Fourteen out of 16 candidates for the American Numismatic Association Board of Governors answered questions posed by moderator Barbara Gregory and the audience during a grueling 3.5-hour candidate forum held at the ANA’s National Money Show on May 11.
Participating in the forum were Walter Ostromecki, current vice president and unopposed candidate for president, and current board members Gary Adkins, Mike Ellis, Greg Lyon and Scott Rottinghaus. Candidates new to the ANA Board attending the forum were Scott Barman, Steve D’Ippolito, William D. Hyder, Tom Mulvaney, Oded Paz, Ralph Ross, Laura Sperber, Jeff Swindling and Jeff Wuller.
Current ANA governor and unopposed candidate for vice president Jeff Garrett and governor candidate Richard Jozefiak were absent from the forum, both citing family obligations. In prepared statements, Garrett stressed his optimism for the ANA under new executive director Kim Kiick’s leadership while Jozefiak said that he hoped that conventions would travel to different areas of the country.
During the forum, candidates were given equal time to give an opening statement, and then each responded to identical questions posed by the moderator addressing various aspects of the role of the ANA in the hobby.
Member questions followed and those candidates who were still there by 3 p.m. could give a closing statement. As the convention officially closed at 3:30 p.m., many participants left early to catch flights home.
In their opening statements all candidates stressed the ANA’s role to educate collectors and build the hobby. Adkins admitted that the ANA, like all organizations, is dysfunctional to a certain degree but stressed the ANA’s progress and commitment to increasing education.
Barman was less forgiving on the ANA’s current position, citing its decline in membership over the last decade. D’Ippolito said that his role would be to “find out what’s dysfunctional” with the ANA and fix it.
Ellis stressed his ongoing commitment to the ANA, saying that it “is pretty much my life” and that numismatics, as a hobby, should be fun. Hyder said that he would work to restore credibility and avoid organizational chaos. He critiqued the recent firing of former executive director Jeff Shevlin, saying that the board’s elected course of action threw the ANA into disarray.
Lyon noted that his business experience gives him a sense of good corporate business practices, adding that, while “the last two years were not necessarily what I hoped for when I ran for the board,” he thought the ANA was on the right track.
Mulvaney stressed education and the prudent stewardship of ANA resources, noting that many of the ANA member clubs who wanted to nominate him were forbidden to do so under ANA rules because the officers were not ANA members.
Two key questions for voters
Ostromecki challenged voters to ask two key questions of the candidates: How much does the individual know about the plan and mission of the ANA and how well do they know the bylaws under which the ANA operates?
Paz cited his experience being on coin club boards and Ross related his experience growing up in Michigan and being a member of the Muskegon Coin Club, remembering that through his participation in the club and hobby, “I felt a part of something.”
Rottinghaus said that as a father, he felt deeply rooted in the ANA’s education mission and said that he was committed to finding “better ways to make numismatics attractive to young professionals.”
Sperber acknowledged that while she didn’t have a lot of experience with the ANA, she viewed it as a “lumbering giant with no direction” and saw the museum as an underutilized resource.
She said her goal was to help guide the ANA to prominence and authority in the coin hobby.
Swindling — dressed in the Boy Scouts uniform he wore when helping lead the Boy Scouts Coin Collecting Merit Badge workshop at the convention — related that his experience in working with ANA Young Numismatist programs has provided him a rich working knowledge of the ANA and that the friendships he has developed with the ANA staff will prove beneficial if he is elected governor.
Wuller closed the introductory statements by stressing that the ANA had “a lot of little things” that needed to be addressed, including technology.
Individual road maps to change
During the individual questions session, candidates outlined more specifically what they saw as the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the ANA. The ANA has long struggled with raising funds from individual donors, and one question dealt with the candidates’ comfort level with soliciting donations from professionals and friends.
Adkins looked at the role of the ANA in the hobby today and in the future, citing his hope that the newly elected board could keep the momentum that the current board (on which he sits) started. He said that while no one person will change the ANA, the board has to collectively stand behind the decisions it makes.
Barman questioned the board’s closed meetings, referring to a statement made by Ellis that the prior night’s executive board meeting lasted seven hours (later clarified by Ostromecki to be five hours). Barman questioned how a closed session meeting — which should only address contract negotiations and personnel — could last that long.
D’Ippolito said that being based in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the ANA is headquartered, allows him quick access to the ANA headquarters, adding that the ANA needed to continue to be collector-friendly, while developing more mobile technologies to better connect with collectors. He suggested implementing follow-up for members who do not elect to renew their memberships.
Ellis stressed the need to build membership back up, get everyday operations at the ANA up to speed and more fully engage the staff. He further clarified, and perhaps complicated, matters by saying that the prior night’s seven-hour closed board meeting included a discussion on organizational strategy, seemingly beyond the contracts and personnel limitations of closed board sessions.
