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Issue 18 – October 2003

Dear Andy,

Our Troop Committee and our Scouts would like to nominate our Scoutmaster for the Scoutmaster Award of Merit. But we can’t because even though he meets all of the other requirements to be nominated, he’s not completed any training in Scoutmaster Fundamentals (or equivalent). As Committee Chair, I’ve tried for several years to encourage him to attend such training, but I guess the time involved was just too much, next to his other obligations. I’ll keep trying, and maybe we’ll be able to nominate him sometime in the future, but we’re sure open to any ideas or suggestions you might have! (R.F., Troop Committee Chair. Somerset, NJ.)
I can certainly understand the situation with your Scoutmaster. But I’m wondering if maybe this might be used as a way to encourage him to take training that he needs to do the best job possible. You (along with a couple of other committee members, together) might want to take a moment to actually show him the S-A-M nomination form and tell him outright that the Troop wants to nominate him for this. Then, with true remorse, you might explain to him that, as much as the Troop would love to nominate him, you can’t because he hasn’t made the time to receive any training! You might even take a further moment to tell him how his lack of formal training also prevents the Troop from receiving the annual QUALITY UNIT National Recognition. Perhaps these might encourage him to do what he really needs to do. Or, you might want to take a different approach altogether: If he has a Scout-age (or younger) child, or younger brother or sister, or a niece or nephew, suggest to him that a group of people would like to take that child/those children away for the weekend and that the leader of the group has no formal training for this… and then ask him what his feelings are about this? This leads straight to the question, Isn’t this what he and the Troop are telling the parents of the Scouts, when they have an untrained Scoutmaster? Worth a try? Give it some thought, and then go ahead. The you, he, and the Troop owe it to the Scouts in your charge to provide the best trained leadership possible!

Hi Andy,

What’s your take on this new online Youth Protection Training course? (Ben Streit, Scout parent, Salinas, CA)

In a word, Ben: OUTSTANDING! Just renewed myself by using it. It’s straightforward, fast, interactive, and to be real honest with you, a lot better than having to listen to some brainless facilitator’s personal war stories! (Read the next Q&A, below, if you don’t know what I mean here.) Plus, I like the test at the end – It keeps me in touch with just what I do know, and what I need to not forget! Pass the word – It’s painless, thought-provoking, free, fast, and all in the privacy and comfort of your own computer room!

Dear Andy,

I’ve just come back into Scouting (as an adult volunteer) after a long hiatus, and took a basic training course to get up to speed. One of the trainers was a guy who, on his permanent, plastic name badge, under his name, had “The Evil One” embossed onto it. He proceeded to tell us how he’s his council’s “watchdog” and how he disagrees with lots and lots of the policies “from ‘national’.” As the training proceeded, he revealed himself to be one of the most pompous, arrogant, negative-thinking, insensitive people I’ve ever met–anywhere! A classic “legend in his own mind”! How the heck can the BSA survive with jerks like this, and how the heck does a council’s training team justify letting a guy like this loose on newly recruited volunteers? (D.H., Northeast Region)

You’ve just asked two “million-dollar questions”! And, believe me, I wish I had a really good answer for you. In the first place, “evil,” as a concept, has no place in Scouting. Plus, if you’re a trainer, you’re expected to deliver the “global” message of Scouting – aims, methods, program, policies, and procedures – without adding your own little “personal touches” to the message. Finally, pontificating has no place in training – anywhere! So, you obviously ran into a (how did you put it?) jerk. Yes, the training team should probably have bounced him years ago. But some training teams are of the mentality that “well, he ain’t any good, but he’s all we’ve got.” This is just as dumb, because it ultimately loses more volunteers than it gains, and some folks will actually buy into this sort of negativism and (ouch!) perpetuate it. And here’s what’s even worse — If you make it your mission to bring this to the attention of the training folks, you will be made the pariah; not the jerk! (I’ve never been able to figure out why this happens; I just know that it does!) So, even though you didn’t ask for “advice” I’m going to dispense it anyway: Try to forget this guy, and just do your own Scouting job the very best you can. Some people are just born jerks; others have to work real hard at it. It’s a credit to Scouting’s fundamentals that, even with our share of self-important curmudgeons like this, we keep moving forward!

