| print this
Suggested Plan for the Reorganization of the A.A. General Service
By Bill W.,
New York, December, 1957
you know, our present General Service Board of A.A. is composed
of 8 non-alcoholics, and 7 alcoholics. The Boards
Charter legally provides that the non-alcoholic members
must always exceed the alcoholics by a majority of one,
no matter what the size of the Board may be.
time to time we have debated changing this ratio in order
to provide a larger alcoholic membership to cope with the
present day conditions. At the 1957 Conference a "sense
of the meeting" poll revealed a desire to switch the
ratio to 7 "nons" and 8 alkies. But the majority
in favor of this change was not large (44-33), and consequently
the poll was not conclusive.
recently, Ive never quite understood this reluctance
in the Conference and at the "grassroots" to place
a majority of alcoholics on A.A.s Board of Trustees,
even though more alcoholic trustees are badly needed and
despite the further fact that A.A. declared at St. Louis
in 1955 that it had "come of age" and would definitely
manage its own affairs henceforth.
are of course still agreed that we need non-alcoholic trustees
to give our General Service Board stability and public recognition.
But why should we insist on having a majority of
them particularly when at groups, intergroups and
club levels non-alcoholics are no longer elected to our
local boards or committees at all?
this unwillingness for change has often seemed inconsistent,
I now feel that this is nevertheless a situation in which
up to the present time the Conference
has been right and I have been wrong.
the surface, it has been argued that we dont want
to force any of our non-alcoholic friends and great benefactors
off the General Service Board. But we have never considered
doing that. The original non-alcoholics of our Board have
long since died or resigned. As to the present members,
we have never had the slightest idea of asking any of them
for resignations, either. We want them all to stay, so long
as they will. Every plan to change the ratio of "alkies"
to the "nons" has emphasized that the transition
would take place only as fast as some of the present non-alcoholics
resign of their own accord. It can be confidently said that
not one non-alcoholic Board member today believes that
a "majority of nons" is necessary for an effective
Trusteeship. The "nons" have repeatedly offered
to retire whenever we wish to shift the ratio. Some of them
have made this clear at actual Conference sessions where
this matter has been under debate. Therefore the fear of
pressuring or hurting our non-alcoholic friends has not
actually been the main underlying objection. What, then,
is our real fear?
I think we still have the same basic fears that we had in
1938 when the Board was first organized. Then (as probably
now) we feared our own instability. We feared wet benders,
and even more we feared "dry" benders. Since our
present day "area Trustees" are really elected
people, we now fear politics in addition.
General Service Board is so remote from us that we dont
yet trust a board of alkies or even a majority of
alkies to handle large funds and carry on important
A.A. business. We still want a majority of non-alcoholics
to stand sentinel over us. This was in 1938 and it must
be so today. What other reason could there be?
these fears still justified? Personally I now think
under present conditions that a few of these
fears are really justified, although many of them are definitely
not. Therefore I believe the Conference has up
to now been correct in refusing to change the
or unconsciously the Conference has doubtless felt that
the present system of choosing alcoholic Trustees does not
sufficiently guarantee us a selection of Board members who
will surely be free of politics; who will always be able
enough and stable enough to function properly. That, I think,
is the deep down difficulty.
now, can we do about this? To begin with, we can cure unjustified
fears by looking at the facts. Next we can change our structure
so as to guarantee the selection of time-tested alkies of
trustee ability, pretty much minus politics.
lets tackle the unjustified fears and criticisms:
Ive attended our Board meetings for nearly twenty
years. Ive seen perilous times and very heated sessions,
when the future of A.A. was at stake. Ive seen the
non-alcoholics stabilize the Board in these tempests. But
I have never witnessed a session where a majority of non-alcoholics
would have been required to do this job.
have the alcoholic members been so wrong or unreasonable
that a complete majority of nons would have
been required to vote them down. In fact Ive never
seen the Board divide strictly on "alky" and "non-alky"
lines at any time. For "stabilization" purposes
a Board composed of one-third non-alcoholics would
have done exactly as well as a majority or non-alcoholics.
A one-third non-alcoholic membership would always have
held the balance of voting power under any conditions.
Of this Im positive.
we are even safer. A minority of the Board of Trustees
can always insist on referring questions in dispute
to the Conference itself. It is therefore impossible
for the majority to make a foolish snap decision on
an important matter.
are also certain fears about the selection of
the "in town alcoholic Trustees. Some people think
we have too many of them. "Why so many New
York alcoholics?" they ask. I believe both
of these fears to be unjustified. Lets have a
as to numbers: Today we have 4 "in town" alcoholic
Trustees. Because our affairs and their ramifications have
grown so large, these volunteers are already overworked.
