by John Borst, PP Rotary Club of Dryden, ON

Having a complaint lodged against you as a member of Rotary is a little like being Dorothy and falling down the hole into the Land of the Wizard of Oz.

At least Dorothy ran into the Tin Man, the Scare Crow and the Lion. In Rotary the place at first appears empty. But you may run into the Wicked Witch of the West.

Everywhere you turn there is nothingness. Neither the “Constitution of Rotary International”, the “Bylaws of Rotary International” nor the “Rotary Code of Policies: January 2018” has anything to say about how a complaint about a member by another member shall be handled.

The result is that a member of Rotary’s staff falls into the role of the “Wicked Witch”. This isn’t fair either.

In my case, staff explained that a Rotarian had made a complaint about something I had posted on a social media site such as LinkedIn, FaceBook or a blog and demanded that it be taken down.  Now, this wasn’t directed at me, but to the District 5550 Governor. The site wasn’t Wethe4 but the District’s 5550Opinons blog that I set up and on which I posted many opinions.

The DG obviously had had a considerable conversation with the staff person. They claimed the blog didn’t belong to the District but was a personal blog of mine, that I was in violation of the Rotary marks and had to remove them and that I had no authority to make the posts on behalf of the District.

During the five years previous, while I served as the Director of Communication, none of the five District Governors ever expressed a reservation or concern about any post. I hid nothing from view. Each was cross-posted to the District website.

The piece in question was posted in June of 2016, which is not exactly yesterday. The DG and I are now working to resolve the dilemma constructively.

The Bigger Question

Our actions, however, do not resolve the bigger question. What right does a member have when a complaint is lodged by another member about something that is written in a social media context.

Article 5 section 2 of The Rotary Constitution states “A club shall be composed of adult persons who demonstrate good character, integrity, and leadership;” while Article 4 states we will foster “High ethical standards in business and professions”. The issue of complaints is dealt with in the “Bylaws” under 11.070. Election Review Procedures.   And in “Policy” under 26.080. Election Complaint Procedures. Neither reference deals with complaints between two members.

In the profession in which I spent my career, the standard of “good character, integrity and leadership” expected of me was that I first dealt with a complaint on a face-to-face, person-to-person basis. If that did not resolve the matter, either side could write to a superior. However, each was required to share with the other anything written.

The organisations for which I worked, usually had a procedure to follow should the complaint require proceeding up the ladder. Rotary as an organisation has no such process even though its standard is “To foster: high ethical standards in business and the professions…”

To date, the complainant remains anonymous to me. No direct approach by the complainant has occurred. The complainant has taken advantage of their position within Rotary to pass the difficult work on to a staff member.  Such behaviour on the part of the complainant is unfair and cowardly.

In the Wizard of Oz the Tin Man, the Lion and the Straw Man gain a soul. In an age of social media, it is time Rotary as an institution recognised that an individual member too, has rights. We are not cyphers buried in the snow of Clubs and Districts.  Many of us put our soul into Rotary. It is time, the institution of  Rotary gave us a soul as members.