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Addressing Member Concerns and Issues


Eugene Mopsik and Richard Kelly An audio interview with ASMP executive director Eugene Mopsik (left) and ASMP president Richard Kelly (right) on January 15, 2010.
Photo © Cara Disheroon
 

Moderator: Good morning. My name is Cara Disheroon and I’m a student member of the ASMP Pittsburgh Chapter. I’m here this morning with Richard Kelly and Eugene Mopsik to discuss various issues of ASMP member concern.

 

Richard, why did the Board of Directors initiate an expulsion action against a member?

Richard Kelly: Thanks, Cara. The Board of Directors of ASMP did not initiate the expulsion process against a member. 127 General Members in good standing presented me with a petition back in early September concerning a particular member, and the constitution outlines very specifically what I’m to do when that happens. So right now I’m following that constitutional directive. Gene may be able to talk a little about where we are in the process, but I should mention that both the directors and the staff of ASMP spent a great deal of time with some of these petitioners trying to discourage them from bringing this action forward. Right now we’re in the process and, Gene, maybe you can tell us where we are.

 

Eugene Mopsik: Let’s be clear. Once this process is initiated, the Board is not in a position to terminate the action. There are very specific guidelines in the Constitution and By-Laws about has to happen. Once that petition was delivered, it was incumbent upon the President to create a board of inquiry at the chapter of that local member. That’s been done and that board has come back with a finding. Now the Board of Directors, at their next full meeting this spring, has to deliberate over that finding and any other information they might receive in the interim. The member in question has the opportunity to appear before the board and address the issues and make his case. Then when the board has all the information, they’ll evaluate it and come to their own finding, which could be anything from no action to censure to expulsion.

 

Gene, why are members being paid for presenting programs to chapters?

EM: The educational presentations we’ve been doing for the last six or seven years are very different from the kinds of programs we gave many years ago which have been referenced in some of the discussions about payments. These are wholly professional presentations, they’re done on our schedule, the content is developed specifically for us. They’re not programs about the presenter’s experience or career or anecdotal discussions from a photographer’s life. They are true professional training. They’re done for fees that are very advantageous to ASMP and are below what companies like Nikon, Canon or Olympus would pay to have their presenters go out and give similar presentations. Any member who might be interested in becoming a presenter for ASMP can go to the website and — on the home page under Seminars, if you follow that link the flyout will appear — you'll see a link for proposals. Anyone is welcome to bring an idea for education programming to us, and it will go through the vetting process and be entertained.

 

Why pay for the use of photos when, in the past, they have been donated?

EM: Over the years, we have had a number of photographs donated to ASMP for use. But more recently we’ve been working closely with a design firm and with marketing consultants and have had the need to commission specific photographs for our use, images to our specification under the direction of our design firm. I believe, as a professional association telling photographers that they should be fairly compensated for use of their work, it’s only appropriate for us to pay for the use and creation of those images. Sadly, we pay well under what those images are worth, and we receive an extraordinarily broad license for the use of those images and are pretty much free to use them to any advantage we can make to the Society. But I believe it is appropriate that we make some small compensation for this commissioned photography.

 

Gene, did the ASMP receive $422,000 from the Library of Congress?

EM: I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions related to our Library of Congress award received 3 years ago. What happened is that we received a 3-year matching award under the NDIIPP program. (Don't ask me what those initials stand for.) Under the terms of the award, ASMP was responsible for the development of digital standards and presentation resources, and so we created a team of experts to work on developing these resources for ASMP and the industry. They are being compensated for that work, but that level of compensation is being set by the LOC. Most all the researchers work below the level set by the Library and they contribute the balance of that payment back as part of the matching award. The way this works is — they didn’t write us a check for the $422,000 — we do the work, it has to be fully accounted for. The same people who oversee our accounting on this handle defense contracts so you can imagine what we have to jump through to get reimbursed. All kinds of time sheets have to be kept, people have to be approved as vendors, and we submit paperwork for reimbursement. But it’s a matching award, so for every dollar we get, we have to bring a dollar, and we bring it either in the form of contributed time or we bring it in actual money. I believe that this project — and we’re just starting to see the fruits in the form of the dpBestflow.org website and various publications — is a tremendous resource for working photographers with a depth of information on digital best practices and workflow and preservation. It’s been the primary work of Richard Anderson as Project leader and Peter Krogh. They’ve done a fantastic job with the team members to create these resources for ASMP. I firmly believe this is one of the greatest achievements in the history of ASMP and one of the best contributions we have made to the whole profession of photography.

 

Why not put all ASMP work contracts out for bid to all ASMP members?

EM: From an administrative standpoint, I simply don’t believe that’s at all practical. Additionally, as a working photographer, during my career, I never liked bid situations and I don’t think our members like bid situations. I don’t want to evaluate our suppliers solely on price; I think that’s a bad precedent. We need to work with suppliers who give added value to ASMP, along with great quality and timely delivery. We are interested in working with members, and members who would like to provide goods and services are welcome to send information regarding what they have to offer to me, as Executive Director, or to anyone on the board. So feel free to reach out to us if you feel you have special expertise and something to offer and are willing to work with some kind of added-value proposition for us — feel free to let us know.

 

Richard, what is the current policy regarding payments to directors?

RK: Well, first, Board members are not paid for Board service. There are some occasions where members of the board are paid as education presenters. Or, as Gene pointed out in the case of the Library of Congress award, where they’re doing writing or research for these extracurricular projects. But these are things that are not usual and are not customary for board service. So our current policy is outlined in our By-Laws, #1 section 8, Member Remuneration: “Members of the society may be employed or financially compensated by the Society or its Chapters only with the prior approval of the respective governing Board of Directors.” So we follow our documents that are outlined in the By-Laws, and in rare instances we pay for services that are needed. These are the same guidelines that are used for paying a member or board director.

