The Mitchell Daily Republic reports that former Farmers Union secretary/treasurer Norman Tofflemire has weighed in on election and leadership controversy brewing in South Dakota Farmers Union. The Mitchell paper spotlights Tofflemire’s comments questioning the legitimacy of the election conducted at the SDFU 2015 convention, which Tofflemire did not attend. Below is Tofflemire’s full statement, which details the Farmers Union election procedures that he oversaw during his 30+ years as secretary/treasurer:
Norm Tofflemire – Review of Convention Delegate Registration and Elections in Past Years
For over 30 years I oversaw the delegate registration and elections at Farmers Union State Conventions. The process involved a number of procedures to insure members were being represented by legitimately selected delegates. Below are some of those procedures.
- Credentials and Election Committee Selection – For years we had seven Credentials Committee members, one from each district. They were elected at their district meeting prior to the convention and their name was submitted to the state office. Each committee member registered the delegates that came from their own district. Many of these committee members were selected year after year because their districts respected their integrity. The committees took that responsibility seriously and always were careful to make sure things were done correctly.
- Delegate Registration Cards – Prior to the state convention the state office would send out a convention packet to the county president. In it would include the official notice of the convention with detailed instructions on selecting and registering their delegates. It also included delegate and alternate delegate credential cards. These cards had to be signed by both the county president and the county secretary- treasurer. We encouraged the county to elect their delegates early enough to submit them back to the state office prior to the convention. That way we could verify the delegate was a current member prior to the convention which helped avoid any confusion at the convention. Not all counties returned the cards, but instead brought them with them to the convention. In either case the Credentials Committee made sure anyone registering was a member in good standing and their credentials were in order.
- My Role in the Registration Process – I always tried to be as impartial a possible when it came to the registration and elections process. I felt the Credentials Committee elected by the districts should take the lead. My role was just to facilitate the process, answer questions, and make sure the bylaws were being followed. Whenever there was a problem relating to a delegate’s qualifications, they met as a committee, discussed it and made the decision to accept or reject that delegate’s qualifications, I kept out of it.
- Retaining the Delegate Credential Cards, Ballots, and Election Result- Following the convention we always kept all of the delegate registration cards, the credential cards, the ballots, and the election results. These were kept for one year in case there was ever a question about any of these and to assure members we weren’t trying to hide anything.
- Changes from Earlier Years – As the FU membership declined and therefore the number of delegates representing those members shrank; it became apparent that it was somewhat of a waste of money to have seven Credential Committee members. (The state office paid for travel, lodging and meals of the committee) As a cost cutting effort the bylaws were changed to reduce the number of credential committee members. The selection process would remain the same where the district would submit a credential committee nominee, but the State President would select the smaller committee from that list of nominees. We tried to make sure no district got shut out from having someone on the committee more than one year.
- What is a “Active” County? Through the years there has always been discussion about what constitutes an ‘active’ county. Dennis Wiese tried to quantify that especially the year that Doug was elected. We made an extra effort to insure delegates were coming from counties that were considered active and they were selected at a county meeting. Although it may have shut out a few counties that were not represented, it did assure the new State President was legitimately elected.
- Staff Involvement as delegates or in the election process. I always tried to make sure no staff member was involved in the election process either prior to or during the convention. This was brought home to me the very first board meeting I ever attended. Back then, a staff member got involved in the election of a district board member. The board passed a resolution at that time that no staff shall be allowed to get involved it that process. Later on when we revised the employee handbook that the board approved I made sure that policy was written directly into the handbook so employees knew it from the start.
What has happened to this great organization that I faithfully served for over 30 years?????
This past year’s convention and the delegate registration and election process leaves me questioning whether we now have a legitimately elected State President. Although I was not present at the convention it appears to me that there were a number of long standing policies and procedures that were either violated or ignored.
- The bylaw process of selecting the Credentials and Elections Committee
- The legitimacy of certain delegates being seated to represent inactive counties.
- The involvement of staff in the election which violates both board policy and the cooperative laws that ourorganization is incorporated under.
- Destruction or withholding of the convention credential cards and registration information. Was it to hide evidence of election misconduct?
I am a lifetime member but have tried to stay out of this conflict. Even though I am no longer a staff member, I still am at heart and feel that this fight needs to come from the grassroots membership not me as a former staff member. It pains me though to see a board that doesn’t have the guts to stand up for what’s right and to be led by the nose by what I consider a tyrant and his power hungry assistant. My hope is that this ship gets set upright again and that I can once more be proud of the organization and members I once served.
Norman Tofflemire [statement released to press, 2016.04.25]
The Farmers Union website indicates that District IV—covering the counties of Oglala Lakota, Bennett, Todd, Mellette, Lyman, Tripp, and Gregory—will meet May 18 at noon in Winner. Whether opponents of the current SDFU leadership will attend that meeting bring up for debate their resolutions calling for resignations at the top and new elections remains to be seen. Farmers Union president Doug Sombke and the SDFU board of directors show no sign of bowing to their detractors and annulling the December 2015 election results.