CowanRobert Cowan, public information specialist, City of Portland, has told PR Society of America that the $30 dues hike “may actually cause local chapters to start organizations of their own outside of the PRSA umbrella. It may be the only way for them to survive.”

Cowan, who has been working in the Audit Services Division since 1989 after being a U.S. Navy PA specialist/journalist for four years, posted in the PRSAY (public) section of the Society website last week that the “flat-out truth of it is I feel most members don’t get much out of the national organization and we get much more from our local ones.”

He said he could not afford the hike on his own and “wouldn’t expect my employer to pay this additional cost when I can’t even justify it to myself.”

Cowan said he came to the debate on PRSAY “late in the game” because he only “stumbled onto this set of comments” (16 including his) after commenting on the LinkedIn page where discussions are taking place.

Dues Debate Well Hidden

Cowan unwittingly has said a mouthful.

The 16 comments (since June 2) is a pitiful turnout from the 21,000 members but understandable since the debate is buried in PRSAY rather than being prominently on the first page of the Society website where it belongs.

This is an old trick of the Society even though its Code of Ethics says PRS is dedicated to the “free flow of information.” Rather, it’s dedicated to the blockage of information.

The dues hike will be discussed in two Assembly delegate teleconferences Wednesday and only a few will show up there also.

Chair Rosanna Fiske, alarmed in the a.m. teleconference July 27 when a delegate asked her to comment on reports on this website about the Society’s finances, blocked any “live” questions in the afternoon session.

Questions could only be submitted on an accompanying website where they were subject to “moderation.” The same technique will probably be used Wednesday.

Cowan “Disappointed”

Cowan, posting on PRSAY that he was “very disappointed” with the proposed hike, said that the “vast majority” of members posting on PRSAY share his opinion.

Members making comments are almost all opposed to the hike while leaders such as Fiske and treasurer Phil Tate argue in favor of the hike as necessary to maintain and expand services.

On this point, Cowan said members don’t need any more services from national. “In fact,” he wrote, “there is too much at the national level” and not enough at the local level where “we get more out of meeting with our local colleagues than we do from the national publications or efforts.”

Ruth Slottag, director of the Central Illinois chapter, said the chapter would fold rather than pay the hike.

Robert Reeves, Bluegrass chapter president, called the hike “disappointing to say the least,” adding, “You can bet the local chapters, which actually provide the networking and professional development that most members join for, will not be able to get away with the $30 increase.”

Linda Tucker, PR specialist with the City of Sacramento, said a dues hike at this point “is just flat out unthinkable.”

She said the city has stopped paying association dues, eliminated travel and training expenses and has forced all employees to take off one day a month (costing her $3,800 a year).

Leaders Point to Cuts

Treasurer Tate responded that the Society has cut $1.5 million from its budget and has “downsized” the staff. The cuts took place in 2009. Total payroll rose in 2010 and in the first half of 2011. PRS lost $312,797 on operations in Q2 as expenses totaled $2,890,160 and income, $2,577,363.

Fiske last week said that members who renew and new members will be able to take part in webinars at no cost in 2011, a potential savings of $1,800 if they take one $150 webinar per month.

This website has sent hundreds of personally addressed e-mails to almost all of the 110 chapter presidents, noting that the Society lost $2.9 million on the APR program from 1986-2002 and has left millions of dollars on the table by only having one national conference in New York in the 23-year period ending in 2013.

A New York conference taps into the biggest possible audience (record-breaking 4,000 in 2004) and saves on travel, meals and hotel for the 35 or so staffers who attend the conference. Advance trips are also eliminated. Many industries only have their annual conferences in New York.

A New York site also saves money for exhibitors, most of which are based in and around New York.

APR, Geo Imbalance in Governance

Governance of PRS is not only imbalanced by APR dominance (only 18% of members are APR but only they can hold national office) but geographically—almost all major national offices are in the hands of Southerners.

Mickey Nall of Atlanta (barring a successful challenge) will be the third chair in a row from the South. Fiske, of Miami, succeeded Gary McCormick of Knoxville.

Treasurer for an unprecedented two years in a row is Phil Tate of Charlotte, N.C. Audit chair is Cheryl Ball of Knoxville.

Ethics head is Tom Eppes of Charlotte. Co-chairs of the Universal Accreditation Board are Jay Rayburn of Florida State University and John Forde of Mississippi State. Kathy Barbour of Jacksonville, Fla., is nominee for 2012 treasurer and nominee for secretary is Dave Rickey, who headed the 2009 bylaws revision task force.

The sole non-Southerner on the five-member executive committee is chair-elect Gerard Corbett, San Bruno, Calif.