Hyder looked to his experience in leadership in academic institutions and his experience with prehistoric art, further stressing that the organization’s future relies on a strong web presence.
Lyon looked at education and outreach, citing his role in forming the technology committee and the board’s timeline for a new ANA website scheduled to be launched in 2014. He added that he hoped that, when members see the new website in 2014, they agree that the ANA Board took the time to do it the right way.
He said that the board needs to help transition the ANA from a large coin club to a business with a professional staff and appropriate performance evaluations, along with sustainable usage of the endowment for funding daily operations and special projects.
Mulvaney stressed what was going right at the ANA in his responses, acknowledging the tremendous improvements in the website in the past several years. He said that if elected to the board he would be just one of nine votes and stressed the importance of dealers in the organization.
Responding to other candidate statements, Ostromecki stressed that the ANA’s declining membership was unrelated to what’s currently happening politically with the ANA.
Paz said that the board needs to start implementing its strategic plan, adding that members need to look at what the current board has accomplished when voting. He hoped that if elected, he could take pride in a list of items that were accomplished during his service on the board.
Ross cited the need to keep getting young people involved in coin collecting, saying that the Internet is the key to connecting with young people in this era when someone can “get your degree in pajamas.” He said he planned to focus providing 100 percent of his service to four constituencies: dealers, investors, collectors and exhibitors.
Rottinghaus discussed the ANA’s potential leadership role in being more active in legislative matters and asked members to consider his open-mindedness. He looked at his continued involvement in ANA leadership as paying a debt back to the ANA for the opportunities it presented to him as a young numismatist.
Tearing it down to build it up
Sperber said that the ANA needed to assume the role as the leader for the entire coin community, looking at the ANA as an “independent refuge” with a broad scope of being “everything for everybody.” She said that her “Type A personality” would help the board adding, “There’s nothing I’m afraid to tackle.” She said that membership won’t grow until the ANA corrects itself, and that the ANA needed to be torn apart to be fixed.
Swindling said that the ANA should be the first stop in a collector’s journey and said that his youth gives him freshness, creativity and enthusiasm. Regarding fundraising, he said that donors need to understand how they’re getting value with their donation.
Wuller — who had the unfortunate place of being last on the panel, which was arranged alphabetically — said that the ANA’s role would always be education and information sharing. He added that he hoped to define and execute clearly defined goals and objectives during his service on the board.
Questions from the audience
Recently ousted executive director Jeff Shevlin posed the first nonscripted question to the candidates, asking about transparency and their awareness of secretive activities of the board.
Ostromecki responded that while closed sessions are kept to matters of contracts and personnel, the membership feels like there’s too much going on behind their backs.
Shevlin’s wife, Cecilia, next stepped up to the microphone directing a question to Rottinghaus asking why Shevlin was fired, citing a conversation between Shevlin and him just days earlier where Rottinghaus told Shevlin that he was doing a good job.
Rottinghaus responded that he was not allowed to discuss personnel matters.
Past ANA President Barry Stuppler asked if the candidates were equipped to manage an organization with $50 million in assets and stressed the importance of board members making nonpersonal decisions in their role as stewards of the ANA’s assets.
To answer that question, D’Ippolito cited his experience as a best of show exhibit judge and his ability to consider an exhibit of elongated coins, despite not liking elongates.
Hyder cited his executive experience managing a $10 million budget, and hiring and firing staff; and Mulvaney directed attention to his experience as a professional auctioneer.
Wuller said that running two retail coin stores provided a solid background in making objective decisions.
Next, past ANA President Clifford Mishler asked how candidates saw their role as a board member in relation to the president’s role, the staff and the executive director, adding that the “ANA is a lot better off than it was six years ago.”
Adkins responded that once a board makes a decision, every member has to support it.
In one of the final questions, ANA historian David Sklow asked candidates to answer a yes or no question — have you read the ANA bylaws.
Not a single candidate followed that command and nearly all provided slightly qualified, “yes, but” answers.
A live broadcast online
Besides the length, the candidates forum was notable in that it was streamed live on the ANA website, on the ANA’s YouTube channel and as a hangout on Google+.
At the conclusion of the forum, videographer and past ANA governor David Lisot stated that the streaming media of what would generally only be available to those attending the convention represented a historic milestone for the ANA.
ANA communication coordinator Jake Sherlock said after the forum that the live streaming was a useful learning experiment for the ANA and that it planned to make greater use of these live streams going forward to further connect the ANA to its membership.
For collectors who are curious to watch the whole forum, the ANA has posted the entire 3.5-hour forum on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlKJmdEcsAc. ■