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Issue 368 – October 25, 2013

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The letter from the young Eagle Scout who became subject to a “bait-and-switch” by his own board of review that appeared in my October 20th column sparked any number of responses. Here are two…

Dear Andy,

I just read your October 20th column—in particular the letter from that young Eagle Scout whose council rep. and other reviewers decided to make up a board of review date rather than do what they’re supposed to do. I think that was a horrible sign and message that those people sent to the Scout! First off, if they’d just taken a little effort to read the actual procedures, they would have quickly discovered that a board of review held three to six months after a Scout’s 18th birthday simply needs pre-approval by the home council, via a simple letter by the candidate, his parent or guardian, his unit leader, or a unit committee member attached to the application that explains the cause of the delay. Only after six months has passed—which wasn’t the case here—would a petition to the National Advancement Team be necessary. So the first mistake was that these folks—with the local advancement representative carrying the most blame—didn’t do their own homework. Their second mistake was to take the easy way out, with the only victim of their duplicity being the Scout himself. (Bill Mollica)

Hi Andy,

Another point that should have been considered was that no letter to the National Advancement Committee is needed for a board of review held four months after a Life Scout’s 18th birthday. A note to the local council’s advancement committee describing the circumstances would have received instant approval to proceed. But, even if a letter to the National Advancement Committee had been required, the circumstances would have received unequivocal approval. (Matt Culbertson, BSA National Advancement Team)

Thanks to you both—and to a host of other Scouters who got this right and took the time to write!
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Dear Andy,

In one of your columns, you pointed out that a Scoutmaster should always conduct the Scoutmaster conferences and that Assistant Scoutmasters should never do so, observing that, in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, among the roles and responsibilities of ASMs, Scoutmaster conferences weren’t listed. OK so far, and as I read online at www.scouting.org, on a page specifically on this subject, I found this: “These functions are not easily performed if a Scoutmaster delegates a Scoutmaster conference to assistants. In a boy-lead troop, the Scoutmaster does not assert his authority, but guides and counsels every Scout so that the troop can function well and serve the purposes of Boy Scouting. The Scoutmaster conference is one of the primary ways the Scoutmaster does this. In large troops, delegating this function may be necessary, especially when large numbers of Webelos Scouts are joining the troop. In these cases, an experienced assistant Scoutmaster can fill in to conduct the Scoutmaster conference. Remember however, that this first Scoutmaster conference is vital to the new Scout’s development. Even in a large troop, a Scoutmaster should not delegate a conference with any candidate for Star, Life, and Eagle.”

This suggests to me that there are circumstances where an ASM may do a Scoutmaster conference. Do you concur, and if so, where do we draw the line? (John Lothian, SM, Elmhurst, IL)

As you can see from what you’ve read, a Scoutmaster does have the latitude to designate someone else (usually an ASM) in exceptional and rare cases that are, in nature, temporary stopgaps. I, as does the BSA, leave it to your own good judgment to decide, based on specific circumstances of the moment. Where the mistake is often made—and on this one I’ve received any number of letters over the years—is to permanently delegate conferences to someone else, usually coupled with delegating conferences with Scouts about the merit badges they’re interested in. The typical rationale is that “the Scoutmaster’s too busy to do these,” to which my reply is invariably, “Too busy with what? If he’s ‘too busy’ to carry out two of his most important responsibilities, what in blazes is he doing with his time?” ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

While at a recent district committee meeting, a question arose about voting per “Robert’s Rules of Order.” I remembered your September 28th column and found this statement from you: “As for ‘voting,’ the troop committee isn’t a legislative body; all necessary policies regarding health and safety, advancement procedures, etc., have already been established by the BSA (and are to be followed). Therefore, the committee, in its function of supporting the troop program as decided on by the PLC, has quite literally nothing to vote on. The committee is expected by the BSA to operate collaboratively. This is not a ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ assemblage.”

