It’s a fact that for most of the time it really doesn’t much matter whether a club has a good constitution or not. The members simply want to get on with playing bridge. When things do go wrong however it is an essential ingredient of having a successful club. Failure to have an adequate constitution and operate it properly has cost some clubs very dear in the years when I was a member of the Laws & Ethics Committee. Sometimes the pain was financial and on other occasions it overwhelmed the club, created great dissension and made people wonder why they had ever agreed to be on the committee.
It may depend exactly what type of club you are as to what constitution you need. For example those clubs who have become charities need to have some additional sections and those clubs who have an owner may also need something a little out of the ordinary but the majority of EBU are members clubs and it is to them this article is addressed.
Assuming you already have a constitution is it published on your website? Members ought to be able to see what is in it. It ought to be reviewed from time to time. It isn’t the most thrilling way to spend time and there is some danger of re-inventing the wheel. That is why the EBU website has a model constitution which a club can adapt wholesale or adapt to specific local circumstances. You can find this on this page http://www.ebu.co.uk/official-documents.
If things go wrong some people like to pick holes if only to distract the club from the real issue so make sure, for example, that you have defined how many people you need at an AGM to make it quorate, whether you allow proxy votes or not, how many are on your committee. If you want advice then, in the first instance contact the Club Liaison Officer (email@example.com) who can give advice or knows the right person to ask.
The area of the constitution that usually involves the most contention is that to do with behaviour. Of course minor problems will likely be dealt with at the time by the tournament director and I expect your club uses the Best Behaviour @ Bridge code (http://www.ebu.co.uk/documents/laws-and-ethics/articles/best-behaviour-at-bridge.pdf). If a problem extends beyond that and comes to the attention of the committee then you need procedures to make sure the right thing happens and the process is fair and transparent. You should have a process which involves a small sub committee to investigate whether there is evidence to support a charge being made (the Conduct Committee). This committee may comprise members of the committee but could also include other members. It goes without saying that anyone involved with the complaint or good friend of the complainant or the person complained of should not be involved. Assuming that this committee finds there is reason to proceed you should also have a disciplinary committee which will hear and decide on guilt and, if appropriate, sentence. No-one may be on both committees. It’s not unknown for a club to be so hell bent on getting rid of a member that they simply ignore all procedure. Anyone found guilty should be allowed an appeal (but only one). By this time the club may have run out of people so the county might be involved. I know of one club who said the county was the vehicle for appeal in its constitution but had never asked the county about this. If a club have EBU club insurance and the club or its member have acted in good faith and not illegally, then the policy will provide cover in the event the club or its member is sued for injury, loss or damage that they cause to a third party or another member.
Some clubs allow their members via the AGM or an EGM to approve the expulsion of members. I suggest this is a mistake. First it may backfire and the committee not get the result it hopes for and second a meeting seeking to decide matters in just a few minutes won’t have full access to the facts and be able to give them the consideration they deserve. The members should trust their committee to get it right and if not get another committee!
If a club really feel they have to remove a member then provided they obey the law of the land, have processes which are fair and most importantly follow them properly it shouldn’t be difficult but too often I have heard the fire of the bullet as a committee collectively shoots itself in the foot.
By Jeremy Dhondy, EBU Chairman – firstname.lastname@example.org