Former International Secretary Keith Fisher Answers Questions
Keith Fisher is a member of the Theosophical Society in Australia. He has served as National Secretary of the Australian Section and as Treasurer, President and Trustee of the Perth Branch in Western Australia. He worked at Adyar for a period in 1993 and recently served as International Secretary from September 2008 to February 2009. He is widely respected for his dedication, uprightness and detailed knowledge of TS Rules and organizational structure.
In the statements below Keith addresses a number of criticisms and accusations made in regard to the voting and meeting of the General Council of the TS held at Adyar, December 2008. They were originally posted on theos-talk.
by Keith Fisher
I returned from the Theosophical Society in Adyar on 1 March 2009 after serving a six months term as the International Secretary. A critical situation arose in August last year on the surprise resignation of the Secretary, and I was asked to drop my life to take up the position for a short length of time. I agreed to do a six month term and was appointed on 1 September 2008.
Since returning home I have had time to read the untruthful, inaccurate statements posted on the TS American website, regarding Adyar and the General Council Meeting in December, including the venomous, destructive statements emanating from New Zealand.
This disgraceful situation needs addressing, as many TS members naturally place trust in their elected section leaders.
I now find myself in the unique position of knowing the truth of these matters while holding no official position in the Theosophical Society, except that I am an Australian member.
This subject was reported on the TSA website as follows:
'Under Other Business, many questions came up concerning the spring 2008 presidential elections, in which John Algeo, then international vice-president, was running against Radha Burnier. It seems that as of the deadline of June 6 the results were not to the administration's liking, so the deadline was extended until June 15 only for the Indian Section in order to recruit more votes. This was not publicized, and such an extension was not granted to any other Section. This kind of irregularity in the application of standard rules for voting is what generated a proposal for a different approach to elections in the first place.’
The data provided in both reports of the General Secretaries of the American and New Zealand Sections is false. It is obvious that the error in the first has been copied to the second and that none of the General Secretaries checked the information given in Circular 2 before writing the reports, which seem to be based on assumption and distasteful opinions.
The date of issue of Circular 2 including the Voting List was 15 March 2008.
The twelve week marker was 7 June 2008, when the Secretary of the Election Committee would contact the Sections and Lodges for which the voting returns had not been received. The Secretary would request that a duplicate copy of the voting returns be sent immediately and advise that only three weeks remained before the closing date for receiving the returns.
The fifteen week closing date given in Circular 2 was 28 June 2008.
The voting return of the Indian Section was received on 23 June 2008 and a further duplicate copy was received on 25 June 2008.
The subject of the Presidential election was not mentioned at all under `Other Business' or anywhere else at the General Council meeting. The date of 6 June given for the deadline is totally incorrect and the extension to 15 June also has no relevance.
The President of the Indian Section had brought all the papers needed to defend the accusations against the Indian Section to the General Council meeting, but he was not called on to do so. After reading the report on the TSA website he has written a letter explaining the event, and has sent it by email to all members of the General Council, explaining why the accusations are false. He has asked that this wrong information be corrected and an apology given. I don't know if he has received any response to his letter, but the information on the website has not changed.
The facts of the matter are very simple. Circular No. 2 which contained bio data of the candidates, voting slips, and all the information regarding voting procedure had been sent by ordinary mail to the Indian Section. After two weeks it still had not arrived and further circulars were immediately sent by Speed Post and courier.
The Indian Section has the large workload of sending out the voting information to 450 lodges and with this in mind the Election Committee decided to offer the Indian Section a two week extension if they failed to make the deadline. The Indian Section chose not to take advantage of this offer and managed to send in their votes ahead of the official deadline.
The official deadline given in Circular No. 2 was 28 June 2008 and the extension offered was until the 12 July, according to a letter sent to the Indian Section on 2 April 2008. The votes of the Indian Section were received on 23 June and again on 25 June 2008, according to the list of the dates votes were received recorded by the International Secretary. I have copies of both these documents in front of me.
The following extract from Circular No. 2 contains an interesting reference to 7 June:
`Enclosure 3 must reach me not later than 28 June 2008, if necessary by courier, fax or scanned e-mail attachment. If your voting results have not been received here by 7 June, 2008, I shall e-mail or fax you informing you of the fact and requesting you to expedite matters.'
I hope this clarifies this important matter.
The election of the Vice President was conducted by postal ballot. The result of the voting was 16 for Linda Oliveira, and 15 against, there was 1 abstention and 3 members neglected to vote.
