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N6NB Letter January 10, 2018

Members of the Board of Directors

ARRL, the National Association for Amateur Radio Newington, CT 06111


Dear Members of the Board:

As a former four-term vice director and ARRL member since 1957, I never before considered submitting a letter like this to the Board of Directors. However, the board now faces the most serious threat to its credibility since the incentive licensing controversy 50 years ago.  In fact, the current crisis is more serious because so many of those who are concerned about recent and proposed board actions are prominent and highly respected leaders of amateur radio.

I believe the board must act quickly to reaffirm its commitment to democratic principles if it is to avoid long-term damage to ARRL’s effectiveness and its endowment.

The new code of conduct, which is widely perceived as a gag rule to silence directors who may disagree with ARRL policy, must be abolished.  It cannot be saved by wordsmithing or spin-doctoring.  Directors must be free to express their views on all matters to the members who elected them, even if what they say could be deemed to disparage ARRL itself. Their primary loyalty must be to the membership. The code of conduct is fundamentally at odds with that principle.

Moreover, the board needs to reaffirm its commitment to free elections.  No committee should be allowed to disqualify board candidates who meet the written qualifications for the position.  The membership must be free to elect any legally qualified candidate, regardless of his or her stance on any issue or any undefined “conflict of interest.” A committee that can remove candidates from the ballot with seeming arbitrariness reminds a lot of us of a “guardian council” that disqualifies potential candidates for their lack of ideological purity in some countries.  It has no place in a democratic organization. Equally undemocratic is the proposal to allow ARRL memberships to be arbitrarily revoked.  That could also be used to undercut free elections.  And the recent proposal to dilute elected directors’ votes by giving a board vote to persons not elected by the members is still another action that would undermine ARRL’s status as a democratic organization.

Above all, the board must bring sunshine to its governance process. Frankly, during the many board meetings I attended, too many things happened that would never withstand public scrutiny.  The minutes rarely provided a complete picture of what really happened at those meetings.  The best solution is to open board meetings to any member who wishes to attend.  When ARRL was established and its governing documents were written to allow closed board meetings, sunshine laws were rare even for government agencies.  The federal Freedom of Information Act was not enacted until 1967 and the Government in the Sunshine Act came even later. Now we live in a different time.  Today the public and ARRL members expect even private membership associations to be far more open and transparent than they did when ARRL was founded.

In short, I believe the board must work to restore public confidence by recognizing full freedom of speech for directors, assuring free elections and opening board meetings to members.  It’s been very heartening to see the huge outpouring of support for an open and democratic ARRL.  Now the board needs to address these issues.

In addition, the board should reconsider the recent censure of director Norton.  His alleged offense was nothing more than making members aware of the existence of the new code of conduct.  After hearing him discuss this issue in two venues, I believe his presentations were not only accurate but also very much in the best interests of ARRL and its members.  He deserves praise, not censure, for supporting members’ right to know.


Respectfully submitted,


Wayne Overbeck, N6NB

Life member and former vice director


(Circulated Jan. 10, 2018)