Dear Andy,

I’m a fairly new District Executive in a council I’d better not name (you’ll see why in a minute). I’ve just been appointed Staff Advisor on a pretty important council committee, and I’m having a problem a volunteer on that committee – I’ll call her “Betty.” Betty volunteered to write a promotional flyer, but no matter what I tell her about the job she’s doing, she insists on doing it her own way. I revised her final draft, so she could see that there’s a better way to do what’s needed, but Betty changed it back again. Then, she went behind my back and had the flyer printed without my final approval. What can I do to get her to see that she’s got to be more of a team player or this just isn’t going to work out? (L.D., D.E.)

Hmmm… I’m wondering who the “team player” is here, and who isn’t. Let’s see… “Betty” first agreed to serve on the council committee, she volunteered to develop an important promotional piece, and then she did the job! Pretty impressive! Sounds like a team player to me! Then there’s you… You have a volunteer who’s doing the job, but you start getting in the way, sharing your “infinite wisdom” with her, and then actually re-doing what she committed to complete, and did, and now you’re wondering who’s not a team player? Look at it this way: You can do the job you were hired to do, or you can do what the volunteers are supposed to be doing…which one are you being paid those big bucks for? When volunteers step up to the plate, there’s only one thing a council employee should do: GET OUT OF THE WAY. If you don’t, pretty soon the only sound you’ll be hearing is yourself, soloing.

Dear Andy,

I’m a new Tiger Cubs Leader and have been searching the net for simple ideas to teach them a flag ceremony. I’ve found one, but I don’t understand the meaning of the word “two” after the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve seen this in several different flag ceremonies. Would you please explain this to me? Thank You! (Carol Zahn, Pack 164, Wheatland District, Coronado Council, Quinter, Kansas.)

Here’s good news, Carol – It’s simply an abbreviation. “Two” simply means, “OK, y’all can put your hands down now.” Before we say the Pledge of Allegiance, one of the Tiger Cubs will say, “Salute,” and all will do so. Then, on completion of the Pledge, he says, “Two,” and everyone drops their hands to their sides again. Mystery solved!

Dear Andy,

We are having some serious issues that need resolved in our pack. We have 25 Cub Scouts in our Pack, and we have a brand new Cubmaster who is also a Den Leader. But there have been some behind the scenes discussions about removing her, because of what some consider poor performance. Four different dads were asked to become the Cubmaster; they all refused. Now, the committee chair has decided to forcefully remove our present Cubmaster and reinstate the one before – even though he had said that he’s “burned out” with Scouting. We’ve spoken to our District Executive, and his solution was to vote out the committee chair, instead. So, we did this, but now our council’s registrar has declared a “freeze” on any more leadership changes in the Pack. Meanwhile, our current Cubmaster has improved over the year, and our Pack program now has much more depth to it. My question is this: We want to keep our current Cubmaster, because she’s doing a pretty good job and also because the “old” one doesn’t want anything to do with any district or council activities. How do you remove a committee chair, when he’s also the chartered organization rep? If we lose our current Cubmaster, probably three-fourths of the Cubs will move to a different Pack, and the rest have said they’ll just quit, outright! I’ve looked on-line for some information that I can take to the council meeting to prove our points. I can’t find anything. Can you please offer a solution to this situation? (Name withheld to protect the innocent!)


Well, don’t we have a fine mess on our hands, here! First things first: YOU NEED HELP FROM YOUR COMMISSIONER! This is the best source of help for your Pack, because this is what Commissioners are here to do. Call your council service center and find out who your District Commissioner is, and then call and ask for a visit by a Commissioner who can help you folks. Now, let’s look at some of the issues…

You’ve got what seems to be a combination of “incest” and “if I win, you lose” mentalities going on here. So, let’s get a few things straight. First, being a Den Leader and Cubmaster is a really not-so-hot idea. These two Scouting “jobs” get in the way of one another, not only at committee meetings but, more importantly, at the Pack meetings themselves. So, your Den Leader-cum-Cubmaster needs to make a choice – one or the other, but not both. I hope she’ll stay on as Den Leader, because Cubmaster should be a “no-brainer” to fill! This is the very best job in Scouting because, essentially, the job is that of being Master of Ceremonies at Pack meetings, and little else! So, revisit the best candidate among the dads you’ve spoken with, tell him “you’re our first choice,” and encourage him to take the job for this school year only. Assuming monthly Pack meetings, this means he only has to “do his job” eight or nine times between now and next June, and then he’s off the hook!