There was also another vote in favour of Linda Oliveira which was received on the date the result was declared, this was not counted.
The Vice-President was not removed from office.
Rule 3 is an expulsion rule and would only be used to remove an Officer or Additional Member if they had committed an offence or misdemeanour. This did not apply to the Vice President in office.
A new Vice-President was nominated in accordance with Rule 11(a) which states:
`Within three months of assuming office the President shall nominate the Vice-President subject to confirmation by the General Council.'
The same procedure for voting was used as in the re-election of a Vice-President in previous years, except the nomination was a separate item from the General Council Agenda. This was to conform to the `three months of assuming office' in Rule 11(a) and give early notice of the possible change to the Vice-President in time for him to decide if he would attend the General Council meeting after the result was announced.
The meaning of `confirmation' in the rules is unclear, it could equally mean confirmed by a majority vote or confirmed by scrutinizing the ballot papers.
Both these situations were covered by announcing the result of the ballot when it was known, and tabling the ballot papers at the General Council meeting so that members could scrutinize the voting papers.
The following is an extract from the minutes of the 2007 General Council meeting:
`The Headquarters was in need of more workers, particularly members with a good knowledge of English. Such difficulties had arisen from time to time. An appeal would be made to General Secretaries to recommend suitable workers.'
It was following this appeal that the President of the Australian Section, Linda Oliveira, thought of me. After I had agreed to go to Adyar the Secretary resigned and I was appointed as a matter of urgency. I had worked at Adyar previously in 1993 and since had experience as the National Secretary of the Australian Section.
I will at all times avoid presenting one sided views, my intention is to just supply actual facts in an effort to reveal the truth.
Dr C. V. Agarwal was appointed as International Secretary on 2 March 2009.
The Election Committee offered the Indian Section an extension of two weeks because of the delay in receiving Circular No. 2 which contained the bio data, voting slips, and information on the voting procedure to be followed. The Indian Section did not use this extension and sent their votes in on time and before the deadline.
Only members of the General Council are officially invited to attend the General Council Meeting. There is no provision in the rules for Observers to attend this meeting, it is always at the discretion of the President or Chairman.
Regarding the participation of observers, the chairman always has control of who is allowed to speak, and when they are allowed to speak. This also applies to the General Council Members.
Rule 8(f) states:
Within three days of the closing date of voting, the candidate who has received the largest number of votes shall be declared elected President and shall assume office not later than thirty days thereafter.
Four Additional Members had been nominated by the President.
The same procedure was used as in previous years, three months notice given on the General Council Agenda, and a postal ballot which was confirmed at the General Council meeting.
All General Council members are eligible to vote.
The General Council consisted of: President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary, Seven Additional members and all General Secretaries.
Although the buildings on the estate are a century old, the main structures are very solid as the walls are thick and very few cracks appear. It is usually on the outer verandas where concrete structures are subject to the expansion and contraction of metal reinforcement that cracking occurs.
High humidity in summer has a detrimental effect on paintwork and as the walls of buildings are cement rendered, painting can start to look shabby after two years, the action of mould in shady places may look like decay. However, the statements made by the GS of NZ are never specific, so it is unclear what he saw as decay.
The GS of Belgium suggested that a five year building maintenance program should be introduced at Adyar, and the difficulty of finding good contractors was discussed. The decay of buildings was never mentioned in the General Council meeting.
An intensive ongoing maintenance program is already in operation at Adyar, most of the major buildings have been completely renovated in the last two years, including Blavatsky Bungalow where the School of the Wisdom is held and the Administration Building which has had a complete new roof, modern toilet facilities installed, and completely painted inside and out. How strange that the GS of NZ didn't notice this building when he walked past it four times a day. Maybe he was too busy searching for decay!
Work on Leadbeater Chambers has already started, which is also a major work, although it was completely repainted five years ago it is now looking rather shabby. The leaking roof had been repaired and all the top floor rooms were painted before Convention, masonry work and painting will be continued throughout the year when there are fewer guests around.
The grounds of the estate are being subjected to an intensive grooming and clearing process, even the long grass in the coconut groves has been cut, and mulching and reticulation has been provided for the palm trees. Although the campus is closed to day visitors during Convention, the native bird life, flora and fauna, attract a constant stream of visitors throughout the rest of the year. There is a long waiting list for permits to walk in the grounds out of normal opening hours, and organised groups and photographers visit daily.
I never realised that decay was so popular!
