An open letter from Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Leonard Katzman on the proposed changes to the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s bylaws
Here is the letter in full: Dear Chairman McNamara: In late winter of 2011, Ed Pacheco was the Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic State Committee and he proposed a series of amendments to the State Committee’s bylaws that would fundamentally change the structure of the State Committee’s membership and operations. Prior to the 2011 amendments, there existed an “elite”
Here is the letter in full:
Dear Chairman McNamara:
In late winter of 2011, Ed Pacheco was the Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic State Committee and he proposed a series of amendments to the State Committee’s bylaws that would fundamentally change the structure of the State Committee’s membership and operations.
Prior to the 2011 amendments, there existed an “elite” group within the Party called the Board of Directors. Among the special powers of the Board of Directors was “the authority to recommend nominees for Federal and State officers to the State Committee for endorsement.” Therefore at every State Committee nominating convention, there were essentially two separate meetings. First, just the Board of Directors would meet and hear from all the candidates and vote on a recommendation for endorsement. Non-Board members of the State Committee were prohibited from attending this session. The Board’s recommendation was then forwarded to the main body of the Committee for a vote.
Chair Pacheco’s proposed amendments eliminated the Board of Directors, thus democratizing the process to the broader full membership. This change took power away from those who were members of the Board. Yet the vote to approve the change was nearly unanimous.
The reason those amendments passed so overwhelmingly is that Chair Pacheco reached out to all Committee members well in advance of the meeting. He took the time – several months – to explain what the purpose and rationale was for the proposed amendments, to meet with stakeholder segments of the Party, and to answer questions. Chair Pacheco incorporated comments he received to improve the proposed changes, ranging from the substantive to typos. The result was a success – a near-unanimous adoption of a major reformulation of our structure in an open and democratic way.
By contrast, the current proposed Bylaws amendments were released on November 6th, less than two weeks before the meeting being called for on November 18. There have been no explanations or rationale provided, leading to rampant speculation about nefarious intentions, as I’m sure you are aware. Those speculations may be false, but because there has not been any explanation or discussion, the membership has no way of knowing.
This is very unfortunate because some of the changes are on their face quite reasonable. For example, Section 1 at present is clearly incorrect as to a description of the quorum and the proposed amendment fixes that. The current bylaws are silent on the matter of caucuses and it is completely reasonable that the State Committee Bylaws should address caucuses. And, allowing a member the right to be heard prior to censure or discipline by the State Committee is entirely reasonable.
But any reasonableness that the proposed amendments may reflect is lost amid the also-reasonable criticism of this process which has not allowed for any participation by State Committee members.
The Bylaws are important, governing all of our affairs. Due regard for their importance counsels great care in the process of their amendment. Pushing forward to amend the Bylaws without participation and buy-in from the rank-and-file members leads to greater distrust of the State Committee. Not just division, but distrust. The Party has healed divisions in the past. But distrust of the State Committee by Rhode Island democrats is not something that will easily or soon be healed.
I strongly urge that the State Committee cancel the meeting for November 18th and take the time necessary to work with Party stakeholders in gaining support for any Bylaws amendment, as Chair Pacheco did last time the Bylaws were amended. This may facilitate passage of any proposed amendments and be a unifying and trust-building process for the entire State Committee.
Leonard B Katzman, Chair,
Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee
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