Ridvan ushers in not just a great festival for the Baha’i world but also the annual National Conventions where we get a chance to reflect on the year past, accomplishments and future goals. As well as to elect the 9 members of our national governing bodies. Yes, it is springtime and incumbency is in the air.
With the retirement of Dorothy Nelson, the US NSA was given a rare opportunity to welcome a new member: Ms. Valerie Dana from Colorado. She is an attorney at law and until 2004 she was a director of the Mona Foundation.
Except for this new member, the same 8 incumbents were re-elected and not surprisingly, in almost the same order of votes: Jacqueline Left Hand Bull, David F. Young, Kenneth E. Bowers, Juana C. Conrad, William Roberts, Muin Afnani, Erica Toussaint, Robert C. Henderson.
The national convention in Canada had similar results except that two previous members retired, allowing for two new members to be elected. Elizabeth Wright was elected to the NSA of Canada in January 2009 as a result of a by-election caused by the resignation of Fariborz Sahba. From 2004 onward, Mr. Sahba had been a member of the national governing body and acted as the Treasurer. So although technically Wright was re-elected, I still count her as a new member because of the circumstances.
The second new member is Deloria Bighorn, replacing the retiring Mark Wedge who had been serving on the NSA for 10 consecutive years. Similar to the longstanding member she replaced and Valerie Dana, Ms. Bighorn is a North American native. Previously she acted as the Director of Aboriginal Affairs for the NSA of Canada, as well as working as a counselor at the now closed Maxwell Baha’i School.
The 7 re-elected incumbents are: Karen McKye, Todd Smith, Borna Noureddin, Judy Filson, Enayat Rawhani, Gordon Naylor, Elizabeth Wright and Susanne Tamas (in descending order of votes). Deloria Bighorn received the lowest number of votes which is in keeping with the traditional experience for new members.
Because incumbency is so prevalent, it is rare to see 2 new members in one election. Usually we see either no change, with all previous members re-elected or just one new face due to retirement. The last time we saw 2 new members, as is the case this year, was in 1999. The longest serving members of the Canadian NSA are Judy Filson and Enayat Rohani. The average consecutive years in office is 8 – meaning that the average member of the NSA of Canada has been a member for 8 years consecutively. Due to the 2 new members, this represents a slight decrease from last year’s number of 8.6 years.
There is a happy medium between too many years and too few years. If members are changing quickly, then they don’t have time to learn, make connections and to be able to take up the heavy responsibility that comes with being an NSA member. On the other hand, if membership is hardly changing at all, as we are seeing now, the disadvantages are that people get burned out, devolve into group-think, run out of ideas, form cliques and fiefdoms, etc. For this reason, it is difficult to draw the line and give a specific number of years, for example.
But when we are seeing that the only way new blood can be introduced into an NSA by the decision of an incumbent to retire due to old age, then it is safe to suggest that the pendulum has swung to an extreme. Of course, we are talking about a free election here. No one is forcing the Baha’is of the US and Canada to elect the same people over and over again.
And yet they do. There is an inherent flaw in the structure of the elections which needs be addressed. It is at this point that fellow Baha’is usually bristle with affront and close their minds. Which is unfortunate since the administrative processes are an evolving and organic framework. Even a cursory study of them and their history would attest to the fact that they are not set in stone and shouldn’t be – especially if they start to produce harmful results. They are the servants to the community, not the other way around.
To understand the flaw and how it can be remedied, please refer to a previous discussion: Baha’i Elections – How to Improve Them.