 

Would it be better never to pay a director?

RK: I don’t think we want to pay directors for being directors — that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is those instances where a particular individual has a particular talent or expertise that is of value not just to the Society but to the entire industry. And those individuals happen to make great Board members because they’re bringing that expertise to the boardroom. I think that from time to time, when those individuals do extra work for us, that’s appropriate. I should mention that, as the President, I receive a stipend that helps offset the work I do as President, but it’s not for my actual board service.

 

Richard, what is ASMP doing regarding payments to Board members?

RK: We are very aware that this is a sensitive issue. The policy is currently under review by the board of directors. In addition, we've made a commitment to provide all relevant information to members. We’ve done several things. We’ve created a Financial Information for Members page on the website — it’s under Members, Governance — where we list payments to all directors. We also update periodically through our monthly e-news and Bulletin. You’ll see where different activities are going on that may be related to these issues. Also our 990s, which are public record; and we also do an annual audit. There are a lot of financial oversights related to our financial records. And that is also reported to the membership in our summer Bulletin.

 

Gene, is it a conflict of interest for the Executive Director to set compensation levels for directors performing outside services for ASMP?

EM: I really don’t believe so. First, you have to understand that the Executive Director is not beholden to any particular board or director. Rather, my ultimate loyalty is to the Society at large, and I’m there to protect the interests of ASMP and not the interests of any specific board or director. Additionally, the compensation levels are set in consultation with other staff members and other professionals. As an example, in the case of our educators, we looked at what other entities were paying for educational presenters, and our rates are well below the professional speaking rates. And in the case of the LOC award, the rates of compensation were set by the Library of Congress. In regard to payments in general, by having the executive director set these levels, it takes the question out of the boardroom and away from the individual directors.

 

Gene, is there an investigation by the IRS into ASMP’s tax filings?

EM: No. There was never an investigation by the IRS into any of ASMP’s tax filings. There were never any questions from the IRS. It was discovered that we had not accurately reflected some of the information in our form 990’s, so those forms were revised as per accounting practices, but none of the computational numbers ever changed in the forms. The requirements on these forms have changed drastically over the past few years and the actual forms have changed. This was an oversight on my part and on the part of our accountants in not properly reflecting this information. The Board of Directors is not involved in the preparation of our tax returns and was not involved in this issue at all. So we took steps to accurately reflect the payments to directors, past directors and key employees in the particular part of the forms where it simply has you list those payments. Going forward, you can be sure this information will be accurately reflected and there will be no further questions.

 

Richard, why did the Board withhold information about the receipt of the $1.3 million from the Author’s Coalition — and at the same time, ask for a dues increase?

RK: I think it would be important at this point to find out a little more about what the Author’s Coalition really is, so maybe Gene you could give us a little background on the relationship and the receipt of these monies.

 

EM: Sure, Richard. The ACA, the Author’s Coalition of America, receives payments from various entities in Europe and Scandinavia that collect what is referred to as “non title specific” payments for reprographic services. What it means is, if you go into a Xerox place in Scandinavia and some countries of Europe, and you want to copy something, part of the fee you pay for the copying is a payment to the rights holders for the use of that intellectual property. So you’re paying for the images as well as the text. They don’t know exactly whose work was copied, so they collect these fees, which are aggregated and divided up by formula — a certain percentage to visual artists, a certain percentage goes to photographers, to illustrators and to writers. These monies are distributed around the world through groups like the Authors Coalition, and they distribute that money to trade associations for use in advocacy and education. So ASMP has been receiving this money for a few years now; for the first few years it was generally between $18,000 and $25,000–$30,000 a year. This $1.3 million payment was totally unexpected and a real windfall for ASMP and for the other visual arts groups. It's money that has to be used for education and advocacy that benefits the broader trade and cannot be used for operating expenses. There’s no way to know whether in the future we’ll receive additional payments or in fact what size payments we will receive in any given year from the Author’s Coalition.

 

RK: So it’s safe to say that when this $1.3 million came into ASMP’s possession, it was a little bit of a surprise.

 

EM: To say the least.

 

RK: I remember we sat at an Executive Board meeting and discovered we were receiving these monies. There was some uncertainty about how we could use the money.

 

EM: We weren’t sure what the strings were — what we could do with the money. So it was before the holidays, I recall, and so we put the questions out to the people at the Authors Coalition, and then they had to go back to talk to the grantors. And it was a little like whisper down the lane and took longer than we anticipated.

 

RK: So from a strategy standpoint, we made a decision that we weren’t going to announce any of this money until we had a plan. We didn’t have a plan of what to do with it at that time.

 

EM: It also didn’t have any direct effect on our need for a dues increase, because the one thing we did know was that we couldn’t use it for operating expenses, and we were in need of operating expenses.

 

RK: How are we using the money now?

 

EM: We’ve made substantial contributions to the PLUS Coalition (Picture Licensing Universal System), we’ve supported educational programming to our chapters and the public, we’ve used it for editing of our new Business Practices guide, for our advocacy in the Google book settlement, and for support for our Orphan Works efforts.

 

RK: Well, having said all that, we’ve decided that whenever we receive any monies in the future, we will let our members know as soon as we receive them. We’ve been doing that since this $1.3 million.

 

RK: In closing, I hope this clarifies a number of issues which may have been misunderstood.

 

EM: Thanks for listening, and please feel free to contact me directly with any further questions you may have.