Next, the same applies to your chair-cum-chartered organization rep: pick one job, and relinquish the other. Or, if need be, the committee can vote to elect a new chair, and that’s that. A simple majority of registered committee members (not just parents, and not Den Leaders – committee members!) at any committee meeting will do the job, so long as you have someone who has already said they’ll step up to the plate on the same night that this is done. With the kind of parent participation you have already, both of these changes should be fairly easy to accomplish – The “pitch” is this: “You already show up at all the meetings anyway, so taking on a specific role isn’t really increasing your time commitment! by much!”

Now, let’s tackle “council involvement.” The council doesn’t “own” the Pack – the school does. The school is the chartered organization. So, the council can’t really “refuse” to change registration designations – it’s their job to deal with the paperwork.

Finally, let’s talk about “attitudes.” If we try to “prove” our points, no one wins and there’s a good chance that the boys will lose – and you sure don’t want that to happen! But, through all of this, I’m suspecting that an underlying cause of this rancor might be that no one’s gone to Cub Scout Leader Training! If you good people all go to the very next training session, and you all “catch the vision” at the same time, I’ll bet you’ll come away saying to yourselves, “We can work this out, now that we better understand the program and our roles in it.” So, get the parents trained – even if they don’t have specific roles in the Pack right now – and get a Commissioner to help you sort stuff out and keep you all from butting heads. Good luck! You CAN do it!

Dear Andy,

Can leaders that are teaching a merit badge, sign the blue card of their own child? I can’t find anyone who knows for sure if this against BSA rules. (Mike and Dawn Gay)

Yup, Merit Badge Counselors aren’t restricted in any way – they can counsel relatives, including sons, nephews, and so forth. If anyone should “challenge” you on this point, tell ’em it’s right in the BSA Advancement Committee Policies & Procedures book, on page 13: “An approved Merit Badge Counselor may counsel any youth member, including his or her own son, ward, or relative.” That said, the Merit Badge Counselor must certainly be registered as such with the council, and will want to adhere to the “Buddy System” in all cases.

Dear Andy,

A question has come up about our Troop equipment. We own canoes, canoe trailers, stoves, tents etc. Our Troop sponsor (a self-insured church), says we are not covered by their policy. In fact, when the issue, arose they required a copy of the BSA policy, and as a result, we wrote to National’s carrier, Liberty Mutual, in Irving, Texas, but got no response. I researched this as best I could, but got nowhere. I’m confident there’s a rule, regulation or policy on this issue, but I can’t find it. Help! Thanks! (Steve McCabe, Committee Chair, Troop 73, Patriots’ Path Council, Westfield, NJ.)

Well, Steve, you sure threw me a doozie! But, I have some answers for you, after doing some research and some reaching out. Here we go…First off, your equipment is NOT insured by the BSA. And it won’t be, for good reason: The BSA doesn’t own it; the church that sponsors you does. So, you might want to talk to the church folks again, and point out to them that, just as they “own” the Troop they sponsor, they also own all of the Troop’s equipment, and they might want to be sure the stuff is covered under whatever policy or plan they’re carrying for themselves. That said, here are some other avenues I’ve explored…

It’s probably pointless to try to get a “rider” for the stuff on the existing homeowner’s policy of, say, one of the committee members, because the equipment has to be “under the care, custody, and control” of the policyholder. So, that’s probably a dead end. You might want to try “donating” the equipment to your council, and then they, in turn, “ask” you to store it for them, which would put the stuff under the same policy as the council’s summer camp equipment. But this is pretty tricky to work out and it’s probably unlikely that you can “sell” the idea because it could open a huge can of worms if other units start wanting to do this, too. So, here’s what might be your final option…

