USBG Town Hall: Webstream & Breakdown

By B.E. Mintz |

In the wake of recent scandal, the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) held an open town hall meeting/ webstream on Monday (6.11). During the 90 minute event, national leadership issued statement and fielded questions from membership. If you missed it, the video can be viewed below or you can follow NP‘s minute by minute breakdown here.

Please note that since the original posting, the video has been cut to reduce “dead air” at the start. We have done our best to update time-stamps accordingly.

0:00 —Board Chair and Chief Volunteer Officer Kyle McHugh starts it off with standard welcoming remarks. He is flanked at the podium by Chief Staff Officer Aaron Gregory Smith as well as Board Members Bob Dagostino, Frank Martucci and Ingrid Rodriguez. McHugh explains that the meeting will run 90 minutes, beginning with two ten minute statements followed by a Q&A session.

4:00 — McHugh calls for a moment of silence to honor members of the community lost in the last year.

5:02—McHugh begins his statement. “A lot has happened in our history and a lot has happened within our organization in just the last month.” Then, McHugh explains that he will be speaking for the Board of Directors and notes that the Board does not respond to social media, but they are “listening, hearing” and “want to have these dialogues.”

6:02—“Some of the things that we discovered is that a lot of our own members and a lot of members of our industry don’t understand the workings, the set-up, the dynamics, and the governance structure of the United States Bartenders Guild, and in fact, the not for profit governance in general,” says McHugh. He explains that it is important to get context in place as they look at changes in governance. Before delving into governance, he once again stresses that the USBG wants to hold discussions and effect change.

9:02—McHugh cites items that the USBG Board has learned in the last year. “A little disagreement is not a bad thing,” but he adds, “It is important to disagree with ideas not with people.” The Board speaks with one voice (right now McHugh) and National will turn to local chapters to do the same.

11:17—The last overhaul of governance was in 2013; that’s when the Board was formed and Regional VP’s were established. However, McHugh says that problems such as “burning out leaders” and a change in governance models is coming. He proposes local boards of directors that will pick the officers. “Long story short, we’re in the middle of rewriting our bylaws, we’re in the  middle of rewriting the chapter charter agreements.” Further, national would like to see chapter officers serve staggered terms to prevent complete leadership turnover.

15:17—McHugh gets personal and reflects on his own experiences as Board Chief. He says that he previously considered stepping down but didn’t; notes we’ll see what the next 90 minutes brings; and then concludes that he does not think that now is the time for him to resign. He explains that he is in the middle his shift and bartenders don’t walk out in the middle of their shifts or no-call, no-show. “My volunteer role has affected my health and wellness and that of my family, but I’m still here… [USBG] is one of the most important and impactful things that has happened in my life and, if I’m feeling burned out, we’re doing something wrong.”

18:32—“We know that there are needs that need to change and need to change as soon as possible and we have a plan to change things. We’ve been working on that for over a year,” says McHugh. The plan calls for less responsibility on volunteer leaders, but more accountability for volunteer leaders. New regional councils are needed according to the leadership. A lot of emphasis is then placed on people who sign up for roles actually executing those roles. McHugh stresses that leadership should not be about “titles or glory.”

21:47—Aaron Gregory Smith takes the floor. He introduces himself then pauses as the sound cuts in and out.

21:28—The sound is back and so is AGS. He begins by stating, “I’m here in a supporting role. I’m here to address your questions about interpersonal violence that takes place in the hospitality industry and explain to you how the Guild responds and hopes to respond in the future.” He then takes a moment to apologize to the survivors of interpersonal violence. A trigger warning follows.

23:32—AGS states that the topic will often be subdivided into “Prevention, Response, and Enforcement” during the discussion.

24:32—Now, AGS gets personal also. He stresses that he is “here to listen, advise, and support.” However, he also notes his own shortcomings such as tone and difficulty speaking to large groups. AGS then apologizes to anyone who feels that he did not listen to them and vows to continue to try to lead “more from the heart and less from the head,” referencing a personal goal set at the National Leadership Conference this past summer in Detroit.

