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Issue 273 – October 23, 2011

Rule No. 36:

  • Any Commissioner who believes Commissioners out-rank unit leaders should be immediately taken outside and shot.

Rule No. 37:

  • Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water; the remainder is covered by FOS chairs and Popcorn colonels.

Dear Andy,

On the subject of pets on a Scout camping trip I’d like to offer a comment on my personal experience. Many years ago when I was a young and inexperienced Scoutmaster, an ASM asked if he could bring his dog on a trip. Against my better judgment I consented. That particular dog was extremely well-behaved and we didn’t have a problem with him, but it set a bad example. Some years later another ASM came on board and, probably assumingit would be OK, just brought his dog without asking. I couldn’t refuse him, since the other ASM (who was still involved with the troop) was still bringing his dog along (although that dog wasn’t there when the incident I’m about to relate occurred.

The second dog was not at all comfortable in the woods and cried most of the time. And while he didn’t get into a fight with a raccoon, he did tangle with a porcupine. With four quills in his snout, the vet bills, I was later told,were astronomical—in the thousands of dollars, in fact.

Bottom line: A troop leader is responsible for Scouts; not their pets. After all, these aren’t hunting dogs but family pets. Moral of the story: Leave Bowser home. (Stephen Sassi)

Got that right! And here’s a further consideration: “Hunting dogs” (pointers, setters, retrievers, flushers, terriers, curs, hounds, etc.) don’t belong on Scout outings either, because their training and/or instincts can lead to more mischief than Scouts or their Scoutmaster should have to deal with… worse than Aunt Amy’s Shih-Tzu! If Tommy Tenderfoot wants to go camping with Sparky, he can do that with his family; not his patrol.

Dear Andy,

What’s the Unit Commissioner role vis-à-vis a unit’s committee? We have a UC sitting on our committee, who tends to beat the committee over the head with stuff like “BSA National policy is ‘X’ so you can’t do more/less than ‘X’.” As I consider it, she’s acting like a “BSA Bully” and it’s affecting detrimentally the way our committee is trying to effectively operate. Her points about “policy” are fundamentally unnecessary because we diligently check national policy before creating our own. So should or shouldn’t Unit Commissioners be permitted to be part of a troop committee, regardless of whether they “play well with others”? My understanding is that a UC is supposed to be an impartial outside resource, providing advice and guidance to the troop, which means that it’s kind of hard to wear an “outside observer” hat when you’re “inside” the organization. But I can’t find any written guidance either way on this question. If you can point me in the right direction, I’d be most appreciative. (Committee Member’s Name & Council Withheld)

Your question’s not easy to answer directly because some key bits of information are missing, including whether or not this Commissioner is also a registered member of your troop’s committee and what “X” actually stands for. So here are some general policies and information that may help you until someone can tell me what’s really going on…

The BSA explicitly stipulates that no Commissioner may be concurrently registered as a Unit Leader (e.g., Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, etc.); however the BSA doesn’t prohibit a Commissioner from concurrently being registered as a unit committee member.

It’s a general principle across most councils (although not an actual BSA policy) that a Unit Commissioner isn’t assigned to a Scouting unit in which he or she is concurrently registered. (The reason is simple: It’s too difficult to tell which “hat” the person is wearing, when he or she speaks.) Nowhere in BSA publications does it state that a Unit Commissioner is a direct or even ex officio member of the committee of the unit he or she is serving. That said, it would be discourteous as well as detrimental to the unit for it to not invite its Unit Commissioner to attend occasional committee meetings as well as unit meetings, so that advice and counsel may be sought and questions answered (or answers obtained as follow-up)—The Commissioner is there to serve the unit, as a diplomat and ambassador of the district, council and BSA as a whole. But it’s equally unnecessary for a UC to show up for every single committee (or even unit) meeting.

Unit Commissioners are charged with the responsibility to assist the units they serve in delivering a quality Scouting program to the youth members of the unit; however, no Unit Commissioner has direct authority over a unit or its adult or youth members. Such authority is specifically reserved for the chartered organization, its executive officer, and Chartered Organization Representative.