Contact an independent insurance agent (see if someone associated with the Troop right now is, or knows, an independent agent). Ask about what’s called an INLAND MARINE POLICY (sometimes called a “floater”). This kind of policy insures exactly the kind of equipment you have. It insures against “disaster” (e.g., the place where you store the stuff is flooded, or burns up) but not against normal wear and tear. You’d make an inventory list, including age of each item, and approximate value. This is what would be listed in the policy, and if a substantial portion of it is damaged or lost, it can be replaced (for instance, if someone backs the canoe trailer off a cliff with all the canoes still on it), but not necessarily if a single item is damaged. For instance, if couple of Scouts run a canoe up on a bunch of rocks and they put a hole in it, that’s a “repair” situation; not replacement. You’re probably looking at a minimum annual premium somewhere in the $350 to $500 range, and a deductible of $500 (or possibly more). So, what you have to weigh is the total actual value of the equipment versus the premium versus the direct cost of replacement. You’ve asked a great question, that I’m betting lots of folks will be interested in, so thanks for asking, and keep on asking!

Dear Andy,

What would you recommend to a unit commissioner of a unit like the one that’s run by the “worlds oldest patrol leader”. The Scoutmaster refuses to get training because he has seen and done it all and continues to run the troop that in no way looks like the BSA says it should. Unfortunately we have all seen too many of cases like these. What does the Unit Commissioner do when the troop committee, chartered organization rep, and institutional head are all afraid to do anything??? (Ray O’Neill, Unit Commissioner, East Carolina Council, New Bern, NC.)
Well, Ray, I’m guessing you mean something other than shooting him? Even though that’s my first choice, I guess we commissioners can’t go running around like vigilantes, and that’s probably a good thing! The kind of Scoutmaster you’ve described is also usually a “one-man band,” and that’s one of the key reasons the committee and parents are afraid – they think whoever takes the job next will have to do the whole job, and they just don’t know (yet!) that – broken into parts – the jobs of running a Troop aren’t all that burdensome. Here’s the “recipe”…

Your first job is to get the committee and parents to a point where they can see what a Scout Troop should really be like, when it’s run the way the program was designed to run. Disregard the Scoutmaster – you’re not going to “convert” him – and concentrate on the parents. Set up a separate meeting with them, and personally show them the BS “Fast-Start” tape (have your district’s Boy Scout Leader Trainer with you, if possible). To recruit parents for the meeting, tell them, “This is an important meeting that has to do with your son’s future in Scouting, and you really need to be there – it’s a one hour meeting and that’s all.” Show them the portions of the tape that concentrate on (a) what the parents and committee do and (b) what the Scoutmaster does, but really emphasize what the Scouts themselves are supposed to be doing. Do this in no more than one-third of the total meeting time – about 20 minutes. Then, after the tape, pose this question: “If your son were signed up to play on a Little League team, and you went to a practice and saw that they were playing Water Polo, how would you feel?…Well, that’s exactly what’s happening here: The Troop ‘looks’ like Boy Scouts, because the boys wear uniforms, and there’s a Scoutmaster, but that’s where the similarity ends!” Then, read from some passages that you’ve pre-marked in the Boy Scout Handbook… You know, the sections about how the Scouts elect Patrol Leaders, and plan their own activities, and teach themselves new skills, and so on. Then tell the parents this: “The Troop isn’t delivering what your sons have been promised and it’s up to YOU ALL to make it right, and if you don’t you’ll have no one to criticize but yourselves.”

Then, take out a set of pre-written cards, each one with a title and brief set of responsibilities on it, like this (the job descriptions here are ones I’m making up on the spot – make up your own, to fit the situation)…

– Scoutmaster: Helps the Patrol Leaders plan the Troop’s program, and is available at Troop meetings to guide the boy leaders.

– Committee Chair: Recruits, organizes and manages the Troop’s parents, to support the program of activities that the Scouts in the Troop have planned. – Transportation Parent(s): Drive to and from up to two outings per year, and organize other parents to do the same.

– Treasurer: Manages the dues, keeps records of payments, re-charters the Troop annually.

– Snack parent(s): Provides snacks and drinks for after each Troop Court of Honor (reimbursed by Treasurer).

– And so on… jobs big, jobs small.

Put the cards on the table, and let the parents choose their jobs, with this admonition: “All cards must be picked up…Those that aren’t will be given to parents without cards…The smart thing to do is to choose the job you think you’d like and feel you can handle, rather than being ‘assigned’ a job.” When all cards – including Scoutmaster! – are taken, assure the parents that they’ve done the right thing. Then, have them schedule a meeting with themselves and the current Scoutmaster (this meeting should be scheduled no more than a week away, so that the new momentum doesn’t evaporate).

