists and thieves) can still ride the gravy train with their no-bid contracts.
There are a lot of details that need to be properly administrated in the NCDP. First off, from the precincts on up we need to make sure that we are following proper procedures for electing officers and delegates, and then keep accurate records of those positions so that we know who these people. They need to receive proper notification of meetings, and they need to be able to vote at the right time in the right elections.
When we have meetings, we want to know that all the business matters are being handled properly at the meetings - that nothing important is left off the table or undone. That's what the staff is supposed to be doing. We also have a variety of committees that do work on platforms and resolutions, internal policing (Plan of Organization & Council of Review), and fundraising. Accurate financial records need to be kept not only for the SBOE and FEC, but also for internal party use. Checks must be cashed and bills must be paid.
I have been fortunate to have watched some very talented and competent EDs at both the NCDP and the Wake County Democratic Party. Linda Watson, Julia Lee and Michelle Lewis at Wake Dems, and Carolina Valand at NCDP. They got the job done. Another ED could have done great things except for the Charlotte convention, and the allegations of sexual harassment (later ending up false). As for the rest...we are lying to ourselves and our fellow Democrats when we don't point out their shortcomings and pretend all is well.
Maybe I just have a more sensitive BS detector than most people, but from what I have seen on the public side, some of the staff at many levels haven't been doing a good job doing their jobs. We hear about bills not being paid for and deficits going back for years. Delegates elected at one meeting aren't being recorded in a timely manner so they can attend - and vote in the correct elections - at the next level meeting. We don't know which SEC members did not attend the last two SEC meetings (Aug 2013 & Feb 2014), so that we will know which of them to replace at the upcoming County Conventions. We passed resolutions last year from the precincts up through the county and district conventions, but then they sat around all summer long before being dumped on the lap of a Resolutions and Platform Chair appointed at the last minute. The Committee put together some resolutions, but they weren't even on the agenda for August 2013 or the February 2014 SEC meetings. Why not?
SEC members protested that they were expected to approve a budget merely projected on a screen. Many county parties can print up an abbreviated financial statement and provide them to board members and attendees at their public meeting. Then a schedule for the rest of 2014 was proposed - which scheduled the district conventions on a Saturday that was the last day of Early Voting for the May primary elections. A date for the state convention was proposed for a Saturday in June, but where was the summer SEC meeting which is usually scheduled for the day AFTER the state convention in even years? We have had two SEC meetings in a row - summer and then winter - with a Sanford Hunt Frye Dinner after each one. SHF used to be a low-dollar dinner for activists. Speaking of Sanford Hunt Frye, we had a program printed for the Sanford Hunt Frye dinner that left half the speakers off of it. I was taking pics of the event and I didn't know who was supposed to be going up next!
Party staffers have also acted in less than a professional manner during business hours or at meetings where they were representing the Party. I have seen these things with my own eyes. In April 2012, two NCDP staffers got into a confrontation which sounded to me (and other volunteers attending a Wake County Resolution and Platform Committee meeting) like a bar fight ready to commence. I called a party officer who promised to look into it, but excused it as hijinks that must be tolerated from the highly talented staffers who were so critically needed they could not be replaced. The same staffer objected to David Parker coming back to the Greensboro SEC meeting in May 2012 after the SEC rejected his forced resignation by an even larger margin than voted for him as Chair in 2011!
In August 2012, a county party staffer started yelling at a volunteer at a county party board meeting, stormed out of the meeting - and went right over to a local bar, where an inebriated NCDP staffer started drunk-dialing and -texting the volunteer and other meeting attendees including myself). I both texted and place a call to a state party officer who assured me his employee would apologize for their conduct. The NCDP staffer did apologize to all parties. The county party staffer didn't apologize for their behavior which started everything - and they got a raise, health insurance and a cell phone paid for by the county party.