The “tools” of the Unit Commissioner are three: Knowledge, caring, and diplomacy. On the idea of creating “unit rules,” unit “bylaws” per se are actually unnecessary because the BSA already provides all of the bylaws and policies needed to administer a Scouting unit correctly and deliver a Scouting program of quality in accordance with the program provided by the BSA.

If you need more specific information than this, just respond more specifically and I’ll see if I can help further.

Thanks. You gave me lots of good information. What we’re getting is stuff like “I’m a Commissioner and therefore speaking for the BSA, and I’m also a committee member, so you should be doing what I tell you.”

Let me go to your statement that nowhere does the BSA state that a Unit Commissioner is a direct or even ex officio member of the committee of the unit he or she is serving. In light of that, it would seem that we could “invite her off” the committee, while still extending an offer for her to attend any of the committee meetings she wishes to—just not as a committee member. Would that be reasonable?

With respect to your comments about bylaws, I’d say we’re looking more to the mechanics of running the program, rather than actual policy issues: Details such as stating when the health forms should be provided, and what repercussions there might be if these forms aren’t turned in, is perhaps a good example of what we’re trying to get down on paper.

I should note that I spent some time in the Cub Scout leadership ranks, and have been on the troop committee for about a year. As everyone else in scouting is attempting to do, I’d just like to help the troop keep things running as smoothly as possible. I’d guess that you get many questions from newbies like me, and want you to know that I truly appreciate your taking the time to help me out here! (MC)

There are actually two options available here. The first is as you stated: The Committee Chair has the authority (especially if this person is also the Chartered Organization Representative–the only place where a single adult volunteer may be “double-registered” in the same unit) to request this lady’s resignation from the committee (or remove her if a resignation isn’t forthcoming), so that there is singular clarity regarding her role vis-à-vis the troop. The second option is to request of the District Commissioner that she be replaced by an alternative Unit Commissioner, so that she can function within the troop purely as a committee member. The choice is the troop’s; however, if indeed this is a case of “bullying,” then the second option is the better one, because if the bullying continues after the second option is in place, then the first option can be employed to eliminate all controversy and still have the services of an “outside” Unit Commissioner.

Regarding such things as completing and turning in health forms, “repercussions” need not be elaborated on because the essence of this is that sans health forms the Scout simply doesn’t get to participate in outings–and that’s a no-brainer. (The idea here is to stay away from finger-wagging and straightforwardly let parents know what’s expected while conveying the attitude that cooperation won’t be withheld. In other words, stay with the positive and be sure to avoid chastising Scouts for the actions or inactions of their parents.)

Final thought (for the moment)… Have all of your committee members participated in “The Troop Committee Challenge” training course? If not, doing this will make a lot of this little stuff go away!

All questions, big and small, are always welcome and there’s no such thing as a “dumb question”—This is precisely what I’ve been here for, for the past ten years. Keep ’em coming!

Hello Andy,

Some Scouts in my troop played in their school band at a community event, and they’re asking for service hour credit. I’m not trying to be a hard-you-know-what, but I’m denying the request for service hours for two reasons. First, I didn’t approve it up front (although I’d probably approve it, depending upon the answer to the next question). Second, I’m wondering, “Whose uniform were you wearing when you performed this service?” Any thoughts would be helpful. (See following email thread.) (Tim Yagley)

What I notice right off is that the dialog in the thread you provided is between you and a parent. I’ll bet things would be very different if you had a conversation with the Scouts themselves, and heard what they had to say about their experience, how they practiced to prepare for it, and what benefits to others they see coming from their efforts… In fact, at the back-end of that conversation, after you remind them that next time it would be a very good idea to check with you first, I’ll bet you’ll say OK and everyone will move on with a smile! Worth a try?

