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Issue 16 – August 2003

Last month, J.S., an Assistant District Commissioner in Richmond, VA, had a problem: “(Our) district has no clue as how to use commissioner service as it should be…Our District Executive and District Director (are) not happy with the performance of the DC, but they continue to let him bobble along. Our District’s two other ADC’s agree with me that something needs to be done, but we don’t know what to do.”

I had replied, in part, “District Commissioners aren’t elected; they’re appointed by your District Chair, (and) agreed to and endorsed by your District Executive. This means that the two people you and your ADC friends need to speak with are these two folks—your chair and your DE. They should help solve this problem, possibly by ‘retiring’ the current DC at the end of your council’s ‘Scouting year’.”

In response to this, Rick Belford, a District Executive in Tucson, AZ, wrote: “First of all, great column! In an earlier column, you stated, ‘District Commissioners aren’t elected – they’re appointed by the District Chairman, agreed to and endorsed by your District Executive.’ This isn’t quite correct. I quote from the District Nominating Committee Worksheet #33157D: ‘The nominating committee, after consultation with the District Scout Executive, recommends a District Commissioner to the (council) Executive Board for appointment and commissioning. The District Commissioner is an elected member at large of the District.’ So the District Commissioner is recommended to the council’s Executive Board for appointment/commission by the District Nominating Committee. The DE is involved at the beginning of the process. And the District Commissioner is presented to the District on the slate of members at large for election in that category, which is separate and distinct from the appointment/commissioning phase. I just wanted to clear up any misconceptions. Keep up the good work!”

Rick’s points are certainly accurate, but some “separation” needs to be emphasized. The BSA booklet, THE DISTRICT, states that “The District Chairman, after consultation with the District Scout Executive, recommends a District Commissioner to the Executive Board (of the Council) for appointment and commissioning.” So, the DC is, in fact, an appointed and not elected position. However, the “elected” aspect comes into play as related to the District’s members-at-large, who are, in fact, elected, and the person who will become the DC is elected as a district member-at-large concurrently with his or her DC commission.

Wow! If this doesn’t turn us all into “Philadelphia lawyers,” I don’t know what will! Ouch! This is starting to hurt my head!

Dear Andy,

I was reading one of the questions and answers in your issue #10. The question was about the replacement of a Cubmaster that just was not getting the job done. The removal of a volunteer is not as easy as your answer described. In the case of the Cubmaster, only the Chartered Organization has the authority to appoint or remove a volunteer. We as volunteers can only make a case to the Chartered Organization for their review and determination about the outcome of the volunteer in question. This way, there’s less of a chance for appeal by the volunteer—which the volunteer has a right to do. In most cases, it would be better to move the volunteer to a job that he/she might be better suited for. In a lot of cases, the volunteer’s heart is in the right place, but he or she just isn’t experienced or doesn’t have the necessary training for the job. (Duane Betteen, East Grand Forks, MN)

You make some excellent points, Duane, and I’m happy to share them with our readers. But let’s take a moment to revisit what I actually said… That it’s the job of the Pack’s committee and chair to provide a good Cubmaster for the Pack, and if they don’t have a good one, it’s their job to replace him. And, I went on to state that the very first thing that should be done is to get everybody to training! Now, there’s no question that, in a “perfect world,” it’s the chartered partner who’s supposed to provide leadership for the Scouting units they sponsor. And maybe the CPs in East Grand Forks, Minnesota all do this. If so, congratulations. But, I think you and I might agree that many CPs are pretty clueless in this regard (I’ve even run into some that didn’t even know they were sponsoring a Pack or Troop!). So—from a practical standpoint—it does often fall to the committee to get the job done. And, since I’m a practical sort of guy, I put the committee in the cross-hairs. (One “secret” reason I also did this was to keep the committee and Den Leaders from feeling powerless and simply throwing up their hands with the lament, “No one will do anything!” …Commissionering is much about EMPOWERING!)

Hi Andy,

I’m Skipper of a Sea Scout ship, and we’re having a problem with our council. One of our youth members is earning the Quartermaster Award (our equivalent of Eagle) but the council won’t give her the merit badges for Swimming or Lifesaving, even though she’s completed all the requirements for these. What can we do? (Charlie J., Huntington, AL)

Well, Charlie, I’d say you should try to relax and remember that merit badges are for Boy Scouts. Yes, I’ve done my homework. And I see how, in order to earn the Sea Scout ranks leading up to and including Quartermaster, a Sea Scout needs to complete the requirements for some of the Boy Scout aquatics merit badges. But that’s what it says: “complete the requirements for…” It doesn’t say “earn the merit badge for…” And that’s just what it means. Boy Scouts, not Sea Scouts or Explorers or Venturers (unless registered as Boy Scouts, too!), earn merit badges.

Dear Andy,

One of the adults in my Troop says he’s earned Eagle and bronze, gold, and silver palms. But he has 37 merit badges. Isn’t he supposed to have, like, 51 for that many palms? (Sean V., Boy Scout, Scotch Plains, NJ)

Guess, what, Sean – You’re right! To wear all three, he needs to have earned 5 for Bronze and then 10 more for Gold and then 15 more for the Silver palm. That’s 51 (21+5+10+15=51). And, if he had actually earned 51 MBs beyond Eagle, he’d probably wear two Silvers (15 MBs each). Here’s what I’m guessing happened – He earned 5 MBs for the Bronze palm, then he earned another 5 for the Gold, and then 5 more for Silver but forgot (or wasn’t told, or never read it in his Handbook) that each successive palm REPLACES the one before it, until you earn more than 15 beyond Eagle, and then the cycle starts again – 20’s a silver and a bronze, 25’s a silver and a gold, and so on. So, he’s been living with this mistake for a whole bunch of years, and it’s probably not worth trying to point this out to him. Just know that you are absolutely right!