Since then, some staffers have felt comfortable enough in their jobs that they can't be fired for conduct that would get them bounced from any job the rest of us have. Getting drunk enough to fall down on your ass while working at a party meeting or other event is inexcusable. But that person kept their job after messing up not once but several times. Wonder why last year's June SEC meeting got rescheduled to August? It's because the convention site didn't get booked early enough for that June! Compare and contrast that to the restaurant waiter in Charlotte who got fired for simply saying "thanks for nothing" to Governor McCrory. While many folks feel that waiter shouldn't have gotten fired for telling McCrory something we all say about him every day - there is a difference between doing that as a private person and mouthing off to a customer while in your place of business.
Many of these complaints are rightly passed onto party officers - especially to the Chair - but what are they to do? Some of these staffers are no-talent relatives of big money donors. Others are moles planted in Goodwin House to report back to their constituents (other elected officials, consultants, etc.). And there has been pressure to not only hire these folks, but to keep them employed no matter how badly they preform or act up.
When Randy Voller first took office, he tried to fix many problems that had existed for years - some of which smacked him in the face when he walked in the front door the day after he was elected. When he took action to initiate the reforms he campaigned on, he was accused (by the staffers and their connected consultant friends) of being a bully. At any other job in the world, if the employees tried to cover up misuse of resources, failure to pay bills to some vendors while making sure their consultant friends got paid, and outright theft, etc. - they'd be fired in a heartbeat and no one would give a damn. But the same people who tried to get rid of David Parker the year before were right there attacking Randy Voller. Some party staffers were engaged in trying to get proxies to vote against Randy - right up to before the voting commenced. They were pulling all kinds of tricks leading up to his election - some of which would have gotten them arrested if they tried them in an election for public office. Then they attacked him for every word he said and wrote, and every move he made. They used the same tactics against Voller than Republicans use against President Obama.
Since Randy Voller was elected Chair, I've been frustrated for him and for our Party with all the BS that he had to put up with trying to get his job done. I remember watching some insurgent Exec Council members try to hijack the April 28th meeting and take control away from and put lots of blame on Randy Voller. If they had let Randy run the meeting according to the agenda he had a right to set, he would have ended up answering all their questions. Then they filed a complaint against him. Right off the bat, one of their main points was pure BS - nothing in the NCDP Plan of Organization put a limit on the number of Sustaining Fund members a Chair could appoint to the Exec Council. But in order to work things out with them - Randy agreed to limit his appointees. And by the time a follow-up June Exec Council meeting took place, two of the other matters related to hiring or naming an ED (interim or FT) were moot.
I met Robert Dempsey at the June meeting. I introduced myself to him, and as a fellow upstate NY native, I invited him out for an "orientation session" where I'd share with him my recommendations for wings and beer in the area. It took a few weeks for us to have that sit down.
But over the next few months, I slowly observed something that bothered me. That Robert and most of the rest of the staff seemed to focus mostly on the Kay Hagan race to the exclusion of all else. And tended to hang out mostly with the Voller-haters. Volunteers were insulted and called names ("wacktivists"). And promises of small "treats" in exchange for large commitments of volunteer time were not handled well - most left in limbo while some were ignored entirely.
Many things that should have been taken care of instead were barely worked on if not ignored altogether - like the recurring small-dollar donor program (RSDDP) . The Taxpayer Checkoff Committee was asked to give money outright to the House and Senate Caucuses because they were running out of money. Instead of just giving them the money, the TCC drew up a plan to loan a total of $60K to the Caucuses and the NCDP to set up the RSDDP, with the first $60K raised going back to the TCC. After the first $60K was raised, the money would be split roughly equally between the House Caucus, the Senate Caucus, the NCDP and the Congressional District Chairs. The plans were drawn up in June and all parties agreed to the plan. Voller approved, and so did Hall and Nesbit. The checks were cut - so what happened? Excuses were made - and the RSDDP was in limbo for 8 months and counting. Sorry - but when you borrow money based on a promise to do certain things with it - and you fail to do those things - you need to be held accountable.
Based on what I saw over at Goodwin House in the last year, I'd have laid down the law to Robert and most of the other stuff well before now. I'd have expressed moderate displeasure throughout last summer, and extreme displeasure after the August SEC meeting. Some heads should have rolled in September. I wouldn't have waited till now to fire Dempsey and let the others resign in impotent protest a week after the SEC meeting. I'd have fired many of them much sooner!
