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Massage Today
February, 2016, Vol. 16, Issue 02

Electile Dysfunction: Setting a Dangerous Precedent

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB

With the 2016 Presidential campaigns sucking up all available bandwidth in the media, there were two recent elections in the massage therapy field that passed under the radar that raise deep concerns about fairness, transparency and democratic process.

I'm talking here about the Board of Directors elections for the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB). Both elections featured dubious changes in voting procedures that were not authorized by the respective memberships of these non-profit, tax-exempt organizations. The changes have resulted in the diminishment of the voice of the members and the further concentration of power in the hands of very few people.

AMTA's annual election for its Board of Directors and Officers have not garnered much attention in recent years, with less than 3% of the 56,000 professional members voting. However, these elections have been run according to an open and fair process, with all AMTA members having equal opportunity to run for seats on the Board. A Commission on Candidacy (itself elected by the membership) was in charge of ensuring that candidates met basic qualifications in the AMTA Bylaws.

This past August, the AMTA Board changed the entire election structure, giving the President the power to select the Commission on Candidacy (COC). The COC, in turn, was empowered to select a slate of candidates from the pool of those who submitted applications, with just one candidate for each Board seat. The entire slate was presented to the membership during a two-week window in November for an "Accept" or "Reject" vote. By the way, the voting instructions gave no information on what would happen if a majority of members rejected the slate. If that wasn't bad enough, the new election structure removed the ability of AMTA members to select the association's President and Vice Presidents. The officers are now chosen by the Board of Directors, after the rubber-stamp election takes place.

vote - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark AMTA's 2014 Board elections reached a new low in cronyism, as Board members were allowed (for the first time) to publicly endorse their favorite candidates. The 2015 Board election has now enshrined cronyism as the law of the land, as the entire selection process is now controlled by the association's President. And this closed-shop mentality was used effectively to screen out some highly qualified candidates who would have pushed the association in much-needed new directions. Bar the door to change, and order up another round of drinks to celebrate!

The press release sent out by AMTA on the recent election touts its success in doubling the participation – up to a whopping 6%. They claim that 87.7% of the 3,389 members voted to approve the slate. Since there were no other choices or options given, this vote cannot be given any more credence than someone hitting the "Like" button on a Facebook post.

Why does this election process and the AMTA Board even matter? Because the organization is a public trust, and it is sitting on a cash reserve of $15 million that could be used to truly advance the profession and improve the quality of services provided. As it is, much of the association's money is used for the care and feeding of itself, the professional staff, and its state chapters. AMTA is little more than a social welfare club for those who serve in "leadership" positions at the state and national levels – massage therapists who get free travel, lodging and CEU's for conferences and conventions. Fun for them on your dime.

Here's another way to look at what has happened: Imagine that the election process for your local city council was changed by the council without being put to the voters for approval. The new rules allow the mayor to choose a committee to hand-pick candidates, and only one candidate is presented to the voters for each open council seat. And once the election is complete, the council chooses a mayor from within its own group. Conflict of interest? An affront to the principles of representative democracy? You're damn right it is, and it's exactly what AMTA has committed.

Their claim to being a "member driven organization" is now a total lie. They are now driven by the President and Executive Director, supported by a 1% "Ruling Class." No dissent allowed. And yes, I am an AMTA member.

It Gets Worse

Well, it's no prettier over at FSMTB, where its leaders have gradually reduced the power and voice of the state massage regulatory agencies that constitute the membership of this important organization. Just before representatives of the state agencies gathered for their Annual Meeting last October, the process for electing members of the FSMTB Board of Directors was changed without the permission of the Member Boards. Sound familiar? In the new process, candidates (hand-picked by the Nominating Committee) were pitted against each other for specific seats, instead of all candidates running at large for the available seats on the Board. It's a mystery who decided which candidates were to run against whom. And forget about Member Boards being able to nominate candidates from the floor during the meeting – that right was taken away a few years ago.

This last-minute change to the election process did not go over well, and a number of Member Boards abstained from the vote to express their concern with an action that had been taken without their permission. The meeting was further muddied by a vote taken on a resolution introduced by the New Jersey Board to change the exam requirements for the MBLEx. The resolution was passed by the Delegate Assembly, but was later invalidated by FSMTB staff because a page was left out of the materials provided on this resolution. Why even hold these meetings, with the appearance of a representative democratic process, if it can all be changed by the whim of professional staff "behind the curtain?"

FSMTB appears to be emulating some of the worst behavior of NCBTMB when that organization was in its heyday. Over the last several years, the Federation's annual meetings have become vacation junkets ... on the beach in San Juan, the French Quarter in New Orleans, and most recently in Albuquerque for the big international Balloon Fiesta. That one ensured there was plenty of hot air to go around at the meeting.

The success of the MBLEx has taken FSMTB from poverty to poshness in just seven years. With the organization now sitting on a cash reserve of about $8 million, they should be utilizing it for the good of the profession. As I mentioned in my last column, FSMTB can't even make good on its most basic obligation to provide exam preparation materials to students and massage schools. Why should we trust them to handle continuing education approvals?

As the expression goes, "Follow the Money." In the case of these two organizations, it leads to the executive directors of AMTA and FSMTB – each of whom are making more than $300,000 per year in compensation. These individuals are the ones in real control, with the glad-handing Boards of Directors there mostly for show. The problem is that the people in these elected positions have forgotten that they have the power to hire and fire their executive directors if they are not performing up to snuff. It's time for them to wake up and find association management professionals who can bring these organizations into higher levels of service.

If you care, you must put pressure on your State Massage Board to work to reform The FSMTB. If you are an AMTA member, you should let them know how you feel, and soon. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and involvement. If you don't protect your rights and freedom, they will be taken away. And they are very hard to get back.

Click here for more information about Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB.


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