Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Response To The Madison Shooters "On ASMP"

Largely a rehash of previous posts to this blog, but it obviously needs to be said again.....

It's interesting to me that you all take Scott Highton's e-mailed comments, and share them, as if it were unbiased news reporting on ASMP.

First, let's set the record straight, Scott Highton was never president of ASMP. He did sit on the board of directors for a time and has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get re-elected ever since. It's his lack of success in this regard that drives his commentary.

Like yourself, I've been receiving e-mails from Scott Highton, the California member referenced in the blog post, on various issues. These e-mails from Mr. Highton, a former ASMP director (not former President), contain some pretty wild accusations about the current board's activities. Charges that the current board of directors lied to the membership in seeking a dues increase while sitting on a windfall of $1.3 million, concealing the receipt of the $1.3 million itself, using the money to make illicit payments to each other under the table, that the board is misguided, out of touch with the membership, that they put their own financial interests ahead of [those of the members], that they've (the board) committed tax fraud... oh, the list just goes on and on and on.

Many of you don't really know what to make of all of this. While members know the board's really not made-up of crooks, Mr. Highton's charges seem reasonable somehow. And what about that $1.3 million? Why did we need a dues increase if we have that money? Is Highton right? Have we all been duped? And very recently Highton has enlisted Dick Weisgrau, former Executive Director of ASMP, in his campaign to sling a little more mud as regards tax reporting issues that, stopping just short of making an accusation (why? because libel is a slippery slope), imply criminal behavior.

ASMP members have been enduring the shrill protests of Scott Highton for many years and while his issues vary slightly from year to year they are always presented by Scott in a manner that casts dispersions on the character of our board members and questions their integrity.

Those he accuses in a conspiracy to defraud you are: George Anderson; Richard Anderson (2nd Vice President); Kate Baldwin, Jim Cavanagh (Treasurer); Blake Discher; Chris Hollo; Shawn Henry (Secretary); Todd Joyce (1st Vice President); Bruce Katz ; Richard Kelly (President); Greg Kiger; Peter Krogh; Ed McDonald; Gail Mooney and Thomas Werner (he's previously accused Ben Coleman, Lynne Damianos and Jim Flynn in this conspiracy too).

Scott Highton is the perpetual squeaky wheel. He is never happy, he is always complaining. For a period of time Scott Highton served on the board of directors. His contributions were remembered by one member as, "a series of disasters punctuated by chaos." His latest e-mails are not intended to solve ASMP's problems, they're intended to exaggerate them and to furnish a stage from which he can play a starring role. He loves the spotlight and the attention and he works tirelessly to attack the people who do the real work of ASMP. His rantings and ravings demand our attention and cost us real money. His campaign is relentless and over the past several years has tried to divide ASMP, not strengthen it. Highton is smart enough, and clever enough, to conjure up just enough plausibility to make his presentations sound reasonable, and it's these half-truths... combined with some glaring omissions... that have wrought so much havoc.

I've been an ASMP member since 1972 in three chapters (NY, NJ, Chicago/Midwest) and at three levels (Student, Associate, General), an ASMP volunteer since 1981, New Jersey Chapter President (two terms) and Vice President of the Chicago/Midwest chapter (*your* chapter). One of the great benefits of being involved has been having the opportunity to meet and get to know many of you, our national directors, every one of the people Scott Highton mentions in his e-mails including Scott himself. Being somewhat an insider, I've learned that the people who now lead ASMP at the national level are the most effective leadership I've seen over the years I've been an ASMP member.

ASMP is more productive now than it's ever been. Every one of our directors, every member of our staff and our executive director are hard working, honest people of the highest calibre and with the utmost integrity. It's my distinct pleasure to know and work with them, and to call them my friends.

Is ASMP perfect? No, it is not. Are Highton's accusations true? Not by a long shot! I've found Scott Highton, and this is strictly my opinion, to be disgruntled, jealous and malicious; likely due to his failure to be re-elected to the national board of directors.