So what are we to do now? I've talked to several people involved in or who know about the selection process for previous EDs, and I've come up with a few recommendations.
One - the Chair must come up with a good job description, place some ads, put feelers out and other things that go into a search. Then the Chair must form a SMALL committee of knowledgeable party members (some from the Exec Committee, some SEC and some from other levels) first and foremost for their competency and dedication to the Party - not to any particular constituency group. These people must go through resumes and cover letters of everyone who submits and vet these folks - including full background checks (civil and criminal records, credit checks, and voting and voter registration records). Once the committee picks the best couple of candidates, the Chair can make a pick and put it up for a vote of the Executive Council. All pros and cons should be and must be factored in.
A competent and detail-oriented staff member must be attached to take care of all the administrative and other clerical details involved in the ED selection process. Of course that means that NCDP must hire competent staff who are first and foremost dedicated to working for the NCDP and not to be a mole for some other constituency group or just working there to pad a resume. These staffers must also work to get the rest of the party's business in order. That means a realistic schedule for meetings, handling officer & delegate records in a proper (and timely) manner. And that means handling calls and working with the officers, delegates, volunteers and donors large and small with proper attitude - and with respect.
And anyone who applies for and is hired as ED (or any other staffer) must be expected to make a commitment to North Carolina while they hold the job. They should be expected to move here and establish residency, get an NCDL and register there vehicles in state, and register as a Democrat to vote in NC. I don't care where they came from before they get hired (although it would be nice to hire an NC resident) or where they go to after the job is over - but I don't get warm fuzzy feelings when I see cars with license plates from all over the country that belong to NCDP staffers half a year after they get hired. And if you ain't registered to vote as a Democrat in North Carolina - what right do you have to work for our Party?
Any person who is hired for ED or any other staff job must understand that ALL the elections in NC are important. And they need to understand that the ED works at the pleasure of the State Party Chair, and that the rest of the staff works for the ED. Officers, delegates, volunteers and other interested constituencies can and should provide feedback on the quality of work the staff does. If the rest of the staff isn't doing their job, the ED must take action. If the ED is not doing their job, the Chair must take action. The Chair must take action for the good of the Party as determined by officers and delegates - not just big money donors, electeds/candidates and consultants.
While the Voller-haters on the Executive Council largely voted against NCDP support of the Moral Monday movement, they have changed their tune based on the attention Moral Monday's have generated. One thing I find lacking in Moral Monday is a practical way to get the many participants engaged in the political process. Moral Mondays are the product of the NAACP and other non-partisan groups. If the whole purpose is to enact desired political change because of what the current crop of Republicans have done, surely folks can see that the only real practical way to enact that change is to get rid of the current crop of Republicans and replace them with other elected officials. The replacements waiting in the wings of Art Pope's Republican Party not be different than the folks there now.
Logic dictates that we must replace those Art Pope Republicans with folks who are not Art Pope Republicans. But until or unless there is a plan to take back the Republican Party from Art Pope, the only real choice would be to encourage/entice MM supporters to vote for Democrats. But remember: HK on J came into being to protest a Democratic-controlled Legislature failing to adequately address the HK on J agenda. So in addition to voting for Democrats over Republicans, MM supporters should also be encouraged to infiltrate and take over the Democratic Party and replace those same establishment Democrats who created the need for HK on J in the first place!
Given that political reality, it does shed some light on Chairman Voller's rationale for wanting Dr. Ben Chavis to be the ED for NCDP. And it also explains the strength of the resistance to Chavis from the establishment Dems - including those who worked hard to keep Chavis "down" by failing to pardon him for years. It explains why those establishment Dems have worked so hard to harness the racism that lurks below the surface in the hearts and minds of some Democrats.
I don't have a vote on the Executive Council. But I do know members of that Council, and I have shared my feelings with them. I do not want an ED whose personal life and previous work history will be a real distraction. I'd rather not have other Dems manufacture distractions - let's leave that up to the Republicans.
What I really want is an ED who will be working mainly for the North Carolina Democratic Party at the pleasure of a Chair who is selected by the State Executive Committee and guided by the Executive Council - all of whom are elected by rank and file Democrats from the grassroots up.