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Issue 351 – April 7, 2013

Hi Andy,

Does a Scoutmaster appoint the Assistant Scoutmaster, or does the troop committee do this? Related to that, can a Scoutmaster refuse to accept a new ASM? (Jerry Kazanjian, UC, Old Colony Council, MA)

Ultimately, of course, the head of the chartered organization, or designee, the Chartered Organization Representative, has final authority over who will or will not be an adult volunteer with a troop. This decision is usually made in collaboration with the troop’s Committee Chair. In the case of ASMs, they’re recruited by the Scoutmaster, who may ask the troop committee for assistance in this. Since ASMs have direct reporting responsibility to the Scoutmaster, it would certainly be the Scoutmaster’s prerogative to select (or not select) anyone who’s a direct report.

Most troops have a need for ASMs in just two regards: (1) They provide oversight to the Troop Guide(s) responsible for new-Scout patrols or to the Patrol Leader(s) of Venture patrols (not to be confused with Venturing crews), and/or (2) they provide adult “depth” (i.e., two-deep leadership) for troop outings and away-from-regular-meetings events.

Further, and critically important, the ASM position is not intended by the BSA to be a “second in command” to the Scoutmaster or a “second Scoutmaster” in a well-run troop. ASMs don’t manage Scoutmaster conferences, sign “blue cards” or take on any of the normal responsibilities of the Scoutmaster; instead, they have very specific responsibilities as I mentioned above.

I hope this helps. If you discuss this with others in your troop, please keep in mind that what I’ve just described is per the BSA and is therefore not subject to discussion of alternatives or anyone’s particular alternative “opinion.” This is how Scout troops are supposed to be organized and managed.
Dear Andy,

I’m a Pack Committee Chair. I’m looking for some clarification on “voting” within our committee. Does the BSA have a policy on who, in a unit committee, can vote?

We’re a pack with about 45 Cubs, and our committee is smallish, with just four members at the moment. I’d like to make our meetings combination committee-and-leaders, and allow the leaders to vote on our decisions. I think knowing that their opinion will count with a vote might bring more of our leaders to the meetings. In turn, I’m hoping the leaders will help bring more parents to the meetings, and maybe we’ll get some new leaders. (Name & Council Withheld)

Pack committees are support groups. There’s nothing for them to “vote” on. Nothing. That said, around-the-table agreement and consensus is always important, and if there are different points of view, then these should be discussed (publicly or off-line, whichever is more appropriate) and resolved. But voting? Nope!

It’s all about consensus. You all talk things over, and reach a decision everyone’s more-or-less comfortable with. Sometimes, some may be happier than others, but the idea’s simple: You’re there to support the pack’s program, as decided on by the Cubmaster and Den Leaders, and then proposed to the committee for support (i.e., not so much for “approval” but more in the vein of “how can we help make this happen?”). Unit committees collaborate and work things out; they’re not “policy-makers.”

For a Cub Scout “who’s who,” check your CUB SCOUT LEADER BOOK. (But I’ll give you a hint: If you’re registered as CC or MC you’re a committee member; if you’re registered under some other code—like CM, DL, etc.—you’re not.)

On how to get more folks involved on the committee, consider the one-on-one recruiting approach. Pick a parent you think would be a good fit and has something to offer, and invite that one person to come to a committee meeting with you. Then, in the meeting, find a way to ask that person to help out with something—more than :grunt work”—something that would be fun and rewarding. Then, ask him or her to stand up in front of the pack at the next meeting and talk for a minute or two on what it is (everybody loves a little “sunshine”). Then invite ‘em to the next meeting and pretty soon you’ll be asked, “Hey, what’s involved in joining up?” Now you’ve got a new committed volunteer and all you did was invite ‘em to a meeting!

Then do it again!
Hi Andy,

This April we will be conducting the Tenderfoot physical fitness “part two” retest for our newest Scouts. We all know that this is done at the 30-day mark—the only time limit in the Tenderfoot requirements. But the question that always comes up when we’re doing this is: Is there a certain time limit that the Scouts need, to the pull-ups, sit-ups, and push-ups? (John Burnham, SM, Longhouse Council, OH)

That Tenderfoot requirement has no “time” to its parts. I hope these Scouts have been exercising to improve themselves in the past month—this is the key to success! ________________________________________
Hi Andy.

You’ve had a lot of discussions in the past about the Scoutmaster’s approval on a merit badge “blue card” and what that means. You’ve also talked about the changes to the blue card wording that takes out “approval.” I even remember you quoting statements from the National Advancement Team.