To best illustrate how Highton has spent the past few years spreading incendiary rumors about the board's activities is this: Highton claims that the board pled poverty asking for a dues increase while ASMP was receiving a $1.3 million grant. That grant was given with the stipulation that ASMP not use the money for normal operating expenses, so a dues increase was entirely appropriate. Scott knows that the grant is subject to the aforementioned stipulation, yet he's quite vocal in saying that the board is trying to scam the membership. It's an outrageous claim, and like his others, completely without merit.

Another conspiracy Highton alleges is that the Directors authorize ASMP to pay speaking fees to those participating in ASMP educational seminars. He claims that these ASMP members should share their specialized knowledge with the rest of us as volunteers, not paid speakers, and he further claims that your dues payments, your hard-earned money, is going into their pockets.

Of the Directors previously named, only three are on the ASMP lecture circuit. Peter Krogh, Director, presents "Get Your DAM Stuff Together" and for this he is paid not by ASMP but by Microsoft. Blake Discher, Director, presents "I Stink At Negotiating" and "Is Your Web Site making You Money?" For the former, Blake is paid not by ASMP but by Microsoft, and for the latter he is paid not by ASMP but by Adbase & Live Books. Thomas Werner, Director, presents "The Business Of Fine Art Photography" and he is paid by ASMP. One out of three. That's some conspiracy!

Each of these seminars takes two to three days of the presenter's time (includes travel), not to mention the time it took to develop the program. Doing this for 39 chapters consumes approximately 78 days per speaker. That's 78 days away from their businesses and their families. It's worthy of compensation, regardless of who pays them.

Of the other seminars ASMP presents, Paula Lerner & Gail Mooney lead one on Multimedia & Video (paid by ASMP - Gail is a Director, Paula is not), Susan Carr presents "What Do I Charge" (paid by Microsoft - she's not a director) and Judy Herrmann presents "Taking Control Of Your Career" (paid by Microsoft - she's not a director).

Even if all were paid by ASMP, that means that twelve board members who are not also lecturers would have to be involved in a conspiracy authorizing these payments. Well, what do they have to gain from all of this? I'll tell you: nothing!

These are tough times for photographers. Our economy is shrinking, advertisers and editorial outlets are cutting back, fees are spiraling downward. Those leading ASMP's Seminar Series are helping us stay abreast of trends, keep up with changes and teach us how to better compete in the marketplace... and because we're all competitors as well as colleagues, they're teaching us how to compete effectively with themselves. This is above and beyond the call of volunteerism, and as speaking fees and honoraria have become a normal part of their revenue streams, if we prevent them from earning a living they will have little choice but to resign their posts in favor of remaining profitable. That would only do damage to ASMP, and it's not a desirable outcome.

In addition to the speakers, Scott accuses the board of hiring each other to perform other tasks for the Society such as programming, book editing or assignment photography. This has been done in an above board and entirely proper manner, and only when the director was also the best qualified for the job. In fact, Scott Highton himself was hired to do some computer programming for ASMP when he was a national director. There was nothing sinister going on then and there's nothing sinister going on now.

Scott Highton has also served ASMP as an outstanding volunteer in the past but his recent tirades, his tactic of character assassination based on half-truths and innuendo is despicable and reeks of sour grapes, and gravely harms ASMP.

In the last election, Scott Highton proposed a referendum to block a dues increase. ASMP leaders, chosen by members to represent them, are given the opportunity to declare either Pro or Con on pending referenda. Not a single National Director, not one Chapter President (after consulting the chapter directors) declared as Pro on Scott's proposal. Not even Scott's local chapter leadership supported his proposal. Doesn't that tell you something?

Should we be spending our valuable time and resources answering the ridiculous or should we be talking about our future, about how we're going to go about advancing our primary mission of making the world safe for professional photographers?

