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Issue 309 – May 18, 2012

Rule No. 76:
• You can tell some Scoutmasters there are four billion stars in the universe and he believes you, but tell him the Senior Patrol Leader is supposed to be running the troop meeting and he looks at you like you’ve just had frogs leap out of your mouth.
Dear Andy,

As a young Assistant Scoutmaster, I’d like to thank you for sharing your Scouting wisdom. It has really helped me become a better leader! I’ve seen your “rules” at the tops of your columns, and I’d like to know if these are in a special file or column, so I can read them from the beginning. Thanks. (Mike Piskunov, Narragansett Council, RI)

Sneaky devil that I am, I’ve salted these into a whole bunch of columns, to encourage folks to read the archived issues. Maybe a compilation some day, but not yet…
Hi Andy,

In your May 11th column there was a message from a young Scouter who felt he might be too young to be a Commissioner. This is for him…

I became a Unit Commissioner at age 25 and I found that I loved it because I got to do so much in the Scouting movement. I became a friend to leaders of units (and to the Scouts as byproducts) I served, and I became the “go-to” resource for them to call on. So, no matter how much experience you have or don’t have, don’t worry. If you’re not an expert in something that they need, you’ll know who to talk to, to get the answer! The best advice I can give is to be willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find someone who does,” when you run across something that’s new to you. I’ve been doing that now for the past two years, and I found out last month that I was being honored with our District’s “Distinguished Leadership Citation” for giving outstanding service. (I told my District Commissioner that I didn’t want it, that I hadn’t been doing this long enough– He told me to shut up, smile, and be gracious in accepting it!) The real kernel of it all is this: As long as you’re willing to help, you’re never too young to be taken seriously. Get on the Commissioner staff of your district, put that Eagle knot on your uniform (it’ll say volumes to people without you having to say a word— It means you’ve been through the program and want to help it), and get out and help everyone you can! (Chris Snider, UC, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Thanks! And here’s more…

Dear Andy,

I agree with your recommendation to that 25 year-old Eagle Scout returning to Scouting as a Unit Commissioner. I’m a Unit Commissioner for two Cub Scout packs and I find it a very satisfying experience. The young man stated some concerns about his experience and knowledge relative to the “older guys” who generally make up the Commissioner community. I’d assure him that his experience with Boy Scouting exceeds mine (I earned Tenderfoot). Then when my son dropped out of Scouting a few months after bridging from Webelos last year, I was having too much fun with the program to leave along with him. My experience was five years as a leader in the Cub Scouting program and I felt that I could help new leaders make a better program for their packs. This Eagle Scout should attend Commissioner College to learn the responsibilities of a UC, then talk to his District Commissioner to find a troop (or troops) where he’d be a good fit. I think he’d be an inspiration and role model. (Steve Erwin, UC, Longhorn Council, TX)

Thanks to you both! Give me ten Commissioners with spirits like yours and we can help bolster Scouting across the country!
Dear Andy,

I have some questions regarding a troop’s Patrol Leaders’ Council (aka “PLC”). The Current SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK informs us that the PLC consists of the Senior Patrol Leader, Patrol Leaders, and Troop Guides—the Senior Patrol Leader chairs PLC meetings while the Scoutmaster attends as a “coach and information resource” and is the only adult in the PLC meeting. But I’m aware of a few troops in our district who expand their PLC meetings to include all Scouts with position badges on their left sleeves (Scribe, Librarian, Webmaster, Quartermaster, Instructor, etc., etc.) and even Assistant Scoutmasters and troop committee members. Some even include non-registered parents. One of the consequences of meetings like these is that the adult(s) often can’t confine themselves to the role of “coach and information resource,” taking much more active roles in PLC meetings. In some cases, this expanded PLC is called a “Troop Leaders’ Council”. I’ve searched and that term doesn’t return any citations there, so it may be a safe bet that “TLC” may be a locally-grown myth.

There are even some conflicting statements within the BSA’s publications’ for instance, the MANUAL FOR CHAPLAIN AIDES & CHAPLAINS states: “The chaplain aide should…participate in Patrol Leaders’ Council planning sessions to ensure that spiritual emphasis is included in troop activities.”

I can think of at least two reasons why an “expanded” Troop Leaders’ Council arrangement should be avoided. First, it’s simply not part of the BSA program. Second, even if it were, it puts an unwieldy number of people in the room. However, when I’ve been in conversations with Scoutmasters about “expanded TLCs,” I often get responses like, “We want all of our leaders to participate in program planning,” “We’ve always done it this way,” and even “So what? The more the merrier!”