There was only one tied vote in the 2008 General Council meeting. All voting was by the usual preferred method of a postal ballot.
In the election of the Vice-President the result of the voting was 16 for Linda Oliveira, and 15 against, there was 1 abstention and 3 members neglected to vote.
There was also one other vote in favour of Linda Oliveira which was received on the date the result was declared. This vote was not counted.
In the election of the four Additional Members only one of them was tied.
Nominated Member HJ (NZ/India)...19 for....14 against
Nominated Member RL (Brazil).......16 for....16 against
Nominated Member HKS (India)......17 for....14 against
Nominated Member SP (India).........20 for....12 against
The Chairman used a casting vote in the case of the tied vote.
The conspiracy theory circulated by some members of the General Council seems much more suited to an author of fiction. However, as the allegations against the Indian Section have caused so much pain and suffering, I am willing to examine the theories logically to see if there is any truth at all in them.
I was able to do my own investigation at Adyar where I viewed the correspondence files and all relevant documents pertaining to the Presidential election. I was also able to ask questions to satisfy myself that everything had been done according to the procedure set down in the Rules and Regulations. However, as the term `administration' has not been defined I must assume that this means any person living at Adyar, not just the members of the official Election Committee.
I was informed by a member of the Election Committee that all the sealed envelopes containing the voting returns were kept in a locked drawer under the control of the International Secretary, who was also the Secretary of the Election Committee. These envelopes were only opened after the closing date for receiving them, which had been set at 28 June 2008.
Is it possible that the International Secretary, after nominating the Vice-President for the Presidency, would be in collusion with the Indian Section to bring about his downfall, or that another resident of Adyar had gained access to the drawer and opened the envelopes undetected?
The other theory is that by the end of the twelfth week, 7 June 2008, the Scrutineers from all the Sections, Regional Associations, Presidential Agencies, and Lodges attached to Adyar, had communicated the results of the voting to a person or persons unknown at Adyar. This information had then been passed on to the
Indian Section so that an intensive campaign to `recruit more votes' could be launched in the remaining three weeks.
Let us test this theory to see if it holds up to logical investigation:
The total votes received for each candidate were:
John Algeo: 4323 votes
Radha Burnier: 8560 votes
A difference in votes of: 4237 votes
The total vote of the Indian Section for Radha Burnier was: 6110 votes.
The theory suggests that by the twelfth week, on 7 June 2008, the Indian Section had less than 1873 votes (6110 minus 4237), in favour of Radha Burnier, placing John Algeo in the lead. The other 4237 votes were somehow `recruited' in the next two weeks, before sending the final result to Adyar on 23 June 2008.
A statement of Fact or Fiction?
It is clear from Rule 9 that the President's term of office is for a period of seven years only. There is no provision in this rule for further terms of office, each term being a separate unit.
Rule 9. President's term of office
The term of office of the President shall be seven years from the date of assuming office.
It was an error of judgement on the part of the General Council, at its meeting in December 2007, to elect a Vice-President for a three year term of office when the term of office of the President only had six months to run.
Rule 11(a) does not require the term of office of the Vice-President to be stated, as the rule itself limits the term of office to three years.
Rule 11. Nomination and election of Vice-President; his duties (a) Within three months of assuming office the President shall nominate the Vice-President subject to confirmation by the General Council. His term of office shall be at the discretion of the President but when the Vice-President has been three years in office that office shall become vacant by the passage of time and the President, within three months, shall again make a nomination and submit it to the General Council. Notwithstanding this provision the Vice-President shall remain in office and his term shall continue until a successor has been nominated and confirmed. The Vice-President in office may be re-nominated. It shall be his duty, among other things, to carry on the executive functions of the President in case the President is dead or where the Executive Committee finds that he is disabled by accident, serious illness or otherwise from performing the duties of the President.
The President nominated a new Vice-President within three months of assuming office for the new seven year term, the nomination was strictly in accordance with Rule 11(a).
The term of office of the new Vice-President was not stated in the nomination, so that it always remains at the discretion of the President.
The procedure for voting was the same method that has been used for many years, including the nominations in 2007, by postal ballot so that all members of the General Council had the opportunity to cast a vote. The only difference was that as Rule 11(a) did not require three months notice to be given, the election was held from September to October. The Vice-President was confirmed by a majority vote and the voting slips were scrutinized and confirmed at the General Council Meeting in December.
No objections to the nomination of a Vice- President, or to the procedure of voting, were received until after the result was announced. Thirty three members of the General Council voted in the postal ballot, validating the nomination and the voting procedure, by casting a vote and signing their names on a voting slip.