The average A.A. has no idea how much work there is for
them and how important this labor is to the week to week,
and month to month, direction of our services. This volume
of important detail has become so huge that we can no longer
ask the non-alcoholic Board members to handle very much
can the area "Trustees" be of much use for this
purpose as they show up in New York only once in three months.
So the "in town" alky Trustees must be constantly
at work with the A.A. Grapevine, A.A. Publishing, and the
General Service Office. They must have representation on
our basic committees: Finance, Policy, and Nominating. They
also have to hold posts on the Literature, Public Information,
and General Service Committees. They must always be nearby
and on call.
them Headquarters every day management might collapse.
If we ever reduce the non-alcoholics on the Board by three,
we shall have to increase the number of "in town"
alky Trustees to five, at least. Neither can we possibly
reduce their numbers in order to seat more "area Trustees,"
as some now think we should.
this connection, more education is required. Many A.A.s
still believe that the Board of Trustees should be primarily
am "area" representation, like the Conference.
But while a certain amount of area representation is really
needed for A.A. policy formation, the Board as a whole cannot
possibly operate as an area or political function. Mainly,
the Board has to be composed of the best people we can get,
and most of them have to be near the operation itself. Stockholders
in a business corporation dont insist that their directors
come from North, South, East or West. They insist that the
best possible directors be chosen. The more directors that
can be nearby, and on the job, the better. It is much like
that with A.A.s Trustees.
lets consider how the "New York" alkie Trustees
are selected. There has been worry about this, but there
shouldnt be. Every one of them gets a mighty careful
screening, and all of them have to be chosen for their special
skills finance, public relations, law, writing, editorial,
etc. It is not hard to find out in advance whether an "in
town" candidate has these qualifications, and if he
is a good worker and a good A.A. besides.
fine qualifications dont get an "in town worker"
onto the Board of Trustees at once. He first must serve
an apprenticeship as a director of A.A. Publishing or the
A.A. Grapevine. Thus we have a good look at what he can,
and will do. When a vacancy occurs on the Board of Trustees,
we therefore have a choice of several such men who have
already proven themselves. Even then, they have to pass
muster with the Nominating Committee of the Conference and
the Nominating Committee of the General Service Board. Of
course a "dud" is possible but not probable. I
dont see how this system could be more airtight, and
I think we can quit worrying; it has worked very well for
some years now.
Now we come to the question of the "area Trustees"
and here is mainly where the rub is.
need more "area alky" Trustees and we need them
badly. At present there are only three, and we could certainly
use five. We dont need these A.A.s to "represent"
or to "politick" for their areas that isnt,
and cannot be the idea. In fact they represent A.A. world-wide.
we do want of them is help with our main policy decisions.
The Board must absolutely have the advice of the "area"
members to ascertain just what the "grassroots"
feels and needs. These "area" out of town members
are the very heart of the Boards General Policy Committee
which, every three months, sits for a whole Sunday afternoon
prior to the Trustees and other Committee meetings the next
this Committee we filter every policy question that has
arisen in the quarter preceding. This Committee disposes
of smaller matters. And, after careful debate, it drafts
recommendations to the Board of Trustees on the larger ones.
In cases where the Committee disagrees, a minority report
is made to the Board. This is the most important and vital
Committee in the whole Headquarters. Without it and its
hard core of "area" Trustees, we could certainly
make very disastrous blunders. This is why we must have
at least five "area" Trustees.
the score, up to now, is a need for five "in town alkies"
and five "out of town alkies."
number we must have if we are going to function in
serious doubts have arisen about the method of selection
of the "area" Trustees. Some of these doubts may
well be justified.
we continue, as at present, to select "area" Trustees
by straight Third Legacy elective methods, we may be letting
ourselves in for a future bad result. The number of them
is so small that two or three might not, at any particular
time, be of the best Trustee material. It is also to be
remembered that these A.A.s serve four years each,
and they attend sixteen meetings of the General Service
Board, plus four General Service Conferences. Once in, they
are going to stay there for a long time (something which
of course, is necessary for continuity). But the extra honor
and prestige factor would surely cause far more log rolling
and political striving during their Third Legacy elections,
than could ever be the case with Delegates. This political
condition we simply cannot risk at the Trustee level.