Hello Andy,

I’m informed that there’s a place where I can send a personal American flag that needs to be retired. Is there an address that I can send the flag to, for a proper ceremony? (Karen Hethcock-Parks, Chief Seattle Council, WA)

Did you know that American flags can be “retired” by their owners? That’s right… All you need do is sort of crumple it up and then place it on several layers of aluminum foil, on the ground, to which you’d then add a flammable (lighter fluid’s OK but NOT GASOLINE), and ignite it (carefully, of course). After it’s mostly burned up (may take several fluid “sprays”), let it cool and then fold up the foil with the remaining flag and chars inside, and dispose of as ordinarily. (The U.S. Flag Code simply states: “In a respectful manner.”)

Or, most American Legion and VFW posts will accept your flag and hold it till next Flag Day, at which time it will be “retired” with others, in a dignified manner. If there are no veterans’ posts nearby, I’m sure any Boy Scout troop in the neighborhood would be happy to assist you, as well. (Any search engine—”scout troop seattle” and then look for your neighborhood—should get you what you need.)

Hi Andy,

Straight-out question: Can a troop leader prohibit a registered Merit Badge Counselor from working with his son or nephew? (Ben Hale)

Straight-out answer: No. The BSA policy on this precise subject states that a Merit Badge Counselor may counsel a relative.

Dear Andy,

I’m the mother of a ten year old boy who just became a Boy Scout. My son thinks the world of his Scoutmaster, is excited about Scouting, and is learning a lot. But there’s been a falling out between the Scoutmaster and the troop’s chartered organization that has caused the troop to become dysfunctional. I saddens me and my son that the BSA would allow a chartered organization to treat a volunteer in manner of unbecoming of the Scout Oath and Law. Not to mention that at a recent board of review, they advanced a Scout to Eagle even though it was proven that he lied to the board members; but to save face they are allowing this Scout to continue on a project that was started before getting all the needed signatures. And now this wonderful Scoutmaster is being black-balled (but he’s been told he can be an ASM). So apparently this is not a conduct issue but a personal issue by someone at the Boy Scout Council. I’d like to know who to speak with about this. I feel this Scoutmaster’s integrity has been ruined by the wrongdoing of those who claim to be “for the boys.” (Name & Council Withheld)

The fundamental issue here is that, because the sponsoring organization literally owns the troop (the BSA doesn’t own it and neither does the local council), that sponsor has ultimate control over who the adult volunteers for the troop will be, and won’t be, and the local council has no authority over the sponsor’s decisions.

If you, and other parents, are in disagreement with how the sponsor is managing the troop and its volunteers, give a phone call to the Scout Executive of your council and all of you go and visit with him personally, to state your case and ask what you all might do to make a change for the positive. This is in-person… Email won’t work. And the bigger the group of parents, the better.

Dear Andy and All,

First, thank you for your website with all ofitsfacets. It’s truly an invaluable resource for those of us seeking additional insight on the better ways to develop and implement the best possible Scouting program (the “wheel” has already been invented; no need to figure it all out independently).

A topic that our troop’s Scoutmaster and I have been debating has to do with rectifying the advancement requirements for Star and Life ranks—specifically leadership tenure—and defining the term length for the Senior Patrol Leader position and how that would be implemented in our troop.

The Scoutmaster’s position is that the SPL position must be a 12-month tenure, so as to allow the Scout to become a fully trained, developed, and effective youth leader. On the other hand, I’m advocating a 6-month term, with the rule that when the SPL met the leadership tenure requirement for his rank the troop would have the option to hold another election (to see if another Scout would want a turn at SPL). The election could be bypassed if no other Scout opted to stand for SPL, and the current SPL could also stand for re-election (he wouldn’t be limited to a single term, if he wanted more). We still haven’t resolved this issue, and I’m wondering if you have any specific thoughts on it. (Name & Council Withheld)

