May 24, 2022
To: Latin American International Coalition of Atheists
We were extremely disappointed to receive your letter of disaffiliation. It was especially disappointing that Shirley Rivera should resign as an AAI Director without first raising her concerns with the board. We believe all the issues you raised are readily explained, and when understood, show the board to be diligent, ethical and democratic.
We will discuss your concerns in the order in which you raised them.
First: We make absolutely no apology for identifying David Orenstein as a possible successor to Howard and giving the board an opportunity to get to know him and for him to get to know the board. This does not infringe AAI bylaws and nor was it in any way undemocratic. Most organizations would call this prudent succession planning which is good management practice.
We made it crystal clear to David at the outset that board roles are not within the gift of the board. Only affiliates can elect board directors. Then it is the board’s job to elect officers–Directors would have to be convinced he is the right person for the job.
Officer roles are important for the good running of any organization and the President’s role is especially crucial to a public-facing organization like AAI. The choice of President can literally be the difference between success and failure. We believed David would make an outstanding President and we took steps to ensure he was in the running and, if elected, could get to work as quickly as possible.
Second: Your letter says that AAI elections lack transparency and democracy and contravene California’s regulations but you do not say in what way the regulations are contravened. To our knowledge, we are compliant with the regulations. Furthermore, if we became aware of any contraventions we would take immediate steps to rectify them. Our intention is always to operate in a legal and ethical manner.
Shirley Rivera has been a board member for 18 months, if she had spotted any non-compliance, it would have been helpful for her to have advised the board.
Third: Your letter says that invitations to affiliates to attend the AGM were sent out after the new board of directors was formed. This is simply not true. Firstly, a new board cannot be formed until affiliates have voted. Voting closed on May 20. Votes were counted and successful candidates were notified on May 21, in time for them to attend the AGM the next day.
It is true that the board nominated six candidates for the elections and that board directors discussed and agreed our candidates before they were nominated. Shirley may not have been aware of the discussions that took place within the board because she missed several board meetings. The board democratically decided which candidates to nominate.
It is also true that various board members interviewed a selection of possible nominees. These interviews were part of our due diligence to ensure the final board nominees were suitable for board director roles. The important fact is that affiliates are free to nominate their own candidates and to vote for them. In the end, only affiliates can elect board directors. It is quite feasible for affiliates to reject all the board nominees and elect only their own nominees. The system is very democratic.
All affiliates were sent emails asking them to put forward their nominations on April 24. This was in reasonable time for affiliates to submit nominations before the closing date. This email was sent to all the C&S America affiliates. From our email tracking system, we can advise you that three C&S America affiliates opened this email but the others did not.
On May 12, ballot papers were sent to all affiliates eligible to vote (according to our bylaws only formal organisations in Good Standing are permitted to vote). The only eligible C&S America affiliate this year was Ateistas de Puerto Rico and they were sent the ballot papers.
In summary, the board exercised its legitimate right to nominate candidates and carried out that responsibility in a diligent and open manner. Furthermore, all affiliates were invited to nominate their own candidates and all eligible affiliates were sent ballot papers so they could vote. The successful candidates were elected by affiliates and no one else. Everything was done in accordance with the bylaws.
Fourth: Your letter says at the 2021 elections, no C&S America affiliates were invited to the AGM or notified of the elections. This is not true. All C&S affiliates were invited to the AGM. An email was sent to all C&S affiliates on May 5, 2021 giving notification of the AGM and the voting procedures. One C&S America affiliate opened that email.
On June 25, 2021, another email was sent to all C&S America affiliates giving the AGM Agenda and voting instructions. This was opened by 3 C&S America affiliates.
On July 16, 2021, ballot papers were sent to all affiliates eligible to vote. This was opened by 3 C&S America affiliates.
The conversation you mention between Shirley Rivera and Fotis Frangopoulos related to a last minute reminder to attend the AGM which was sent to affiliates two days before the event. A mistake was made with that mailing and C&S America affiliates were omitted. Fotis apologised for this genuine mistake but all C&S affiliates had already received sufficient information to attend the AGM and to vote in the elections.
The truth is, the board is anxious to engage affiliates in the work and processes of AAI. We would love to see more participation. We had good attendance at this year’s AGM, we believe it was possibly the biggest attendance in AAI’s history but still we would like more–and more affiliates nominating candidates and more affiliates voting in elections. This is how we will make the organization stronger.
We strongly believe that everything in these elections was transparent, honest, and compliant with our bylaws. We assure everyone that the board is not plotting to get its own way or to deceive affiliates. On the contrary, board directors work extremely hard to help atheists, to support affiliates and to grow AAI.
You all received a link to the 2021-2022 AAI Annual Report recently. It gives examples of the work we do to keep atheists safe and to protect people from blasphemy laws. There are people alive today because AAI intervened to save them. There are atheists living freely today because we fought to free them from incarceration. There are atheists living without fear because we moved them to a safe place.
We sincerely hope all C&S American affiliates will withdraw their disaffiliation. It would be very sad for you to leave based entirely on misunderstandings.
As AAI begins a new chapter of growth and advocacy, with more affiliates than ever, a new, strong board and led by a new President, there has never been a better time to be an AAI affiliate. Let’s do this together.
We ask each of you to please retract your disaffiliation.
Board of Directors
Atheist Alliance International