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  • Talk to me about by-laws, please.

    Our troop has a set of by-laws that need revision. I've volunteered to help with this task. Is it common for a troop to have by-laws? I don't really understand what by-laws are, even after doing some googling around. In my experience, this document would be better characterized as 'guidelines' or 'procedures'. The troop by-laws are full of very specific topics such as what a full uniform entails and when the troop committee meets. What say you, experienced Scouters? I appreciate your wisdom.

  • #2
    Some do, some don't. Basically the intent is to keep everyone on the same page - who does what, what is expected, etc. And of course, you must have yet another mission statement or vision statement or both??

    Your characterization of by-laws as "guidelines" is fair as there are always exceptions and new circumstances to consider. Do you add revision upon revision or do you trust adult leaders to make fair, sound decisions?

    My $0.02
    Last edited by RememberSchiff; 07-15-2013, 10:07 PM.


    • #3
      BY-LAWS are not needed and are dangerous.

      IMHO, they actually hurt because they create contradictions. It's really difficult to define unit specific "LAWS" that are new, important and consistent with currently existing BSA policies and procedures. BSA has published ALOT of detail and units and leaders are required to follow them.

      Keeping everyone on the same page is important. Instead of BY-LAWS, re-create it as a parent guide. Document the ...

      ---- annual dues, budget, fundraiser, costs
      ---- meeting times and dates
      ---- expectations for "active" and positions of responsibility
      ---- Where to look for more detail
      -------- BSA guide to advancement, GTA
      -------- BSA insignia guide
      -------- BSA guide to safe scouting, G2SS
      -------- BSA handbooks (scout, scoutmaster, etc)
      Last edited by fred johnson; 07-16-2013, 08:17 AM.


      • #4
        By-laws are for those who are looking for justification when a fight starts in a unit. There is no need for consensus, dialogue, or cooperation as the world changes and the unit develops. It's kinda like the "This is the way we've always done it, see it's in the by-laws." and that brings to an end any further discussion. Instead of dealing with it and adapting to the needs of the unit, people just move on and find a unit without by-laws and that's the end of any potential growth of a unit.

        The units which seem to have the biggest problems over the years are those with by-laws and extensive, "written in stone" rules/regulations, and heavy duty inflexible traditions.

        If one is looking for future problems in a unit, either write up some by-laws, or drag the old ones off the shelf, dust them off, and throw in someone's face you don't like or can't get along with.
        Last edited by jblake47; 07-16-2013, 08:42 AM. Reason: Fixed a typo.


        • #5
          I think Beavah, Esq., would add that bylaws may be necessary for units chartered to a stand-alone "Friends of ....." organization, defining voting membership, election of officers, etc.. In that case the bylaws should focus on the structure of the charter organizations, not the operation of the unit. For more typical units chartered to churches or civic groups, bylaws are unnecessary.

          Otherwise I agree with the others. Leave structural issues to BSA policies and procedures. Local documents should clarify local exceptions or operational issues as Fred listed.


          • #6
            By-Laws give some people the idea that a BSA unit is a democracy. You wouldn't believe the line by line fight I had to amend our old Pack's by-laws in order to satisfy our overseas military JAG office. The lawyers were cool, some of my committee not so.


            • #7
              We have some that no one has looked at in 10 yrs; it's my experience/opinion that they're unnecessary. They could be useful in some instances, but when they're nothing but a dust collector in between those instances, they don't carry any weight when you might need to dust them off.


              • #8
                Twocubdad had a very good point. If you need By-Laws, it's about the charter org, not the unit. The Charter Org is not a BSA structure and for all practical purposes can be a church, a school, a group of parents or a gas station. Once you get into the unit, all voting rules etc are taken care of by BSA policies and procedures and BSA job definitions of who reports to who, etc.


                • #9
                  Ours does not. We have "policies and procedures" that were written some years ago with the advice of our UC. Part of the goal was to take the weight off the SM. Part of it was to orient new parents. Part of it was to implement what the Guide to Advancement did not specify at the time. We rarely consult it. But when someone does, it makes our current committee cringe. (See recent threads regarding individual scout accounts and extrapolate from there )

                  By the Venturing Leadership Manual, Crews should have by-laws. Ours doesn't, partly because of the adverse experience above. But not having them hurts us because our youth don't always have a clear vision of what we're about.

