The truth is out there.......
Now it's here.....
As a long standing member of this Club (24 years), a proud member of its Management Team and as editor of Lowflying for the last five years, I hope that I am viewed as having a reasonable position from which to give my sincere and honest summary of the pitiful situation our club's governance finds itself in today. I'm probably not going to make myself too many friends by providing this summary and it is intentionally high-level to cover what I view as the most major themes, but it hopefully puts into context how we arrived at the position where we now find ourselves. These words are all my own and have not been discussed with anyone else on the team.
Our Club's Management Team has always been composed of enthusiastic volunteer men and women who give up their time and expertise for the good of ourmembers. There have been differences of opinion for sure, but these have always been resolved in a collaborative way with "collective responsibility" recognised – once a decision was reached, it became the agreed decision of the team. Most critically, decisions were reached consensually and I struggle to remember any time other than in the last 12 months where a vote needed to be held other than to record formal agreement.
As a Limited Company, Seven Club Ltd (the legal entity) requires a minimum number of directors who under company law do have a particular set of obligations. However, it was always the case that the Club operated on the basis of "one member one vote" with no distinction from a decision-making point of view. This concept is clearly enshrined in our Rules and Byelaws and until recently this worked extremely well.
Over the last 12 months or so, all that started to change. As has already been mentioned, a catalyst was the process of reviewing our current administration contract, revising the scope of work and offering the opportunity for other firms to tender. This review process was carried out by the directors only with no "ordinary" MT members participating and was, to put it mildly, handled in a wholly unsatisfactory manner. As MT members started to ask questions and challenge obvious shortcomings in the process, we began to be pushed away and in a pattern that was to be repeated many times over the months that followed, to be fed information that could politely be described as less than complete or accurate. It is also a matter of fact that at the two MT meetings that did get held in 2019, several hours had to be spent correcting minutes of the previous meetings. As time went by, the MT spent more and more time challenging facts and figures and in the process, found itself being more and more marginalised by a core of directors.
A flash point came when an MT member, asked to take minutes of a sub-committee meeting, used a computer transcription program to assist him. This was revealed when his account of the meeting was challenged by our Chair and he was able to back up his assertions using the notes he'd made. This episode was blown out of all proportion by some directors declaring that a "GDPR Data Breach" had occurred and choosing to report it to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) without even first checking the facts. In reality, the whole basis of the report was incorrect as it stated that information had been "shared with a third party" whereas it was soon recognised that this had never been the case. The ICO were finally advised of this update and responded with a report which concluded "We now consider the matter to be closed". When the ICO report was shared with the MT and ARs by the directors however, this crucial final line was mysteriously cut off.
Against the backdrop of this "data breach" the MT member who had taken the transcript was advised he was suspended from attending the October MT meeting while an investigation conducted by an independent "panel outside the MT" convened by the General Secretary was carried out (as an aside, many months down the line, no such panel was ever convened and no independent investigation was even started). After disagreements surrounding the reasonableness of the suspension, the entire MT meeting was cancelled and to all intents and purposes, from that day on, those MT members who were not also directors were excluded from involvement with the team. In fact, the MT was described as nothing more than a (quote) "sounding board" for decision making by the directors. Despite the bad feeling and practical difficulties that this exclusion caused, MT members continued to work for the members to the best of their abilities and sought to keep these internal difficulties to themselves rather than expose them to the wider membership.
Things took a more sinister turn when Christine announced that "poison pen" letters had apparently been received by businesses and organisations that she works with, that purported to have come from "the MT". Exactly how many there were, who they were apparently sent to and when they were received is somewhat unclear – I'm not aware of anyone on the MT being allowed to see any of them and from what I have heard, only one has even been shared with all the directors. Notwithstanding that all MT members and directors confirmed formally in writing that they had no knowledge of, nor involvement in these letters, we have been on the receiving end of accusation and recrimination ever since. MT members expressed complete abhorrence of any such letters and, in the face of Christine threatening the potential of civil and /or criminal action against the Club or individuals within it, have consistently urged her to take the matter to the Police, which she has so far declined to do.
Throughout all of this, the opportunity for a clean start for all looked to be available as the end of Christine's term of office was approaching on 31st January. As per the Club's Rules and Byelaws, we advertised the post in Lowflying for several months and I understand that 3 completed formal applications were made, one from Christine, one from fellow Director and Treasurer Martin Phipps and one from another general member. From early on however, it became apparent that Christine wanted to remain in place as Chair. The member who applied received initial acknowledgement of his application but has said that despite a number of chasing emails, heard nothing further. Martin can speak for himself but I understand that not only was nothing done to follow up his application, but that legal advice was sought about how to remove him from his post as a director for reasons as yet unknown. I was also told that a fourth Club member investigated applying for the post but backed off when he was told (incorrecttly) that he would be unable to apply unless he had the support of at least two directors. More recently, as Christine's term approached its end, she started intensifying her threats of action against the Club and individuals within it if her post was not extended. Throughout all of this, she has consistently justified her actions with the backing of the "Club's" solicitors. However, there is good reason to believe that the information that was provided to them has been at best highly selective, and since they have been instructed only to deal with Christine and Company Secretary Terence McCarthy, all attempts by other directors to put the record straight have been in vain. Most recently, Christine suggested that one way to prevent her from taking action against the Club if her role was not extended would be for the Club to provide her with financial compensation through a "settlement agreement". Through this whole process, our chair has simultaneously acted as "aggrieved party", accuser, judge and jury whilst preventing anyone other than herself and Terence from having access to the lawyers we count on to act on our Club's behalf.
In a final twist, as Christine says, the five directors met last weekend to discuss a way forward. They, like the majority of MT members, recognised that nothing short of a complete "reset" of the Club's management team was necessary. A motion was proposed by Terence that "The current MT be dissolved with immediate effect, and that the establishment of the new MT proceed as outlined above". Although the principle of MT members and directors stepping down was supported by most MT members (indeed, a well-thought through document to this effect had been prepared by the MT and was ready to be presented for resolution), it was thought only fair and just that all Management Team members (directors and non-directors) should stand down simultaneously, as soon as the legally required number of new directors was in place. This would be fair, ensure that appropriate checks and balances would remain in place and allow for a smooth handover of responsibilities. The proposal put forward by Terence however required that non-directors resign immediately while the directors would stay in place. Because of this, most members voted against (out of the 14 person MT/director team, I know that at least 7 voted against the proposal with one abstention so the highest support it could have received was 6 "for", 7 "against" with one abstention). Despite all this, it was announced yesterday that MT members and ARs were about to be sent notification that the vote had been carried. When challenged over the figures, the response came back that the MT's votes were now deemed "obsolete", and that the vote wasn't necessary anyway as three of the five directors had previously indicated that they were in favour, despite the fact that they were only able to vote on the actual resolution when it was presented to them at the same time as all other MT members.
Speaking personally as someone who has been trying to do his best as Communications Manager and Editor of Lowflying, recent months have seen me being side-lined, belittled as "just a contractor", accused and threatened, unable to take part in MT meetings, even having to miss our end of year speed events awards ceremony such has been the acrimony. I have done absolutely nothing wrong. I take no pleasure at all in providing this summary of how our Club now finds itself with no MT team, a board of directors who are irreparably split and a missed opportunity for a smooth transition to a new Chair as Christine's term of office came to its natural end. However, it is only right and proper that the key facts about what has been going on be shared in as unbiased way as I can manage. I sincerely trust that whoever volunteers to build a new team to lead our Club forward has the vision and fortitude to do so in a way that avoids many of the mistakes that have been made over the past 12 months or so.
Lowflying Editor (email@example.com)