Some troops have a rule that their Scouts can’t work toward an Eagle-required merit badge at a merit badge fair (or similar event by another name) or even while at summer camp. It’s my understanding that these are not acceptable rules. If I’m correct, then I think the BSA national office should have taken one more step beyond clarifying what “approval” really means and changing the wording, and made it clear that a Scout can work on Eagle merit badges (or any merit badge!) anywhere and anytime he wants, and that includes fairs and summer camp. A Merit Badge Counselor is a Merit Badge Counselor no matter where he or she is working with Scouts! (Name & Council Withheld)

Yep, you’re absolutely correct: A Scout can earn any merit badge he wishes to, any time he wishes to, from any registered MBC regardless of council, blood relationship, or location, or event type. When Scoutmasters and other adult volunteers hold merit badges hostage from the Scouts they’re supposed to be serving, they’ve just turned the Scouting program on its head. I also agree: The BSA National Advancement Team can’t tell this story too strongly or too often! That said, keep in mind that it’s been clearly stated for years in the BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS books that this is how it works. Further, if Eagle-required merit badges weren’t legitimate at fairs or camp, can somebody tell me why they’re offered there? Finally, by what stretch of egotistical imagination do the adult volunteers of troops figure they have the right to supersede national policies? Take ‘em out back and dump ‘em in the river! ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

Req. 3a of Citizenship in the Community states: “Attend a city or town council or school board, or a municipal, county, or state court session.” Our local community cable station offers live viewing of several such meetings. Would viewing a meeting in this manner satisfy this requirement? (Jim Boyle, ASM, Old Colony Council, MA)

The critical part of that requirement is part (b): “Choose one of the issues…where a difference of opinions was expressed and explain to your counselor why you agree with one opinion more than you do another one.” In this light, “attending” via video cast would certainly work just fine, I’d think! However, the best bet is always for the Scout to have this conversation with his Merit Badge Counselor—in advance.
Dear Andy,

Do you have any ideas on how I might convince a troop’s Committee Chair that Assistant Scoutmasters don’t sit on boards of review? His usual response to this is that ASMs know more about Boy Scouting than a committee member does. To go deeper, in this troop an Assistant Scoutmaster is its advancement coordinator (yes, he’s registered as ASM; not an MC). (Richard Slider, UC, California Inland Empire Council)

Invest in a copy of the current GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. Then show the CC, committee, Scoutmaster, and ASMs sections and Explain to these folks that there’s no room for arbitrary decisions on board of review composition. Further explain that Scoutmasters and ASMs are specifically excluded because one of the key purposes of such reviews is for committee members to learn how well the Scoutmaster and any ASMs are delivering the Boy Scout program as it’s intended to be delivered.

Next, refer to the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, so you can point out that ASMs have specific responsibilities that absolutely have nothing to do with the troop advancement process, and help them get that ASM on the right track and find a committee member to take charge as advancement coordinator.
Hey Andy,

Our Scoutmaster has sent out the letter below to all Scouts (and their parents). He’s requiring a written report from each Scout in a position of responsibility, basing this on the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. We’ve reviewed the GTA and find no such stipulation. Are we missing something? (Name & Council Withheld)

Here’s the letter:

“As you are currently holding a position of responsibility for the troop, the Scoutmasters need you to demonstrate in writing what you have been doing to meet the goals and objectives for your position. Per the 2011 BSA Advancement Guide (no. 33088, Section and sub-section, this check is needed to verify you are meeting the objectives you have established for your position. Meeting expectations are not arbitrarily created by the Scoutmaster but follow the requirements for each position of responsibility and are included in the cards you completed and shared at leadership training.

“If you are not meeting the troop’s objectives for the position and have no plans to do so, then you will not receive credit for the position you are holding. Not responding assumes you have no plans.”

I’m sure the Scoutmaster has the best of intentions. Where he’s gone wrong, however, is in not quite understanding that it’s he and the troop who provide each youth leader with “established expectations for positions of responsibility” (see GTA Section Moreover, it’s he, the Scoutmaster, whom the BSA expects to provide each youth leader with “direction, coaching, and support” (see GTA Section Finally, the BSA does not require that fulfillment of responsibilities—or plans for same—shall be in writing, making it inappropriate for this Scoutmaster to demand something beyond what the BSA requires.