A good credo to follow is this: When in doubt, ask the Scout. Now let’s couple that thought with the realization that it’s the rare Scout indeed who’s elected by his entire troop to the Senior Patrol Leader position straight out of the gate. Senior Patrol Leaders have at least been Patrol Leaders and often have held at least one other of a variety of responsible positions, ranging from Troop Guide to Assistant Senior Patrol Leader. Thus it’s incredibly rare indeed to have a new SPL who’s never ever received any leadership training, counseling or coaching from his Scoutmaster. Plus, he’s had some opportunity to observe the SPL’s job from among the ranks, as it were. As a consequence of all this, the new SPL may need pre-briefing on his responsibilities and time commitment, but “learning how to lead” should have already happened over a several-year period by the time he’s elected SPL. But back to the bottom line: How about asking all past SPLs in the troop, and the Patrol Leaders Council as well, what their own viewpoints are, and then build the schedule around the Scouts’ insights and preferences instead of trying to use the “infinite wisdom” of “Old Goat Patrol” members? Yes, I’m deadly serious: Whether six months or a year, how about we let the Scouts provide the most important input, since—let’s face it—the Scouts themselves are truly the ultimate “volunteers” (Never lose sight of the cold fact that if they don’t like what’s going on, they’re outa here in a New York minute!).

Hi Andy,

I want my Wolf den to participate in the World Conservation Award. I know the BSA has requirements that are mapped out in the handbook; my question is about the project. Can I have the Cubs volunteer at a local animal shelter? I was also thinking about having them adopt a wild animal, sponsor and learn about it during the whole year, track its progress, visit an aquarium and give a final report in about six months. Are these activities appropriate? (Dorene Henebry)

Tell you what… You’re the Den Leader and you have the requirements right in front of you. Take a good look and see if what you have in mind fits. If you’re unsure, check with your Cubmaster and Committee Chair, and if they’re unsure then bring it up at your next district Roundtable! That’s precisely what these resources are for!

I’m a teacher, and I don’t expect my students to do more work than they can handle,but I’d love for them to reach a little further. The same goes for the Wolf Cubs. I don’t know where you’re based; I’m in the Northeast. For the requirements of this award, many of the things we can’t do until the weather turns warm again. Fishing and planting gardens are just not an option right now. That’s why I want to develop the project. The Cubs can work on that now, and by the time the weather is warmer, they can work towards the other requirements. Thanks again for your help. (Dorene)

I’m very familiar with weather and climate in the Northeast. How about just waiting till next Spring, and over the fall and winter the boys can earn their Wolf badges and then a ton of arrow points!

Hi Andy,

Love your columns! Thanks to you, several of us left a problem troop and started a new one. Now I have two questions about boards of review that I hope you can help us with. Since we’re a new Troop, only a few months old, we have just a few Scouts, three committee members, a Scoutmaster, and two ASMs. After summer camp, all the Scouts were ready to have their boards of review. We all took our training, so we knew not to re-test, keep the reviews to about ten minutes, and ask very basic questions of these new Scouts. So we wrote out a few questions to be used on all the Scouts. They had separate reviews, but the questions were the same for each of them. That worked great for them and us, so we decided that we’d do that again for the next rank, but of course using different questions than the first time. When I went online to look for questions appropriate for Second Class, I found out we’d been doing the reviews wrong. It states that no parent can sit on a board of review. Well, we’re in trouble now, because there are only three of us on the committee at the moment and we’re all parents of the Scouts!

We have three new boys who have just joined, but their parents haven’t returned their volunteer applications to be committee members yet. At the same time, my own son’s due for his next board of review. What do we do? If I sit out, then there aren’t enough registered committee members to do a review; if I sit in, as we’ve been doing, wouldn’t that mean we’re knowingly not in compliance with BSA policy? We really want to do this the right way, especially since we know what the “wrong way” looks like! And I sure don’t want to penalize the Scouts as a result of our own shortcomings or further mistake. Any advice you can help us with would be wonderful!

If I can ask another question, does the rank advancement date fall on the date the Scout had his Scoutmaster conference, or on his board of review date? (When we did the last one they were on the same date, so no biggie there, but this one has different dates and we want to make sure the Scout’s correctly credited for his rank. (J.D., Hiawatha Seaway Council, NY)

First, yes, you’re definitely going to need to recruit more parents to help out on the troop committee, just to “get the job done”—administering a troop is a lot easier when there are many hands!