                  If I were you, I would ask some of the older scouts (including SPL's, young ASM's) if they would join you for breakfast (on the troop's dime) and help you get a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on each law. Only work on what they say really needs to be amended or appealed. DO NOT LET ANY ADULTS GIVE YOU FEEDBACK UNLESS THE SM and SPL IS IN THE ROOM!!!!


                  • #10
                    qwazse ... Good point. I did not know that venturing encourages By-Laws. Interesting. I'm not sure that really changes things that much as it's establishing the orientation and structure of a venturing crew. Crews can specialize significantly, scuba vs hiking vs service projects vs ....

                    As for packs and troops, By-Laws are not for the scouts. By-Laws are for the adults and the adult leaders. I've been in units with By-Laws. The only people who read them are adults when they are arguing with each other or trying to nit pick. Scouts don't need By-Laws. They have their Boy Scout Handbook. The rest is noise unless it's written by BSA.

                    And specifically, I would NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT want adults to give feedback with the SPL or any youth in the room. Adults give feedback to the committee chair and/or scoutmaster. The SM & committee chair roles are to shield the youth and youth leaders from the whims of adults.


                    My only other comment is why would you ever cringe that adults are reading BSA published documents. Your unit By-Laws should be consistent with the BSA policies and procedures or you are doing a disservice to your youth. You want your adults to learn as much as possible.


                    • qwazse
                      qwazse commented
                      Editing a comment
                      fred, if these by-laws were about what constitutes a quorum or what needs to be approved by the CO, or special CO funds/facilities that the troop could use and how, etc ... that's adult stuff. I'm sure the boys won't care much about that (unless someones been holding out on an Olympic size pull under the church hall!).

                      When it comes down to uniforming (and here I think Sasha is talking about details not in the BSA insignia guide -- such as neckerchief style, shorts vs. long pants, activity shirt style, etc ...), that's boys' stuff. Insight from the older boys is invaluable in this area.

                      BSA does not have a policy on individual scout accounts. It encourages them without specifics on how to spend them or what to do when a boy graduates or transfers to another unit. So, I'm trying to guide our committee into procedures that are compliant to recent IRS opinions, and someone gives the treasurer and old Troop policy, that if we continue to follow it, would be deemed unethical by some.

                    • fred johnson
                      fred johnson commented
                      Editing a comment
                      qwazse ... What i meant about the CO is that every non-profit that I've been part of has had By-Laws. What is the size of the board of directors? Do you follow Roberts Rules of Order? How do you bring items up for debate? How is spendign approved? How are people appointed / hired?

                      As for unit examples such as your uniforming suggestions, on the youth level, that's a word of mouth activity. For new / potential adults, it's in a new parent guide. Similar for scout accounts. Put what ya do in a parent guide documenting what's been agreed on. Same for dues etc. I just don't think By-Laws are needed. Mainly because it indicates a unit that really doesn't talk and needs formal procedures established beyond what BSA has already established.

                  • #11
                    By-Laws? Oh puh-leez. These are Boy Scout Troops, not multi-level corporations.
                    If you want RULES, put 'em in your Parent Guide, and make very FEW rules. The fewer, the better. For example, "No sheath knives are allowed on Troop activities." That's a health and safety RULE. It is inflexible, and cannot be broken.

                    Then there are POLICIES. These are the things "the way we have always done them". Example: "Dues are due and payable on the first meeting night of every month." The difference between a RULE and a POLICY? A rule is something that is ironclad, not negotiable, cannot be broken without consequences. A policy is that which can be adapted to different situations/conditions over time.

                    Anything not covered in your rules and policies can be easily found in the Scout Oath, Law, and various BSA literature.

                    As for adult behavior, refer to the Scoutmaster Handbook, and the Troop Committee Guidebook. If it ain't there, you don't need it.
                    K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)

                    Throw that By-Law business in the trash!
                    Last edited by FrankScout; 07-17-2013, 09:04 AM.


                    • fred johnson
                      fred johnson commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Agreed about By-Laws.