The Vice-President in office who has dealt with the Rules and Regulations of the Theosophical Society for many years, was one of the first to vote.
Rule 11(a) makes no reference to Rule 3 and does not require the Vice-President in office to be removed from office before another Vice-President can be nominated. Therefore, Rule 3 is irrelevant in the replacement of a Vice-President, and if used it would be in serious conflict with Rule 11(a). It would transfer the control of the term of office of the Vice-President to the General Council, and it would no longer be at the President's discretion.
Rule 3. Removal of General Council members and officers It shall be competent for the General Council to remove any of its members, or any officer of the Society excepting the President of the Theosophical Society and excepting the General Secretaries of National Societies, by a three-fourths majority of its whole number of members, at a special meeting called for the purpose, of which at least three months' notice shall have been given, the quorum consisting, however, of not fewer than five members.
The status of the Colombian Section was that it did not qualify for voting rights under Rule 36(d) at the time of the election, as it only had 52 members.
The status of the South African Section was that it qualified for voting rights at the time of the election as it had 5 lodges and 259 members.
The status of the Greek Section was that it qualified for voting rights at the time of the election as it had 6 lodges and 108 members.
Rule 36(d) Minimum number of members for National Society If at any time the number of members in good standing of a National Society falls below seventy or the number of Lodges (Branches) falls below five the President may, at his discretion withdraw its Charter. In the event of the Charter not being withdrawn, the General Secretary of the Section concerned shall cease to have voting rights as a member of the General Council until the necessary numerical strength is recovered.
Mary resigned as International Secretary in August 2008, she avoided telling me why she resigned and I didn't press her for an answer. Her job had become more difficult after she lost her assistant, and as she didn't use the computer in the office she had to rely on others for receiving and answering email.
Mary continued to work at Adyar, doing proof reading for TPH, she had not been asked to leave and could have continued for the rest of her life. Each morning she would meet me at the office to see if I had any more questions, she was certainly a great help to me, for which I am extremely grateful. Many of us tried to persuade her to stay, but she had made up her mind to go, and finally left on 17 November amid a throng of well-wishers.
The last time I contacted Mary, she was just about to move into an elderly peoples home in the London area. She is still giving some talks in Europe this year and should be easily contactable through the TS grape vine.
The voting procedure is very straightforward. The President sends out a letter of nomination, or item of business, to all members of the General Council. A voting slip is included and a date is given for the return of the slip, depending on the notice required under the rules, this is three months in the case of Additional Members and Rule Changes. A period of notice is not specified for the election of a Vice President or other items of business, as these can occur at any time during the year.
The postal ballot as a voting procedure has been used throughout the whole history of the General Council, it has been a consistent and effective practice. The earliest reference I have is in the minutes of the 1926 General Council meeting as published in the Annual Report, and it seems to have been used ever since. Obviously it derives its existence from the very fact that the TS is widely spread around the world, the postal ballot guarantees that every member of the Council has the opportunity to vote, even when he or she cannot be present at the annual meeting of the General Council at Adyar.
John Algeo became a member of the General Council in 1993, and has voted in many postal ballots. He was elected Vice President in 2001, re-elected in 2004 and 2007, all by postal ballot.
Betty Bland became a member of the General Council in 2002 and has also voted in many postal ballots, including the election of the Treasurer, Vice President, Additional Members, and rule changes made in 2006.
It is clear in Rule 49 that the postal ballot is an accepted practice.
Rule 49. Changes in Rules and Regulations The General Council, of their own motion or on the motion of the
Executive Committee and after at least three months' notice has been given to each member of said Council, may, by a three? fourths vote of those members who vote in person, in writing, or by proxy, make, alter or repeal the Rules and Regulations of the Society, in such manner as it may deem expedient.
I arrived at Adyar on Saturday 13 September 2008 and on Monday 15 September was asked to organize a postal ballot for the nomination and election of a Vice-President. I obtained a list of General Council members dated 12 August 2008 and presumed it to be correct, but the President asked me to remove Colombia from the list as that section had too few members, this was later confirmed at 52 members.
The nomination and voting papers were sent out by email and airmail to all Council members, except for Colombia, on 20 September 2008, giving the closing date as 20 October 2008.