The best way to achieve a happy resolution here is for the Committee Chair (to whom the Scoutmaster ultimately reports) to counsel the Scoutmaster on how far his authority extends (and does not extend) and how his single-most important responsibility as Scoutmaster is to train, provide direction, coach, and support the youth leaders of the troop, so that they can run the troop (see SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, p. 12 and p. 70).

If the current Scoutmaster shows resistance to the idea that he is responsible to the youth leaders, and not the other way around, then you need to find a person who gets what the Scoutmaster’s job is really all about, and replace the current person.

Here’s the bottom line: If a Scout fails in his responsibilities as a leader, it is the Scoutmaster who has failed the Scout.
Dear Andy,

We’re having a problem with one of our Den Leaders. She has only three remaining Cubs in her den; three she formerly had were pulled out by their parents. The latest is that she’s claiming the remaining three, in a single weekend, completed 16 belt loops and earned their Bear badges. To do this, she counted stuff the boys had done at some time in the past, which, to me, doesn’t make sense in light of how the requirements are written. Is there anything in BSA policies for belt loops that would support the idea that you have to perform the tasks at hand for the belt loops this year and not before you were even in Cub Scouts? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m sorry for this poor woman and these Cubs. If she’s not taken proper position-specific training, she needs to do so immediately. If she has, then she already knows she’s way off the mark. You may have to buckle up and fire her from her Den Leader position—she’s misleading the remaining three boys into thinking it’s all about “bling.” At least the other parents formerly in her den had the good sense to walk away from her. As for the belt loops and such she’s already forced on the three remaining, tell her she can go buy the cards and bling for herself; that you won’t be a part of encouraging this misguided approach to the program. If she balks, well, that’s a good time to advise her that she might want to take her enthusiasm somewhere else. As for the other parents and their sons, they can stay in the pack so long as they’re willing to walk away from the bling weekend nonsense and join a den where the leader knows what he or she is supposed to be doing.
Dear Andy,

You frequently respond to concerns with “if that doesn’t work, fire them” when a Scoutmaster refuses to follow the correct BSA policy or procedure. However, that’s often more difficult than you make it sound.

My son has reached First Class rank and is currently working toward Star. His Scoutmaster, however, often withholds approval for Scouts to work on merit badges, he requires new Scouts to undergo a board of review for the “Scout” badge—which isn’t even a rank—he involves many adults in the monthly PLC meetings (which are supposed to be 99% Scouts-only), and he insists on holding elections for positions that are supposed to be appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader, thereby diminishing the entire concept of a Scout-led troop. Further, this Scoutmaster refuses to permit the Senior Patrol Leader to have an ASPL for his first six months in the position, claiming that this allows the SPL to learn and understand all of the jobs in the troop. I thought that the SPL was supposed to learn his job via the guidance and coaching of the Scoutmaster!

We have been in the troop for two full years and are in our third leadership cycle. All three SPLs to date have been roundly criticized by the Scoutmaster and the long-term ASMs for their failures, with virtually no coaching, or praise for what they get right.

I’m pretty sure from reading your columns what your response would be, but here’s the real challenge: My son and his friends like the other boys in the troop and, for the most part, like the troop. Firing the Scoutmaster would be very difficult: the Chartered Organization Representative is his wife and the Committee Chair has been involved in the troop for a long time with the Scoutmaster and her husband is one of the ASMs who are equally part of the problem. But I know my son and his friends aren’t getting the type of leadership guidance that I know he should and, as he continues to advance, who will be training and guiding him?

Should I push my son to look at another troop, or should I continue to try to effect change among the existing leaders? (Name & Council Withheld)

Corruption can only be changed from the top. It can never be changed from the inside, which is where you sit at the moment. You’re absolutely correct that neither your son nor his friends nor any other Scout in the troop is getting the Boy Scout program the way the BSA expects it to be delivered. Consequently, unless you can educate and rally all parents with sons in the troop to rise up and demand that this be fixed, you have two remaining choices. First, by whatever legitimate means possible, become the CR (Chartered Organization Representative) from which position you have complete authority to throw the rascals out. The second option is for you, alone or maybe with another father who “gets it,” to check out neighboring troops, with the goal of finding one that delivers on the Scouting promise. If you’re successful in this, then don’t just transfer your son—convince the parents of his friends to transfer their sons, too, and all these Scouts get out of this mess together. I guarantee you: Word will spread and soon that crummy Scoutmaster and his cronies will be “master” of nobody!

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. 351 – 4/7/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]


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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