What can we do about it? Let's make a point of rededicating ourselves to the mission that brought us all together: improving the lot of the working professional photographer. This is what we ought to be discussing. Where have we been, what are we doing, can we do more, where's there room for improvement in what we've done? Let's kick that up a notch.

We can build a better future, a more stable working environment, be better educated both technically and with sound business practices to navigate an increasingly difficult economy, orphan works, and a host of other obstacles. ASMP needs your support now more than ever. Think about that as you weigh your options for the coming year. Your continued membership ensures that the work that's so important to us all can continue unabated.

5 Comments:

Blogger James Gill said...

Thanks for your response Joe. Jim Gill-creator of the MadisonShooters Blog

3:19 PM  
Anonymous John Slemp said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous John Slemp said...

As a former National Board Member, I can verify, personally, that all Joe says here is True. Period. If it were up to me, Mr. HIghton would have been culled from the membership of ASMP years ago for wasting everyone's time, if nothing else. But is wasn't up to me.

I learned a lot working as a volunteer for ASMP. Today I just paid my dues for another year, and will continue to do so, as long as ASMP continues to be relevant. The quality of the leadership (and Staff too!) today is the best that ASMP has ever had, and it's largely due to the system of replacing Board Members on a regular basis. The system itself is not perfect, but it's pretty darn good, and if someone were dumb enough to want to do something unethical, I'm sure it would be found out soon enough, and dealt with.

Are there opportunites to engage in unethical behavior? Yes. Has it happened in the time since Mr. HIghton left the Board? Not to my knowledge. For a guy who voted for the current system of paying qualified members for work that can't be done by anyone else, or at a cheaper rate, I have never understood his resulting disgruntlement with that system.

Therein lies the quandry. There IS no problem, and yet because he is no longer a part of the "insider group", everything is a conspiracy. Will Mr. HIghton ever acknowledge this or accept it? Doubtful. Why? I believe that it would then gut his reason for being a self-appointed "watchdog" over ASMP affairs.

It's a sad state when your reason for existence is to create controversy where there is none. But that's what Mr. Highton feels he must do.

I'll leave it up to you to decide if there is a smoking gun here, but I'm not gonna waste time looking. I know the people involved too well to think there is. I wish Mr. Highton would wise up too, but that's not gonna happen either. So I"m sure the ASMP "soap opera" will continue to churn as long as Mr. Highton can find a platform (ANY platform), on which to perform it. His antics have only received "thumbs down" reviews from those who have seen it, and with no change in the lead actor pending, I'm sure it will continue to do so.

John Slemp
ASMP Atlanta
Former National Board Member

10:40 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Joe,

I think you should know that Scott Highton did not "enlist" me in his cause. I got involved because I was troubled by the lack of transparency when it came to paying Directors nearly 1/4 million dollars over 3 years. I wonder what that amount will be when the subsequent three years ending with 2009 is added. I also never implied any "criminal intent" on the part of anyone in ASMP. I do not believe dishonesty to be at the core of the issue. What I do believe is that their were serious lapses in meeting the obligation all boards have in filing proper tax returns, reporting the nature and reason for insider payments, and failing to have a conflict of interest policy that meets IRS recommendations. Since my writing about those things in my blog, nothing has happened to make me change my mind or lead me to believe that ASMP has taken steps to assure its insider dealings are made in the light of day. I do not use the word :insider" in a disparaging way. The term is used by the IRS and describe employees, directors, and officers of an organization. Hope you have great New Year.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Joe P. said...

Mr. Weisgrau,

I read your blog, your commentary falls just short of implying criminal conduct. Don't squirm too much in your rationalization, you left yourself a very thin gap to wiggle through.

As perception seems to be more important than reality these days, I, too, agree that more transparency is better than less and I'm satisfied that the ASMP board of directors has taken steps to ensure more transparent operations in the future.

In my opinion ASMP has improved immeasurably as an organization since you and your boy Scott Highton were in the driver's seat. Glad those days are gone.

Happy New Year,

Joe P

1:53 PM  

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