Your thoughts on “expanded” PLCs/TLCs would be appreciated. And, related to this, can you give a few of your always-helpful hints on how to strengthen a PLC so that it contributes significantly to the “Boy-Led Troop” principle, which is, after all, the very core of Boy Scouting? (Name & Council Withheld)

Tall order here, but not insurmountable. However, to get to your key questions, we need to thread a few needles, first. Let’s start with the term, “Troop Leaders’ Council.” A bit of research into this tells us that the term itself isn’t a “local myth.” In fact, it comes straight from the BSA! The first HANDBOOK FOR PATROL LEADERS, published from 1927 through 1945, uses the term, “Troop Leaders’ Council.” So does the HANDBOOK FOR SCOUTMASTERS, published in 1947 and with many subsequent virtually unaltered editions. However, at the same time, the HANDBOOK FOR BOYS, Third Edition (1927-1940), uses the term, “Patrol Leaders Council.”

(Note 1: Prior to 1927 Boy Scout troops in the U.S. were structured per the British troop model, which was considerably different, at that time, from what we’re familiar with today. Prior to 1927 the position of Senior Patrol Leader was a rare option and Patrol Leaders reported directly to nationally-commissioned Scoutmasters. When the BSA’s troop structure was changed permanently in 1927, the Senior Patrol Leader position became the standard in all troops, as did his direct leading of the Patrol Leaders and chairing their meetings, while the Scoutmaster now took on the role of mentor to these youth leaders instead of hands-on leader of the entire troop and its patrols.)

Continuing our journey, “Patrol Leaders’ Council” continued to be used in the Fourth Edition (1940-47) of the HANDBOOK FOR BOYS, but was changed to “Troop Leaders’ Council” in the Fifth Edition (1948-59), except that, by the Sixth Printing of that edition (beginning in 1953), the term had changed back again, to “Patrol Leaders’ Council.”

In 1961 the entirely rewritten Sixth Edition, changed names to become the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, and “Patrol Leaders’ Council” remained intact through 1964 and on into the Seventh Edition (1965-71). But, in 1972, in another major rewrite, the Eighth Edition of the now-called SCOUT HANDBOOK switched back to “Troop Leaders’ Council.” It stayed “TLC” till the Ninth Edition in 1979, when yet another entirely new re-write, this time by William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, changed the title to THE OFFICIAL BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK and returned the TLC to “Patrol Leaders’ Council” for the next eleven years. The Tenth Edition (1990-98) retained “Patrol Leaders’ Council,” as did the Eleventh Edition (1998-2009), and the Twelfth (2009-).

This little journey tells us several things. The first thing we observe is that the last time “Troop Leaders Council,” or “TLC,” was used was no less than 34 years ago. The second is that, throughout the past 85 years, the BSA has used these two terms interchangeably to mean precisely the same thing. There is absolutely no difference whatsoever as to what they each and both meant: A “Troop Leaders’ Council” and a “Patrol Leaders’ Council” each identically consists of a troop’s Patrol Leaders, led by their Senior Patrol Leader.

(Note 2: The only recent modification of this is with regard to the inclusion of the Troop Guide as support for the Patrol Leader of a new-Scout patrol. To put this another way, if there are no new-Scout patrols, there is no need to have any Scout in the Troop Guide position, which in turn means that a troop without new-Scout patrols would not have Troop Guides and so none would be attending a PLC meeting.)

(Note 3: It’s stipulated by the BSA that certain other Scouts with positions of responsibility in the troop (i.e., with badges on their left sleeve) may be present at a PLC meeting, for instance the troop’s Scribe, to take notes but doesn’t contribute substance. Thus, your reference to a Chaplain Aide being present at a PLC meeting isn’t inconsistent with the makeup of the PLC participants, because the CA would be functioning in an advisory, not a decision-making role.)

As to the questions of the actual composition of the PLC and who actually participates in PLC meetings, the answers have been unwavering from the very beginning: The PLC is the Patrol Leaders and SPL; PLC meetings are the Patrol Leaders, chaired by the SPL. Simply refer to the troop organization charts in any current edition of the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK for confirmation.

“But why not have all Scouts with a position badge on their left sleeve?” you ask. The straight answer is that no description of the PLC has ever included them and it’s not our business to reinvent a critical, foundational element of the Boy Scout program to suit our arbitrary whims, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. The more personal answer is this: What sort of hubris do we possess that we think we have the experience, knowledge, authority, and license to arbitrarily alter what has been a successful BSA standard for 85 years?

Let’s see if we can find a parallel… Imagine a town council of men and women whom we’ve elected to represent us and make short- and long-term decisions in the best interests of our community. There are a handful of them, and they’re chaired by a mayor whom we’ve also elected. (Sort of resembles a PLC, yes?) OK, now when it comes to decision-making, let’s add these to the soup: The librarian, the police chief, the town clerk, the maintenance and materiel manager, the school principal, and the town’s webmaster. All of these appointed folks get to make decisions right along with the town council—they all have a “voice” that carries the same weight as an elected council member or mayor. How about that? Is that OK? No worries? OK, then, for your PLCs, throw in every Scout with a position badge, because that’s just about the same thing. But here’s one of the problems: Since those Scouts with position badges other than PL and SPL are members of specific patrols, any patrol (like the “senior patrol” maybe?) that has a PL and a member or members with other troop positions attending the PLC meeting have just titled the playing field in their own favor. (“Can’t happen”? Baloney!)