I asked the district committee if they felt we should function like a troop committee and they agreed. This led to an interesting discussion. It was pointed out that the district committee does vote on the district budget and calendar, and that troop committees do the same thing at the unit level. Should these committees be voting on these items? Is there another process that should be followed? (John Pinchot, Longhorn Council, TX)

Before you all wrap yourselves around your own axles, here’s the fact: A “committee” isn’t a legal entity. It has no constitution; it has no bylaws. It has no stipulations for establishing quorums; it has no procedures in the even of a “tie,” and the list of what else it doesn’t have goes on and on. Ultimately, this means that neither “Robert’s Rules of Order” nor “Parliamentary Procedure” applies to committees.

Furthermore, a “budget” is the best guess of one or more people; consequently, there’s nothing to “vote” on. Moreover, since a budget is, in reality, a guess (commonly elevated to the term, “estimate”), what would you all be “voting” on, anyway? The only purpose to a budget is to guess what revenues there will be, from what sources, and how those revenues will be used. The real issue is this: How close was the “guess” relative to the actual revenues and expenses, when all’s said and done?

In Scouting, just like in most other organizations (whether businesses or not-for-profit groups), the purpose of a committee (e.g., troop committee, district committee, etc.) is to collaboratively “run the back room.”

Do these folks realize that troop committees don’t even get to “vote” on the plans developed by the Patrol Leaders Council? That’s right: The committee can make suggestions, but has no “approval” or “veto” power whatsoever. The job of the committee is to help the Scouts succeed with the plans they’ve made, and this can include offering suggestions, but that’s the extent of it.

So the process—whether at the district or unit level—is the same: The committee looks over the plan, takes a best guess as to whether anything’s missing or unrealistic or over-the-top in expectations, and offers suggestions so that the Scouts or volunteers who put the plan together can perhaps re-think and improve their original plan. Then the committee members roll up their sleeves and help the plan work.

This is called collaboration. This is the essence of what should be going on here. Anything else is simply a form of posturing, an exercise in a false sense of self-importance, and firing up the red tape production line.

It’s time for a reality check. Two things you never want to see made are “rules” by committees and sausages.
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Hi Andy,

I wrote to you a while back, when I’d sat on a board of review that included, from the Eagle candidate’s own troop, two Assistant Scoutmasters who successful convinced the other review members—based on misinformation they provided—that the candidate should be rejected for Eagle rank. Bolstered by the information you provided me at the time, I asked the district advancement chair to invalidate the board of review and call for a new “first” board of review for the Scout.

Well, here’s an unbelievable update… When I spoke with the district advancement chair (he’s a 50-year Scouting “veteran”—do you hear that warning bell in the distance?) about what happened and his response was this: “Technically, BSA rules say a ‘minimum of three’ constitute a board of review, and since there were three more ‘qualified’ adults present besides these two ‘illegal’ ASMs, the decision should stand. My rebuttal was that, by this warped logic, the Scoutmaster and even the Scout’s own parents could have sat on the review, participated, and voted, so long as there were at least three others there legitimately. Of course, he told me I was carrying an example to the extreme, but that was my point: logic is tested by extension.

His second line of defense, if you will—the one he steadfastly clung to—was that the two ASMs also held other positions with the council, and so they were there in those other capacities, and that makes everything okay. (One of the ASMs is a council employee: the camp cook. Somehow, I don’t think is a registered BSA volunteer position.) He went on to say that the only error may have been that these two should have introduced themselves by their other (i.e., non-ASM) positions, in which case they’d of course be legitimate review members, and so, since this little error was merely incorrectly introducing themselves, and not in being ineligible to sit on the review, the decision to reject the candidate will stand.

He’s sticking to his guns, and I’m bringing the issue to my council Scout Executive and Council Advancement Chair. I believe the BSA has a no-ASM rule for a reason, and it’s a good one. If we choose to not play by the rules, we’re not teaching Scouts the right life-lessons. And, in the situation in which an improperly convened board actually rejects a candidate for Eagle, I think we’re doing a Scout a real injustice by not giving him a fair hearing. We’ll see what happens to this candidate (and to my future in the council) once the Scout Executive reads my letter. Being “the bad guy” in something like this hurts; but if no one’s willing to stand up for what’s right, where are we then? (Bill)

No one is “being the bad guy” when he’s correcting (a) an illegitimate board of review (holding other positions beyond ASM in the Scout’s own troop does not qualify as a “loop hole”) and (b) an injustice done to a youth member of the Boy Scouts of America. As far as I’m concerned, any so-called “advancement chair” who either doesn’t know fundamental BSA policy or—worse—makes an attempt to circumvent it needs to be taken out back, tarred, feathered, and run out of town. Stand your ground. I’ve sent your “update” message (above) on to my friends on the BSA National Advancement Team. Here’s what they have to say about your situation:

“We don’t know how we could make the procedure more clear. Your writer is correct.