27:02—Liz Cosby, President of Detroit USBG, reads a prepared statement. She explains that she consulted with numerous other NCC leaders and members before composing the statement. First, Cosby provides some background explaining the initial promise and subsequent disappointment that she has experienced in her time with the USBG. Then, she posits that she and other USBG local leaders have been put into leadership roles without receiving the proper resources. “I am expected to have those answers without having been given the tools, resources or training to handle them,” Cosby declares.

Finally, she calls for action beginning with AGS’ resignation. She declares that he “needs to step down from his position, and someone qualified needs to take his place.” Additionally, she calls for the remainder of national leadership to “recuse themselves from this situation [sexual abuse response and prevention] and bring in qualified third parties to address this situation.”

35:07—The Q&A begins. The structure is to alternate between questions that were sent in, and those from the people in the room. The first question was emailed in from a Texas member who asks whether the current crisis is having an effect on membership, and if so, how will the organization rebound. McHugh says, “It’s too soon to know.”

AGS adds, “Rebuilding trust is a really longterm issue. A lot of that is gonna be about prevention… First things first we need to make sure people are feeling safe.”

37:02—After some sound issues, leadership is asked to respond to Cosby’s statement. Cosby, herself, says that she didn’t come into the meeting expecting an immediate response, rather she was addressing the members. SpeedRack’s Lynette Marrero pushes the need for response training for individuals especially those in leadership roles.

41:32—McHugh notes, “Every staff member or Board Member who works with the National Resolution Committee is going to reporter training so they can more competently take reports of sexual harassment or assault.”

42:42—A leader in Oregon sent in a question, “What can we do to prevent leadership issues like this from happening in the future?” McHugh says that sometimes the national organization is challenged by “the legal right that is membership.” He elaborates, “We have more effect with leadership than membership” and notes that the bylaws are structured to prevent the Board from removing members. He goes on to offer assurance that they are working with the legal team daily to change that condition.

43:32—A NYC member asks for clarification regarding exactly when a member could be removed. “It needs to be something with cause. That there is an injury to an individual with proof that could literally go to a court of law and be proven by a reasonability by a judge or jury that hears that case,” replies the Board.

46:32–McHugh debates pros and cons of future options for enforcement.“Is it a review of members before someone is accepted as a member?. The question then, is, ‘Do we get into the blacklist business as an organization?’… What is the road to rehabilitation…I, for one, am hesitant to go down the road to blacklists until we know what is the road to paying for your sins.”

47:37—AGS more deeply discusses governance models and enforcement. He returns to the new plan for local boards to appoint officers—and also have the power to remove them.

48:32—An audience member points out that sexual abuse is not a new problem. She wants to know why other non-profits with paid staff have not experienced the same problems and why the USBG is just now waking up to the need for policy and treatment now.

49:02—“Our paid staff is responding and taking direction from policy that has been offered by the board of directors in the past,” declares McHugh. “In the end, ‘Who owns these problems?’ The Board of Directors owns these problems… In the end, Aaron works for the board of directors.”

49:12—McHugh adds that some involvement is crucial for change. “What I could use to help with that is people who will show up to and report the meetings for the Transparency Task Force. The only people that were showing up were Board Members. He also laments that less than only about 10% of the members vote in the board elections. A “reboot” is called for.

50:02—McHugh on building a better system. “The hard part is building that structure without losing something that makes our culture attractive to us to make this our lives’ work in the front place: that is a separation the makes us a different from a classic job at a government institution or at a top blue chip stock firm that is privately owned. They’re different.”

51:17—AGS reiterates that his role is to implement the Board’s directives. He also notes that there has been a sexual harassment policy in place since 2013, but it was clearly flawed and a new policy was implemented a few months ago.

53:02—A member from California asks, “At what frequency does the Board review the mission in order to maintain relevancy with its constituents and to ensure that the values and initiatives expressed are being upheld by the Board?”

54:02—McHugh replies that the mission statement has been revisited “five, six times in the last year.”

57:12—Loren Bornstein of Philadelphia presents several thoughts. He asks if the USBG approach is essentially too retroactive, notes the ill effects of debating serious topics on social media, and inquires why the organization cannot provide some local leaders a stipend like a dorm RA. He concludes by telling leadership that he doesn’t want to hear about involvement issues or any of leadership’s personal trials & travails. “It’s not about you. It’s about the 6200 members involved.”