As far as the past is concerned, my own opinion is that this error is forgivable. There was no equivocation or evasion in mind on your part, and you meant no harm. Let what’s done stand, I’d say. Don’t rescind any rank already passed through a board of review, for the simple reason that we don’t “ding” Scouts for adults’ misunderstandings or mistakes.

As for having, at present, only three registered committee members, one of which (you) can’t sit on her own son’s board of review, you’re in luck (“Department of Timing Is Everything”)… The BSA has just published a significantly revised Guide To Advancement, which states:

“The board (of review) is made up of three to six unit committee members—no more and no less. In units with fewer than three registered committee members available to serve, it is permissible to use knowledgeable parents (not those of the candidate) or other adults (registered or not) who understand Boy Scouting’s aims.”

On your second question: The official date of rank advancement is the date of the board of review, always.

Dear Andy,

Is there a list of Eagle Scouts online, where I can check to see if someone is truly an Eagle Scout? (Name & Council Withheld)

Records of every Eagle Scout, starting with Arthur Rose Eldred in 1912, are kept in the BSA national office in Irving, Texas.

Dear Andy,

My question’s about a “year emblem” on our troop flag. We’re nearing our centennial. We have a 65 Year shield on our flag and I’d like to have it replaced to reflect our actual current year (or decade at least); however, I’ve never found where it came from originally. From what remains of it (it’s now about 30 year old), it does look “official,” and somewhere in the depths of our storage locker I’ve seen another, earlier, one that had been on the flag. Any help would be greatly appreciated. (Kenneth Fung, ASM, Boston Minuteman Council, MA)

Give a call to the BSA Supply Division: 1-800-323-0736.

Dear Andy,

Are there any statistics on Boy Scouts who started as Cubs, compared to those who joined Boy Scouts without having been in Cub Scouting? I’m asking because sometimes I get the feeling that we forget where our “recruits” come from.

I was discussing the Den Chief program with an ASM buddy and he kind of scoffed at his son getting any leadership training from being a Den Chief, compared to being a Patrol Leader or Senior Patrol Leader. Made me chuckle. I asked him how much more work he had to do as a Cub Scout leader relative to now, as a Boy Scout leader, and I saw the expression on his face change, as if he was recalling a bad car accident he’d been in, and then it changed to the old “light bulb” coming on. He actually admitted that he’d had to work so much more, and “got” what I was saying. His son hasn’t become a Den Chief yet, but I’m hoping it’s just a scheduling thing. (Bobby Taylor, Bay Area Council, TX)

The statistics I’ve heard are that over the past 20 or so years fully 80% of all Boy Scouts have come from Cub Scout packs.

As for Den Chief, it’s the toughest youth leadership position in Scouting IMHO because (1) the DC isn’t elected by his peers, (2) he takes direct orders from the Den Leader instead of being fully in charge, (3) he’s got a den of up to eight 8 to 10 year old boys bouncing off the walls every week, and (4) in addition to his own troop meetings he’s expected to show up on-time and in full uniform at up to four den meetings plus one pack meeting every month. Not even a Senior Patrol Leader (nor Scoutmaster, for that matter) has those sorts of demands on his time and energy!

Dear Andy,

Having sons on the trail to Eagle has urged several parents in our troop to look into the Eagle-required merit badges. A couple of parents have expressed concern about what they’re calling the “intrusiveness” of the Family Life and Personal Management merit badges. They like their privacy and don’t wish for their son to share the family’s financial information. One of the suggestions they made was to have different scenarios that the Scouts could go through–budgeting exercises, for lack of a better term. They feel this would help to open the Scout’s eyes to how tight some families’ finances are and how loose others are, which would help them in leadership positions throughout their lives. They also feel that it’s their own responsibility and not that of “some Merit Badge Counselor” to sign off on their son’s family project. (They do realize the family project will be good practice for their son’s pending Eagle project, and they’re not “helicopter parents,” so I know the Scout will do the work.) It sounds like they may not allow their sons to complete these merit badges as written, which in turn could mean no Eagle rank. After hearing their position, I tend to agree that they should have a right to their privacy. Your thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