Another way to look at this is grammatically. “Patrol Leaders’ Council.” Notice the possessive? What does it mean? It means this: “The Council of The Patrol Leaders.” Got it? Good! We’re done here.

You also asked how to strengthen a PLC so that it contributes significantly to the Boy-Led Troop principle. That’s easy: Make it a true PLC!  The rest is right in the handbooks for Scoutmasters, Senior Patrol Leaders, and Patrol Leaders!
Hi Andy,

In our troop, we usually have three adults conduct boards of review for the rank advancements of Tenderfoot through Life. Most often, these adults are “Adult Leader” trained, but active parents who aren’t trained are also commonly asked to sit on reviews (unless, of course, it’s their own son). My understanding has been that “Adult Leader Trained” adults are pretty much considered Assistant Scoutmasters, which means they may not be members of the committee in a strict sense. I’m having trouble finding definitions in the BSA guidelines concerning Assistant Scoutmasters as members of boards of review, but you mentioned something in a recent issue that piqued my interest. You responded to a question by saying, “BSA policy [states]: For all boards of review, neither Scoutmasters nor Assistant Scoutmasters may participate (although silent observation is permitted—but the BSA does mean silent, which is considerably more than merely “non-voting”) and for boards of review for Tenderfoot through Life ranks and Eagle palms, only registered members of the troop committee may participate.” So I looked at the website, and under the heading “Boards of Review: an overview for all ranks” it’s stated: “A board of review must consist of no fewer than three members and no more than six…Unit leaders and assistants may not serve on a board of review for a Scout in their own unit. Parents or guardians may not serve on a board for their son. The candidate or his parent(s) or guardian(s) shall have no part in selecting any board of review members.” I then consulted section (“Particulars for Tenderfoot Through Life Ranks”), and they go on to state: “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.”

Are we doing this incorrectly? And what about older Scouts participating in boards of review? We have locally in our unit begun allowing Star and Life Scouts to participate in the reviews for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class Scouts. Is this acceptable? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s exactly as you’ve just read, and as I stated. 1. No adult registered as a Scoutmaster (Code: SM) or Assistant Scoutmaster (Code: SA) may sit on any board of review, ever. 2. Except in extremely rare and extenuating situations only registered members of the committee (Codes: CC and MC) may sit on boards of review for Tenderfoot through Life, and Palms. 3. No Scouts ever sit on boards of review. 4. No parents ever sit on boards of review for their own son. The point about “fewer than three committee members” is moot in 99% of all situations because no unit can charter (or recharter) with fewer than three committee members (see: So the bottom line is that you have a series of improprieties that don’t match up with standing BSA policies. I truly hope that, now that you know how it’s supposed to be done, you’ll take immediate and permanent steps to correct these abnormalities. Start by determining how people associated with your troop are registered. This is shown on your unit roster, per your last rechartering. If you can’t find a copy, ask your council’s registrar to print out a new one for you.

It’s better to suspect you might not know, and go check, than to assume you’re right and never check.
Dear Andy,

Everything that I’ve read tells me that a board of review is composed of three to six members of the troop committee. But when a Scout in our troop is ready for his next rank, the committee member responsible for advancement (I’ll call him “Chad”) “organizes” a board of review by looking around for two other committee members (we have six or seven registered) to walk randomly through the door at troop meeting, but if two don’t show up, then he’ll recruit any parent at random to sit on the review. Chad makes no attempt to contact committee members in advance to sit on a review. When challenged about what he’s doing (and not doing), he says there’s a provision in BSA rules that if fewer than three committee members are able to serve, a board of review can include parents who understand the aims of Scouting. Is this really true? Is it within BSA guidelines for a troop with six or seven committee members to follow this sort of practice? How does being lazy get a “bye” on something as important as this? Especially when, until Chad took over advancement and boards of review, all our committee members regularly participated in reviews whenever contacted for these in advance—they were happy to show up and do this. Now, our committee members are missing the opportunity to get to know our Scouts, receive feedback on our troop program, and evaluate the effectiveness of our Scoutmaster and assistants. Am I being too strict in my interpretation of the process? The Committee Chair has told us that he’s perfectly OK with Chad running boards of review as he pleases. What do we do here? (Name & Council Withheld)

In response to the practice now being practiced by your troop, you can show them this statement from the BSA National Advancement Team:

“In situations where sufficient committee members are unavailable by exception due to compelling circumstances such as travel, sickness, etc., having non-registered adults on boards of review is an acceptable alternative; however, units are expected to hold boards of review where and when committee members can be present.”

Your troop’s current advancement coordinator is wrong in his approach to boards of review and using what he thinks is a “loophole” to get away with it. All he’s accomplishing is diminishing the experience of the Scouts in the troop and mis-using both parents and committee members. If the Committee Chair is reluctant to fix this and make it right, then the troop’s parents need to band together and demand what’s right for their sons. (You’ll be delighted to know that a roomful of angry parents always trumps handfuls of email grenades.)

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 308 – 5/18/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012]


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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