Give the parents an “assignment” before they depart: “READ YOUR SON’S SCOUT HANDBOOK — ESPECIALLY THE PARTS IN THE FRONT ABOUT WHAT HE CAN EXPECT IN AND FROM HIS TROOP!”

At the meeting with the Scoutmaster, he’s given this offer (preferably by the parent who has chosen the “Committee Chair” card): “We need for this Troop to deliver the Scouting program as it’s written. This includes all meetings run by the Senior Patrol Leader, who is elected; permanent Patrols and elected Patrol Leaders; parents attending Troop outings; rank advancement instructions, by the Scouts, inside each Troop meeting; and the Scoutmaster acting as advisor to the Scouts only, from the background and not out in front of the Troop at every meeting…(add others to fit your situation). We’re hoping you’re willing to do this.”

If he runs true to form, the Scoutmaster will launch into a speech about how long he’s been running the Troop “his” way, how “successful” it’s been, how “grateful” these parents should be, and so on. At some point – give him a little time to “vent”! – he’ll need to be reined in and told, very directly: “Yes, we appreciate all of that, but it’s time for a change, and we’ve described the changes we’d like to see. Are you willing to make these changes?” When he says (directly or indirectly), “No,” then it’s time to ask him for his resignation. Period. When he says, “YOU can’t ‘fire’ me,” the parents’ response MUST be: “Yes, we can…Your tenure has come to an end, and we are appointing a new Scoutmaster. We’re grateful for your dedication, but now is the time for a change. We’d like this to be graceful.” (This is where you’ve already laid the groundwork with the sponsoring organization, and have their approval in advance for the committee to make this change – and their firm promise to endorse it without wavering or repudiating the committee’s decision!)

The final step is this: At the very beginning of the very next Troop meeting, the Committee Chair announces the change to the Troop and all parents attending, presents the “old” Scoutmaster with a plaque thanking him for his dedication, and introduces the newly appointed Scoutmaster. The very beginning usually works best, but this can be done in the middle or at the end – the important thing is: DO IT! (Wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your District Commissioner with you that night, so you both can support the parents – and also for “riot control” if necessary.)

Ray, this is unquestionably one of the more challenging tasks in all of commissioner work, and it will tap all your skills of diplomacy, tack, forthrightness and direction-setting. But it’s critical to the life of the movement – It’s ultimately the only way we can deliver a quality Scouting program to the boys in our charge!

A final thought: Just as Scouting provides an environment for self-empowerment to our sons, your job as commissioner is to provide a similar environment to these parents of the units in your care.

Hey Andy,

The theme of a “Scoutmaster who’s overstaying his welcome” seems to come up a lot, whether in your column or in my district. I know that, in our district-level positions, people take on leadership roles (District Commissioner, District Chairman, Training Chair, etc.) for 3 years, but they’re elected or re-elected each year. This seems to allow for the opportunity to replace someone who is not measuring up or just needs to go instead of riding it out for 3 years until their term is up. Is there any national policy on when unit committees are supposed to be reviewing or re-electing positions like Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Committee Chair, and so on, or is the timing of when they do this up to each committee? So many seem to think the Scoutmaster position is like being appointed to the Supreme Court: ”Till death do us part.” Thanks. (Michael O’Donnell, Assistant District Commissioner, Gravois Trail District, Greater Saint Louis Area Council, Missouri.)

Unfortunately, Mike, this same practice hasn’t been adopted at the unit level, and we do have both Scoutmasters and a few Cubmasters (and unit committees!) who think this is a “job-for-life.” Part of the problem, of course, is that it’s often not easy to recruit someone who will do the job, and – once found – the parents and committee are often afraid to institute a change, because the job is perceived as very time-consuming and burdensome. The trick for us commissioners is to let the parents and committees know (directly or indirectly) that, as Mark Twain might have put it, Scoutmasters and diapers need to be changed regularly, and for the same reason.

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question or problem? Got an idea that will help others? Send an email to AskAndyBSA@yahoo.com – be sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!

(October 2003)

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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.

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