At the close of voting I phoned the results through to the President who was attending an Indian Section conference in Varanasi:
16 for Linda Oliveira, 15 against, and 1 abstention
The President asked me not to announce the result until she had returned to Adyar and checked the results herself. She also asked me to check the status of all sections, to see if they complied with Rule 36(d), not less than 70 members or less than 5 lodges. Apparently, there were some questions raised the previous year as to the voting rights of certain Sections. The announcement of the results was delayed even further due to two Public Holidays with a weekend in between.
On checking the status of the sections, Greece appeared to only have 55 members and South Africa only 4 lodges. The votes of these sections were therefore cancelled and the result announced on 29 October 2008 was:
15 for Linda Oliveira, 14 against, and 1 abstention
Immediate objections were received by email from Greece and South Africa and after making further checks it was found that the votes had been cancelled in error. An immediate apology was sent to each of the two sections the following day and the amended voting result was announced on 3 November 2008 in the following
letter of explanation.
I have received two objections to the result of the election for Vice President.
The first objection from Greece informed me that they had sent 40 Applications for Membership and four Applications for Lodge Charters to Adyar in June 2008.
Unfortunately, these had been placed in a pending file and forgotten. The total membership of Greece now stands at 108 Members, qualifying that Section for a place on the General Council and validating their vote in the election of Vice President.
The second objection from South Africa informed me that they now have five active lodges, as a new Lodge had been Chartered in February 2008.
Unfortunately, no entry had been made in the Lodge Charters Ledger where lodges are officially recorded. A search of correspondence files has revealed evidence of a Charter being sent to the South African Section in May 2008, qualifying that Section for a place on the General Council and validating their vote in the election of Vice-President.
I apologise to both these Sections for any inconvenience and unrest these clerical errors may have caused. It should be noted however, that at the time these errors occurred, the International Secretary was under extreme pressure.
The number of Members of the General Council eligible to vote is amended to 36 and the result of voting in the election of Vice-President has been amended to reflect the increase in valid votes.
The amended result of voting on the Nomination of Linda Oliveira as Vice-President of The Theosophical Society from 20 September 2008 is as follows:
Votes for Linda Oliveira: 16
Votes against Linda Oliveira: 15
There were 36 members of the General Council eligible to vote.
A total of 32 voting slips were received.
A total of 3 members neglected to vote.
One voting slip dated 14 October 2008, in favour of Linda Oliveira, was received on 29 October 2008, and was not included in the election count.
Voting slips will now be numbered and placed in a sealed envelope, to be tabled at the General Council meeting on 25 December 2008, in order to facilitate confirmation.
In the election of Additional Members the General Council had voted in a postal ballot, each of them signing their name on a voting paper indicating which way they wanted to vote, this was the usual procedure established over many years. Members are asked to send their votes in by 1 December, and the result is
announced and confirmed at the General Council meeting on 25 December. Item 3(c) on the Agenda.
While this Agenda item was in progress, and after the results had been announced, Warwick Keys tried to move a motion to discard the voting by all General Council members and take another vote with only those present at the meeting plus the proxies they held. He argued that the postal ballot did not conform to Rule 2(b).
2. Members of the General Council
(b) The General Council shall include not fewer than 5 and not more than 12 Additional Members, among whom all past Presidents while in good standing shall automatically have place. Other members shall on the nomination of the President be elected for a term of three years by vote of the General Council at its Annual Meeting, their names having been sent to the Members of the General Council at least three months before the Annual Meeting.
After a long discussion on the legality of the postal ballot, Warwick Keys read out Rule 2(b) and said he would like to move "That that procedure be followed". The Chairman ignored his motion on two occasions and continued with the Agenda item, which was a motion to confirm the voting in the election of the Additional Members.
I never for one moment thought that this motion was on the floor and reported it in the minutes accordingly. A chairman cannot accept another motion when one is already on the floor, and a chairman is not obliged to accept a motion that is obstructive. Furthermore, the Chairman did not indicate acceptance of the motion by calling for a seconder, or asking for clarification of the wording, which would have been necessary to make the motion intelligible.
However, Warwick Keys was under the impression that the motion was on the floor, and he decided to withdraw it "in the interest of harmony".
In considering the legality of voting by postal ballot, which has been established and accepted for many years, we need to consider the logistics of the year in question. The Agenda was sent out by email and airmail on 25 September 2008, three months notice being given in respect of voting for Additional Members. Although members were asked to send in their votes by 1 December, the results were not declared at that date and remained confidential until the General Council meeting. The three months notice expired on 25 December 2008, the day of the General Council meeting, when the votes were declared and confirmed.