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Auto Club Seeks to Appoint Directors

The nonprofit will ask its 3.5 million members to approve a plan that would eliminate the cost of contested elections.

August 05, 2003|Elizabeth Kelly | Times Staff Writer

The Automobile Club of Southern California is asking its 3.5 million members to decide, once and for all, how the nonprofit organization should select its governing board.

Noting that it has spent $9 million since 2001 on contested elections, the Auto Club mailed ballots Monday to members with a recommendation for amending the organization's bylaws to eliminate elections in favor of an appointed board. Members would still be able to vote on major issues affecting the club or to call special meetings.

Since the Auto Club's creation in 1900, candidates for its 12-member board of directors have been chosen by a nominating committee, named by the standing board.

Until a few years ago, the nominees had been challenged by independent candidates only once, so it was typical for a nominee to be appointed to the board without an election.

But in 2001, 2002 and 2003, Auto Club members campaigning for reform have tried to win seats on the board to lobby for auto-related consumer issues, including tax cuts. None of these challenges has been successful, earning less than 10% of participating members' votes, according to the Auto Club.

They have, however, spawned a lawsuit challenging the Auto Club's campaign tactics and cast a shadow over the Santa Ana-based organization, which is better known for its towing service, insurance and travel assistance than its politics.

In essence, the Auto Club has always had an appointed board, spokeswoman Carol Thorp said.

"We are asking if, given all that's happened, we should continue.... It's going to be their decision," she said, referring to members.

The organization said in its letter to members accompanying the ballots that it would rather not spend its money on having to campaign against board challengers.

"These elections have cost a total of more than $9 million and distract from our mission of providing superior service to our members," the letter said.

The club also contended that its "record of leadership provides assurance that it will continue to select outstanding directors."

One Auto Club member, former opposition candidate Carl Olson, said he planned to vote no to ending elections.

"These last three elections have been extremely important," he said. "Otherwise, members don't have effective recourse."

Olson added: "That's got to be the most preposterous anti-democratic thing I have ever heard. They just want to hide it all under their little thumb."

Completed ballots are due Oct. 31, and the results would take effect in April.

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