Dear Andy,

Our Pack is a mess! Here we are, 65 years old and in deep trouble. Our Cubmaster seems to have this attitude problem – He doesn’t seem to care if the Cubs get anything out of Pack Night; he just wants it over in 30 to 45 minutes, tops. His idea of a meeting program is go to a movie or go rollerblading. He doesn’t go to Roundtables, and doesn’t communicate with any of the Den Leaders or committee. He takes no interest in rechartering; he “couldn’t care less” – and those are his words! The committee chair is shared between a husband and wife, and neither of them is more than half-trained. I’m a trainer myself, and I can’t get them to finish up! Help! (Alice M., DL, Holmdel, NJ)

At first I thought you had a “Cubmaster problem,” Alice. But there’s a lot more to fix than just one adult, and that’s more than I can advise you on here–unless I write a book! You need Commissioner help, fast! Make that call! Meanwhile, here are a few things you can start doing for yourself right away. First, since you’re a trainer, get your other Den Leaders trained (informally, if necessary) so they start planning real Pack meetings – complete with theme, skits, songs, awards, and so on. If the Cubmaster doesn’t “like” the new meeting formats, maybe he’ll resign and clear the way for a decent replacement! Then, try to get that couple chairing the committee to realize that “co-” anything just doesn’t work! One or the other needs to step up to the plate, but not both! But Pack meetings are the most important. Get those fixed, and I’ll bet a lot of the other stuff will start dropping into place. Good luck!

Dear Andy,

I’ve always understood that a Scouting unit leader could administer the swim test (such as by visiting a community pool with a lifeguard on duty and using an empty lane) to the Scouts in his unit in preparation for a unit swim later. Someone told me recently, though, that the swim test administrator himself must possess a lifeguard certificate. I re-read the Guide to Safe Scouting, and it doesn’t establish any requirements for a swim test administrator. What’s your take? Thanks! (John Inman, Montgomery County, Maryland)

You’re right on the money, John. There’s no “certification” required of the person administering the basic swim test for either Second Class or First Class rank (which correspond, of course, to the “beginner” and “swimmer” classifications). And here’s more evidence… First, the current BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book is silent on any special requirements or credentials for the person who qualifies the Scout for the swimming-related requirements. Plus, in the current BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, the “initials” blocks for the same requirements (see pages 440-443) ask for those of the Scoutmaster or similar unit leader and not for anyone beyond this, and there are no asterisks stipulating some special credential necessary. These points not withstanding, the idea of having a qualified lifeguard standing by during the in-water testing is certainly the way to go (when it comes to water, “common sense” just ain’t enough—you need GOOD sense!). Happy swimming!


I’ve been getting a bunch of questions about Merit Badges lately, so I thought this would be a good time to lay out a bunch of them and maybe clear the air on some points that can often go awry…

– Can a requirement can be changed if, in the judgment of a qualified counselor, an enhancement to the basic skill is more practical or a better learning experience?

Nope! The requirement is just that – no changes. Period.

– What about Scouts with handicaps? Can’t requirements be changed when there’s a physical handicap that would keep him from completing the requirements as stated.

Nope! The requirements can’t be changed. BUT, there are alternatives – Check out the BSA REQUIREMENTS book.

– Can a Merit Badge Counselor counsel a relative (brother, cousin, son)?

Yup! No restrictions on this at all!

– How long is a “partial” good for?

Until the Scout is 18 years old.

– What about tasks completed before the Scoutmaster’s signed the “blue card”? Can these be accepted so long as they match the Merit Badge’s requirements?

Here’s the order for earning a Merit Badge: (1) the Scout picks a subject, (2) he gets a signed MB Application (Blue Card) from his Scoutmaster, (3) he calls and then meets with a Counselor, (4) he begins fulfilling requirements. So, when working on requirements is 4th in the order of events, let’s take a guess…

-If a Scout has started a Merit Badge under pre-2003 requirements, can he complete it using the “old” requirements?

Nope! Current requirements complete the badge. (Same for rank requirements, by the way.)

– If a Merit Badge Counselor wants to teaching skills beyond the actual requirements, is this permissible so long as these aren’t included as “additional” requirements?

Absolutely! In fact, that’s one of the key things anticipated about competent counselors, and it’s also why the notion of “counseling everything—just stay a page ahead of the Scouts” doesn’t really help anybody!

– What about the notion of being known as a “tough” Counselor, so that one gets dedicated Scouts, willing to “bust their buns” on the badge?

Very un-cool! Yeah, it can “feed the ego,” but that’s the wrong kind of ego for Scouting. Being known as fair, knowledgeable, thorough, honest, and fun goes a lot further!


Happy Scouting!



Have a question or problem? Got an idea that will help others? Send an email to (Include your town and state, please)



(August 2003)


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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