To stand or not to stand – from the Northampton Town programme

David Reeves reports on the Dons Trust Special General Meeting held on 16 September, at which there was an important debate on the future of Dons Trust Board elections. This article originally appeared in the Northampton Town programme on 5 October 2013.

The recent Special General Meeting was very much a meeting of two halves. At the previous SGM in May, members had approved the changes to the Dons Trust constitution that were needed to enable us to launch a Community Share scheme to help fund a new stadium, and that left some constitutional tidying-up to do. To this end, five enabling resolutions were put forward by the Dons Trust Board and passed almost unanimously by the members present at the meeting.

With those formalities seen to, the meeting settled into what proved to be a lively and engaging discussion on how we might invigorate the upcoming (and indeed all future) DTB elections. Mindful of the disappointing shortage of candidates in last year’s election, the DTB is keen for there to be a contested election this year and for some new candidates to come forward. It is also conscious that there is a perception that potential new candidates are reluctant to stand for election because they believe that members generally tend to vote for existing (or previous) board members, whom they perceive to have the most experience.

So, with the DTB keen for its numbers to be regularly refreshed and energised with new people who can bring in new ideas and perspectives, much of the SGM was opened up for members to express their views and to explore ways in which we might encourage more candidates to stand for election.

Geoff Seel, on behalf of the Election Steering Group, tabled an interesting proposal to “reserve” one elected board place for individuals who had not previously been a board member. This place would be for one year rather than the standard two, enabling the successful candidate to try Board membership “out for size”. The ensuing discussion raised a number of issues about how such a process would work in practice. But equally, several members suggested that perhaps we were worrying unnecessarily; many people were perfectly happy with the DTB just “getting on with the job” and didn’t feel the need to get particularly engaged. And when a big issue did arise, members would invariably rise to the occasion and get involved.

The skills and experience that DTB members were perceived to need was also clearly a concern for some members. DT Chair Matthew Breach stressed that DTB members don’t need to have business experience as long as, across the whole Board, there was a range of complementary skills that included business expertise. In fact, the more diverse the DTB can be, the better.

With Mick Buckley coming to the end of his year filling the casual vacancy that remained after the last election, which came about through the lack of candidates, it was suggested that co-option could be a useful way for others to first experience life on the DTB, and expand or reinforce its skill base at the same time. A fear of electoral “failure” was off- putting for some, so co-option could prove a gentle first step.

Board members’ visibility (or lack of) and how we might encourage younger members to stand for election were among other points raised, all of which have been taken away by the Election Steering Group for further consideration. DT Twitter followers also got involved, with further ideas tweeted later in the evening. As for what happens next, although changes to the DTB election process do not require any changes to the constitution, there will be plenty of communication about the next steps in the build-up to, and during, this autumn’s election process.

The rest of the meeting included an update from Erik Samuelson on our plans to return to a new stadium in Merton, which inevitably generated a lively debate, and a general Q&A session during which it was confirmed that the Club had signed up to the Football Fans Against Homophobia campaign.