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Issue 453 – September 17, 2015

Dear Andy,

For an upcoming District Awards annual dinner, some of us Scouters have come up with the idea of collecting $1,000 between us and recognizing our outgoing District Chair with a James E. West Fellowship. A few of us aren’t so sure this is a good idea, but we can’t seem to get a grip on why this may not be the best way to go. Any thoughts? (Hal Facre, Chicowanda Council, TN)

That’s a lovely gesture, but so would a nice brass-engraved walnut plaque recognizing your DC’s years of service to the district, for under a hundred bucks. Besides, the BSA has a specific reason for having created the James E. West Fellowship a couple of decades or so ago: These help Scouters (and others) get a “toe in the water” when it comes to major donations to Scouting, and sets them on the pathway to contributing further (e.g., the 1919 Society, etc.). When this fellowship is handed to a Scouter instead of he or she making a conscious decision to make a major contribution in perpetuity, it actually defeats one of the key purposes, because the recipient hasn’t “drunk the Kool-Aid” of contribution. Instead, they get a pin, certificate, and “square knot” and haven’t themselves contributed a nickel toward these. In effect, there’s no further benefit; the story stops there. So, consider a nice plaque and let the folks who promote contributions leading toward this fellowship and beyond continue their efforts to raise permanent funds for your council.
Dear Andy,

I was asked to do an Arrow of Light ceremony last night by a new Cubmaster. He is new to Cub Scouting but really trying to do a good job. He has a brand-new uniform, but because of his shape a belt doesn’t keep his pants up. He asked me if it’s okay to wear suspenders. I told him yes, but use blue for Cub Scouts. (I know it’s probably not right, but the alterative of him losing his pants is probably worse.) Are suspenders acceptable as part of the uniform? (McKay Dunn)

We all know that there are no “official suspenders” and we also know about “Dunlop Disease” (“when yer belly dun lop over yer belt”). So your suggestion of blue suspenders was pretty diplomatic (if not actually brilliant under the circumstances!).
Dear Andy,

What’s your take on a Scoutmaster who’s always “too busy” to do any Scoutmaster conferences at troop meetings? (Frustrated Scout’s Mom)

My take is that he’s got his priorities mixed up. In a correctly run troop, the Senior Patrol Leader runs the meetings and his Patrol Leaders are in charge of their patrols. This is designed to leave the Scoutmaster free to speak with Scouts interested in merit badges (he gives them “blue cards” and contact information for the right counselors), sign off on any completed rank requirements that need initialing and dating, and to sit down with Scouts for informal “Scoutmaster conferences.”

Since it sounds like this troop has a Scoutmaster who’s busy with other stuff, I’m of course wondering what the Scoutmaster is doing for some 90 minutes, especially when there are Scouts whose priorities certainly come before his own (meaning: He’s there to serve the Scouts; it’s not the other way around).

Thanks Andy. My son was so discouraged when we picked him up at the last meeting. He’s really trying to advance, and since a board of review has to be scheduled in advance (they’re not available at every troop meeting) the inability to get his Scoutmaster to sit down with him for five-ten minutes just keeps pushing rank advancement further down the road. And it’s not just my son. Every Scout in the troop has the same problem with the Scoutmaster, who always has some reason why he’s at the troop meetings but doesn’t have time for conferences.

It’s hard to see my son frustrated. With the timetable of elections and leadership tenure required for the upper ranks, these delays by the Scoutmaster are delaying a lot of Scouts from being eligible for elections so they can lead and then advance in rank. I wish the Scoutmaster was more aware of what his delays can do to a boy working hard to be the best Scout he can be! This isn’t the first time my son has felt pushed to the side, and it’s getting more and more difficult for his dad and me to find ways to encourage him.

Here’s something your son needs to know: Scoutmaster conferences can be done anytime—not just when all other requirements are completed, and the National Advancement Team and the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT have been pretty darned clear on that point!