“The rejected Scout may, of course, appeal the decision. If the appeal gets to our office, it’s highly likely the Nation Eagle Issues Task Force will reverse the decision. But it’s unfortunate in such a straightforward case as this one, that we should have to go to all that trouble.

“The Scout Executive could, however, determine that the procedure regarding the make up of an Eagle board of review was violated, which would mean he could then nullify its result and call for a proper board. This authority is consistent with the language that appears with his signature line on the Eagle Scout Rank Application. We would happily support this authority with his council volunteers should he run into trouble with them.

“Feel free to forward this message to your writer, and let him know he should feel free to further forward it to his Scout Executive. He can write directly to us at advancement.team@scouting.org”
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Dear Andy,

Can a District Commissioner—who is also a registered Assistant Scoutmaster and former Committee Chair in our troop—conduct a board of review of a Scout in our troop without informing either the Scoutmaster, troop advancement coordinator, or current Committee Chair? (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course not; not for any rank. Neither Scoutmasters nor ASMs are permitted to sit on boards of review for any rank. (But there’s more to this story, isn’t there? So I hope you’ll be writing to me again, soon.)

Thanks, Andy. So, to be clear, a District Commissioner could sit on a board of review if he or she wasn’t a Scoutmaster or ASM of our troop? Can a council Development Director sit on a board of review? Are there any rules about a husband and wife both sitting on the same board of review? (N&CW)

The number of qualified people sitting on a board of review is specifically limited to no less three and no more than six. So long as he or she isn’t registered as a SM or ASM in the Scout’s troop, a District Commissioner may certainly be invited to sit on an Eagle rank board of review (only); but not on any other rank or Eagle Palm.

A specific rule regarding husband and wife sitting on the same board of review doesn’t exist, except, of course, that neither can be the parent of the Scout participating in the review, and, except for Eagle, both are expected to be registered members of the Scout’s troop committee.

Boards of review, for any rank, are typically organized by the troop’s committee member who has been designated “advancement coordinator.” This is the person who makes the selections. A wise advancement coordinator will, of course, have the good sense to invite only qualified people who are known to be “neutral” and not prejudiced against the Scout to participate as reviewers. The advancement coordinator, who is the de facto chair of the review, has the right to dismiss any reviewer who, in the course of the conversation, reveals himself or herself as having a personal agenda prejudicial to the Scout participating in the review. (This is why it’s always a good plan to have at least four reviewers present—including the advancement coordinator [or designate chosen by the advancement coordinator] as chair—so that, if something unbecoming should arise, the deviant from process may be removed and the review can legitimately continue rather than needing to be reconvened at some later time.)

Boards of review for ranks other than Eagle, and for Eagle Palms, are expected to be members of the committee for the Scout’s troop. For Eagle rank, the board of review composition is different, and I would direct you to the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT to learn more about this.

The most important thing to always keep in mind is that boards of review are for the benefit of the Scout; they are not intended to be gantlets, inquisitions, or have an agenda (blatant or hidden) designed to “fail” a Scout. Boards of review are to be friendly, open, and engaging conversations; they are not “re-tests” of any Scout skill or knowledge, they’re not “courts of judgment,” and no Scout should ever be made to feel he’s a “defendant” in an “inquisition” or must need to “plead his case.”

The troop’s Scoutmaster (or an ASM in the event the Scoutmaster’s significantly unable to be there) may attend any board of review for any and all ranks and Palms. The Scoutmaster doesn’t have a speaking or evaluative role, doesn’t question the Scout, and has no “vote.” The Scoutmaster is present as the Scout’s “champion,” to introduce the Scout to the reviewers and to answer any questions regarding troop management, program, or advancement process questions the reviewers may have.