are still other factors to consider. While we are mainly
looking (in these "area" Trustees) for experienced
and hard-working A.A.s who have the confidence of
their regions and who understand conditions there, we want
as many as possible who also have business or professional
qualifications. This isnt a "must" with
"area" men. But it is very desirable because the
Board has so much business to transact. And most surely
our good business judgment should not be the monopoly of
the "in town alkies" and the non-alcoholics only.
when a vacancy occurs, the General Service Board ought to
have some latitude in filling that opening with the kind
of man it needs at a particular time. For example: if the
Board already has two lawyers, why send in another lawyer
as an area Trustee if the main requirement of the Board
at the moment may be for an out of town finance man?
all these reasons I doubt if the present methods of selecting
area Trustees is either safe or practical. We have been
very lucky in our "area" Trustees so far. But
I dont think our "luck" is likely to hold
unless we change our system.
I offer for your consideration (or amendment) the following
as they resign, we reduce the number of non-alcoholics
to five, this number being quite enough for stability.
when two "nons" have left the Board, we replace
them with two additional "area" alkies.
when three "nons" have left the Board, we
then add one more "in town" alcoholic Trustee.
when the Board reduces to six "nons", we put
into effect a system for the selection of area Trustees
which would be a combination of the "Third Legacy"
and the "appointive" methods. This might be
done as follows:
the U.S. into four large areas. Make Canada the
fifth area. Each of these areas would have a Trustee
at all times.
year or more before a vacancy occurs, each state (or
province) within the affected area could name its own
Trustee candidate perhaps at Assembly time, to
this list of State (or Provincial) nominations, the
Nominating Committee of the Conference, sitting jointly
with the Nominating Committee of the General Service
Board, would then select the "area" Trustees
from these several nominations; also an alternate, or
perhaps two alternates.
Joint Nominating Committee would be guided by the current
needs of the General Service Board, by a careful investigation
of the candidate nominee, and by a definite list
of Conference approved qualifications which each
"area" Trustee should possess.
addition, the General Service Conference should approve
the first choice for a Trustee made by the Joint Nominating
Committee. But if the Conference disagrees with the
Committees choice, the first three choices of
the Committee could then be put in the hat and drawing
made for the final choice.
is my firm belief that such a system, combining the elective
and appointive methods, can overcome our present fears and
greatly insure our safety in the years to come.
is my intention to offer these suggestions to the General
Service Board at their January, 1958 meeting for their consideration.
I am offering this plan to you only for study and careful
consultation with your Committeemen, and with such other
experienced A.A.s as you may wish to approach. Please
bear in mind that this plan is tentative only. It simply
presents material upon which we hope you will develop your
would clearly be a mistake certainly at this
stage to carry these ideas to the whole grassroots.
Experience has shown that it is always unwise to carry
a problem of this sort to the grassroots at once. The Conference
itself must first have preliminary discussion so that it
can go home with definite ideas pro and con. The
grassroots "conscience" certainly cannot function
if it hasnt got the facts.
for a change in the A.A. Traditions or in Article 12 of
the Conference Charter, it is of course not mandatory for
the Conference to go in for widespread grassroots consultation
at all. The Conference is elected on the basis that its
members are trusted servants of A.A. and so must have real
powers of action and decision. Practically speaking, the
choice of whether or not to consult the grassroots should
be left up to each Delegate as to his own area. But
he should never so consult until he can report at least
a preliminary discussion on the subject by the Conference
itself. Several years ago we got off to a confused start
on the ratio question for this very reason.
I think our timetable might now be:
consent in January, 1958 as to general principles involved
consideration in April, 1958, concerning suggested change
appointment in 1958 of a committee to study this subject
and to recommend a proposal for area discussion
action on the proposal in 1959, if possible.
conclusion, it should be emphasized that no changes in Trustee
ratios, numbers, or manner of selection should ever be permanent.
Twenty years from now we may want no non-alcoholics whatever;
or maybe well need a lot more of them just to keep
us in line (something I dont believe!). But the Conference
should have, and surely be given, complete control of this
matter at all times.
I dont see why we should delay trying the experiment.
I have just outlined above. If it doesnt work, we
can always change.
has often asked me to make suggestions and sometimes to
take the initiative in these structural projects. That is
why I have tried to go into this very important matter so
believe that I shall not be at all affected if you happen
to disagree. Above all, you must act on experience and on
the facts; and never because you think I want a change.
Since St. Louis, the future belongs to you!
Some A.A.s believe that we should increase our Board
from 15 to 21 members in order to get the 10 alcoholics
we need. This would involve raising the non-alcoholics from
8 to 11 in number. But, might this not be cumbersome and
needlessly expensive? Personally, I think so.