I think it’s time for a group of parents—not just you and your husband—to schedule a specific time to speak with the troop’s Committee Chair, to provide input on what’s going on and request that corrective action be taken. This isn’t an unreasonable request, because this is a main part of a Scoutmaster’s responsibilities, and the CC is the Scoutmaster’s “boss.”
Hi Andy,

In your previous column (No. 452) you said that merit badge “blue cards” can be replaced by merit badge pocket certificates (Scoutstuff SKU 34393). I’ve always been under the impression that the blue card was the absolute proof of earning a merit badge, and that blue cards may possibly be needed at Eagle boards of review to prove that a merit badge has indeed been earned. Is that no longer the case? (Joe Sefcik, Connecticut Rivers Council)

It’s never been the case. I can go into my own “Scout scrap book” and show you 25 Merit Badge Pocket Certificates, all dated and signed by my Scoutmaster, that additionally bear the signature of the Chief Scout Executive at that time. I can also show you that I have not one single “blue card” stub! This scrap book is over 60 years old. Is that enough “proof” for you?
Hi Andy,

Are there any BSA policies that would prohibit creating a separate bank account for a particular high adventure trip—this is, separate from a troop’s main checking account? It would be something that would exist for probably about 18 months and then be closed out.

About a troop’s main checking account, what happens if the treasurer’s computer fails or is stolen, or if something happens to the treasurer? (Dan)

Ahh…a two-fer! Here we go…

The BSA has no restrictions on the idea of a separate, event-specific checking account, and a high adventure trip for a core group of Scouts from within a troop (a Venture patrol, for instance) is a situation for which this would definitely be a great way to operate.

On your second question, computer theft from a reasonably sensibly individual is a pretty low-incidence problem, I’d hope, especially since the computer we’re talking about here would logically remain in the treasurer’s home. And if it is stolen, or it crashes, so what? The bank itself has all the records, from statements to electronic copies of all deposits and checks. What would be missing, of course, is the “paper trail” on who deposited what amounts, for what purposes, but that’s why there’s always a “paper trail”! Yup, keep the records in a check register, just like folks have done for a hundred years or more!

As to what happens if the treasurer gets hit by a bus… There are never, ever unit accounts with just a single signature; it’s absolutely always at least two signatories. When it’s two, it should be the Committee Chair and the treasurer, and the CC should be getting monthly updates on revenues and expenses from the treasurer, so that nothing ever “goes astray” for more than 30 days!
Dear Andy,

Who elects a new Scoutmaster when the old one retires? Is this a vote by the troop committee or the entire troop of Scouts, or what? (Cathy)

Scoutmasters aren’t elected. They’re hand-picked by the current Scoutmaster and the Committee Chair, recruited to become an ASM, shown the ropes by the Scoutmaster (this can take 6 to 12 months), and—when the time’s right—the transition’s made. Before the transition, in addition to YP training, get your ASM to take Scoutmaster-specific training, plus OLS, and you’ll be ready to rock n’ roll on “day one.”
Hey Andy,

To be awarded the Star Scout rank the Scout has to earn four Eagle-required merit badges. Do these have to be earned after he earned First Class, or can they be earned at any time? (Claude Graf)

Merit badges can be earned at any time, and there’s no relationship at all between when they’re earned and the rank they’re used to qualify for. For requirements other than earning merit badges, most are indeed rank-specific (e.g., “While a First Class Scout…”, “While a Star Scout…”, etc.) but this never applies to merit badges. A Scout can, in fact, use merit badges he earned while a Tenderfoot to count toward Eagle requirements and Eagle palms.

A Scout can also “swap out” merit badges for various ranks. Using Star as our example here, req. 3 states that the Scout will have earned six merit badges, including any four from the Eagle-required list; but this doesn’t mean only four. So if a Scout has earned, let’s say, five Eagle-required merit badges by the time he’s First Class, he can use all five of these, plus one more (whether it’s Eagle-required or not) to make it six and fulfill req. 3. Now let’s assume that he happened to earn six Eagle-required to qualify for Star. In that case, when he moves on to Life, he uses all six Eagle required plus two more required, plus three more that can be Eagle-required or not. But it absolutely doesn’t matter when he earned them; he doesn’t have to have earned them only after attaining Star rank.

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. 453 – 9/17/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]


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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