                      It's funny though about knives. We just got back from summer camp. One of our scouts was carrying a belt mounted sheathed knife. He was responsible and took good care of it. It was not huge, but it was between 4" and 5" long ... I think. I just remember looking at it thinking it was a reasonable size knife. Anyway ... our toop always had the rule no sheathed knives. But we've all heard fixed blade knives are safer than pocket knives. So, we let him keep it and wear it. He was responsible and used it responsibly. Our unit rule is knives need to be reasonable and smaller than the size of the palm of your hand. His knife pushed that size, but it was reasonable.

                  • #12
                    That's actually a rule from our CO--just an example though--I wasn't advocating or criticizing it. Maybe your knife rule should be a policy!
                    Last edited by FrankScout; 07-17-2013, 09:01 AM.


                    • #13
                      Thanks for the input and the reassurance that I am on the right track!


                      • #14
                        The only time you need bylaws, is after an event that you wish you had them for.... most often has to do with money or discipline. My 2 cents is that for the most part, by-laws are a waste of time and energy. The EXCEPTION to this rule is when $$ or discipline is involved. We had out cub pack chartered as a "frineds or..." for 3 years, no problem. Then the committee decided it would be a good idea to have ISA (individual scout accounts) - i.e. accounts with funds earmarked for a specific scout based on a % of their fundraising $ brought it. Ok cool. So, what can the scout use his ISA dollars for? What can he NOT (if anything) use ISA dollars for? What if he quits / drops out of scouts and still has money in his ISA? Can an older brother transfer ISA dollars to a younger brother when he quits or ages out of the program? All those are GREAT things to have a by-law to set the rule. That way, the committee is not making a decision on the fly when a scout or parent comes forward wanting a check cut for Johnny's left over ISA account because we're moving out of state and after all he EARNED the money.... best to have your ducks in a row before you get to that issue. Maybe have a by-law on how to handle a scout who is deliquent on dues... does he still get to go on the campout / activity?

                        The second area for by-laws is in discipline. I'm not talking a boy gets out of line on a campout and needs to be talked to. I'm talking a youth has a history of disrupting / fighting / etc... or does something that is not "illegal" but might be grounds for kicking him out of the unit (i.e. shows up at campout with porn). So, WHO and HOW is the decision made on what level of discipline to take? I've seen this be handled by the SPL, ASPL, and PLC (not a good idea IMHO as kids tend to be WAAAAY harder on their peers than adults). Is it left to the unit committee? The Key Three of CC, SM, COR? Or is it handled by the SM unilaterally, or by a panel of the SM and ASM's? If the kid involved has a parent in any one of the previously mentioned adult leader positions, do they or do they not have a say in the process? Again, hope you never have to cross that bridge, but best to have some rules of the road BEFORE the roadtrip commences. You don't want to be making up policy on the fly on something like that.

                        As for meeting times / locations / dues / etc... I figure all that can be determined by the folks on the committee at the time.



                      • #15
                        Dear Sasha: Troops that do not need bylaws are fortunate. When I took over as committee chairman several years ago, the committee had serious problems with endless bickering and being unable to make decisions. (Perhaps this is because our troop is located in the Washington, DC, area, where pointless debate is sort of the local pastime!) We had a set of bylaws to which was appended a "parents' guide," which was a mishmash of rules and advice. The bylaws were too aspirational to be useful.

                        We are sponsored by the Catholic Church, which has its own rules and procedures, especially on youth protection, so we had a raft of issues to deal with and were not progressing well at all.

                        The first thing I did was impose Robert's Rules of Order, which is actually a wonderful thing if you understand the basics. Essentially, everyone gets his or her say but the will of the majority prevails. This avoids the vague "consensus" in which most people actually feel they have not in fact been heard. Decisions should be clear to all concerned. Only a majority vote gives you that clarity.

                        Then we reformed the bylaws to set up clear rules about committee operations. The committee has run smoothly ever since. We have an extremely successful troop with excellent fundraising, high-adventure activities, many Eagles, etc. (The troop had over 70 Scouts during my time and now has almost 100.) I won't say that solving the bylaws problem was key to this, but it avoided the time often wasted by unproductive meetings. Our biggest asset is an excellent Scoutmaster, and during my term as chairman (which lasted six years), I felt my biggest job was to support what he was doing and to keep the committee moving in that direction. With many lawyers, business people, and bureaucrats around the table, I felt that a firm structure was essential. You might not need it, but in cases of conflict and serious disagreement, bylaws come in very handy.


                        • fred johnson
                          fred johnson commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Also good comments.