58:47—AGS returns to the Prevention, Response, and Enforcement model. Specifics about the code, NRC, and communication follow. Most significantly, he dives into the new enforcement policy, “Members no longer need to initiate an investigation. Now, a staff member with appropriate information can initiate an investigation.”

1:03:02—USBG NYC President John Garda asks why some of the responsibility for training can’t be shifted from National to local chapters.

1:04:32—McHugh explains that resources are not equal among chapters. On solution that he sees is building better regional infrastructure that would allow resources to be shared, ergo allowing chapters to do more training.

1:06:47—AGS fills in some more details. Dues are split 60% to the chapter, 40% to the national. That allocation could be changed by a vote of the Board.

1:07:42—Garda counters, “To further comment on what we just spoke about with the chapters being the heart of this—That is also something that needs to be adjusted because in February we had no systems set up. It was all word of mouth. That is not the way we can run an organization of this size and that is also something we need to address.”

1:08:22—McHugh agrees with Garda about disorganization on the regional and chapter level. He recalls that in his experience four officers are elected, two show up, and then four entirely new officers are elected next cycle. The Board adds that their plan to rotate officers staggered, two at a time, is one possible solution.

1:08:32—Cosby speaks again to address the June 1 email. She asks, “Do you realize the position that you put chapter leaders in with your verbiage in that email?”

1:09:09—Leadership acknowledges that they understand now.

1:10:32—Cosby wants to know what national leadership is going to do to train chapter officers. To hammer home the point, she calls for a show of hands. The result: Only three people in the room self identify as being qualified to perform trauma counseling. She concludes that that is not fair and demands to know what actions will be taken immediately.

1:11:03—McHugh expresses regret and then runs through the steps currently being taken. He mentions the NRC, pushing resources like Robin Nance’s list of advocacy and treatment groups, and stresses that there is a need to work with chapters to build local partnerships.

1:13:25—AGS notes that chapter presidents are already expected to mediate disputes between members. For sexual abuse issues, he recommends the recent Chicago Style “Believe Them” webstream.

1:14:32—Marrero states, “You used words just now that, again, no one is qualified to use in this room like, ‘mediation’ for example. If someone came to me (and I’m not even in a leadership position), I would still feel uncomfortable in having to mediate that… It’s problem that there is no independent, outside arbitrator here today… There is a little lack of heart. There is all this talk that is very official that’s not being helpful.”

1:17:02—McHugh “I am in a constant struggle… of being in a professional organization, being the Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Volunteer for that organization and showing heart. I’m on the verge of tears halfway through that conversation because this effects me so personally… The best thing that I can do, in my mind, is try to keep my composure to show everybody that we are listening, that we are hearing, and that we can go through and try to find results, not to talk about it.”

1:19:22—Marrero shows some empathy to leadership, but does not excuse the mistakes that were made. She urges them to “think more” before taking actions like sending out the controversial email from June 1.

1:22:42—Cosby speaks again. She asks for a definitive timeline of when leadership will “rectify the June 1 email.”

1:22:12—McHugh replies that it will happen “very, very quickly” but urges members to reach out to Nationals and express the resolutions that they would like.

1:23:22—Current member and former National President Pam Wiznitzer is inquiring about proactive solutions. She would like to see a one definitive list of partner organizations that has been vetted and distributed by the USBG. She adds that mental health and wellness must be included in the drive.

1:25:07—Jackie Summers gets the final questions. “I’d like to know what national leadership is doing about the lack of diversity in national leadership?”

1:25:22—McHugh states that the Board is chosen by an open election, but understands that inherent biases taint the process. He acknowledges that leadership is aware of a lack of diversity and exploring solutions.

1:27:32—AGS discusses some of the bureaucracy standing in the way of diversity on the national leadership team. He dives into some proposed fixes to the organizational structure aimed at increasing diversity.

1:28:32—Concluding remarks. Leadership will be expanded. USBG is building an FAQ. Feel free to contact the Board.

1:29:32—And that’s a wrap.

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