I can appreciate these parents’ concerns. However, what their sons will be talking about with their Merit Badge Counselors is pretty “non-lethal” stuff. Luckily, you don’t need my thoughts, per se, because the BSA is perfectly clear. These parents need to be educated on five specific points…

1. In adherence to BSA policy, the Merit Badge Counselor will expect each requirement for a merit badge to be completed precisely as the requirement is written, without alteration.

2. The BSA has long stipulated that no requirements can be beefed up or watered down. Each requirement, whether for a rank or a merit badge, must be completed exactly per the language of the requirement.

3. The Family Life merit badge has been earned—as written—by no less than 950,000 Boy Scouts, to date.

4. Personal Management merit badge has been earned—as written—by over 1,600,000 Boy Scouts, to date.

5. If a parent forbids his or her son from discussing the topics described in the requirements for these merit badges, they will defeat that son’s opportunity to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, because the requirements cannot be altered and there are no “substitute” merit badges for either of these two.

This is absolutely matter-of-fact stuff. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to look them straight in the eye and read off these five points. (Be sure to further point out thatthese points aren’t my “opinion”–they’re BSA stipulations and policies.)

So the bottom line is just as you stated: Ducking these two merit badges mean no Eagle.

I think they’re hoping that the BSA updates the requirements prior to when their son needs to complete them. Apparently there’s an issue between them and the Scoutmaster. I know you consistently recommend face-to-face discussions rather than emails, but this is one situation where I think an email by the Scoutmaster to simply acknowledge receipt of some of theirs (first from their son the Scout and then a week or so later from the parents themselves) and to suggest discussing the issue before or after an upcoming meeting would have been the courteous thing to do. As it is, they feel the Scoutmaster is ignoring them. A follow-up email by the Scoutmaster to summarize the parents’ point of view would give both the Scout and his parents a chance to clarify. In this instance, a follow-up email would have helped greatly, since the Scoutmaster apparently still didn’t understand their position. I will suggest that the Scout find another Merit Badge Counselor, outside of the troop, and then hope the parents don’t pull him from the troop or Scouting completely, because the Scout is now disillusioned about the way the issue was handled. My hope is that they’ll stay with the troop, but that’s doubtful unless the Scoutmaster makes an effort to rectify the situation. (N&CW)

OK, let’s take this in order…

While the BSA does update requirements from time to time, if these people decide to wait, they may ultimately keep their own son (or sons—tough to tell here) from earning Star, Life, and Eagle ranks. That’s their decision, of course, but I’m obliged to offer my own opinion here: That’s a really dumb idea and it’s going to back-fire later in life when it the eggs can never be un-broken.

Besides, it’s sort of obvious now that we’re talking about one set of parents and one or maybe two sons, and the parents are definitely bullies (and maybe the sons are, too, or they’re being bullied by their parents, as well). So the first thing these bullies need to be told is that the BSA doesn’t bend requirements and the second thing is that this has nothing to do with the Scoutmaster—stop trying to pin this on a Scoutmaster who’s correctly chosen to not dance to the tune of bullies. It’s now time for the Committee Chair to step up to the plate and end this dust-up.(That’s one of the CC’s responsibilities, BTW.)

If these parents weren’t bullies, they’d have themselves initiated a direct conversation with the troop’s leaders, instead of issuing some sort of manifesto (that blew back in their faces, thanks to a Scoutmaster with some chutzpah!).

Finally, let’s not talk about how the Scoutmaster’s caused a Scout (or two) to become “disillusioned.” They did that all by their little ol’ selves.

It’s time for folks to start walking tall around here.

Happy Scouting!



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October 23, 2011 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2011)

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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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