If these standards haven’t been met, there has been no board of review.
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Dear Andy,

For a troop of just ten Scouts, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a Senior Patrol Leader and then one patrol? After all, if a couple don’t show up for a hike or camp-out, the “numbers” work out just fine! (Name & Council Withheld)

A “troop” is the “umbrella” under which patrols—the essential units of Boy Scouting—operate. To have a single patrol defeats far too many purposes and methods of Scouting. Among other things, it reduces the position of Senior Patrol Leader to, effectively, that of Patrol Leader, and that’s the last thing you want to have happen!

For a troop of ten, you have two patrols: one of five Scouts and one of four. Each has its own elected Patrol Leader who is guided and led by the elected Senior Patrol Leader (hold the SPL election first, then step back while the Scouts themselves decide who will be in which patrol, followed by the elections of their own Patrol Leaders). This actually leaves “growth room” for the Scouts to invite friends their own age to join up! (BTW, an ASPL is hardly necessary for a troop of this size.)

Any other way creates something… but it sure isn’t Boy Scouting!

Patrols of four or five can operate just fine! Tents, food for weekend trips, etc., can easily be divided up among the Scouts so no one’s overburdened and, at the same time, there’s no need for any adult leaders (or parents!) to schlep patrol gear. (Of course, the SPL and the “odd” fifth Scout in one of the patrols will need to carry his own tent, so be sure to have two light-weight tents available!)

(BTW, I’m not making this up. I’ve personally been a Scoutmaster for exactly the kind of troop you’re describing.)

Thanks, Andy. Did you make any adjustments on camping trips when there were Scouts who couldn’t make it and then you have only one or two Scouts from a patrol on the trip? It seems like patrol duties, such as cooking meals, would really be impacted with so few Scouts in a patrol.

Nope, I didn’t. First of all, it’s not my job as Scoutmaster to reshuffle patrols. It’s always ALWAYS up to the patrols to plan for themselves, including who’s coming, who their drivers will be, menu planning, which Scout(s) will be buying the food, collecting the food money, etc., etc. The moment we take responsibilities like these away from the Scouts, we make them “little” instead of BIG!

Never ever scrunch two patrols together into one! How would you feel if, when you couldn’t attend a family event, Grandpa gave this edict: “OK, Fargus isn’t here, so we’re going to pair up his wife with Cousin Sam, who came alone, too.” Are ya gettin’ this now?

So, when a patrol shows up “light,” let them fend for themselves, and then de-brief with them after the trip’s over. Ask ‘em what they learned. I’ll bet they tell you, “Hey, we’re gonna get more patrol members to come along next time!” If you artificially make that go away by sticking a “Band Aid” on it, how do you ever expect them to learn, and to build their patrol into a cohesive team?

B-P said it: “Boy Scouting is a man’s job cut down to boy-size.” He never said, “When the adults think the Scouts can’t do it, the adults should do it for them.”

Thanks again, Andy. But I guess I should have asked if the Scouts ever reshuffled themselves because of numbers. I haven’t ever asked my Scouts to do that and they always plan menus, shop for food, etc. And I have one other question related to this: What does the SPL do on campouts? Does he “join” one of the patrols for the weekend and get added to their duty roster?

The SPL, during his tenure, is never a patrol member—not even “temporarily.” So, on a campout, assuming two adults (e.g., Scoutmaster and one other) are along, the SPL can be the “guest” of the adults (they cook and eat separate and away from the Scouts) and/or he can be a “guest” of one patrol for one meal and then the other patrol for another meal. He is, after all, the troop’s “Top Dog” (the SM isn’t—the SM backs up the SPL) on the camp-out and is responsible for helping the Patrol Leaders organize and run their patrols, setting up the away-from-base camp hikes and other events, etc. That’s why it’s important to unburden him from meal prep, etc. So, in a troop your size, for meal planning, the patrols should plan on one extra to eat with them (the troop piggy bank, or the SPL, himself can give them the extra money they’ll need for the additional meals).

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to askandybsa@yahoo.com. 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. 368 – 10/25/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]

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About AskAndy

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

Andy 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: 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 & Cliff Dochterman Awards, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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