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PRESIDENT BECOMES FULL-TIME PAID EXECUTIVE OFFICER
At the committee meeting on November 18, 1996, the then honorary president Barry Williams proposed the appointment of a full-time Editor/Executive Office, with a remuneration of $45,000 per annum (plus expenses), which was accepted unanimously by the committee. Williams' friend Harry Edwards immediately moved that he, Williams, should be appointed to this position.
This was also accepted unanimously by the committee. Williams then resigned as president and nominated Richard Gordon to the position. Gordon was elected unopposed. In 1997 Williams took up his new appointment.
Despite the fact that other sceptics had previously expressed interest in such a position should the opportunity ever arise, the position was never advertised, even within the various Skeptics organisations, and as far as we can ascertain, no other candidates for the position were considered.
Williams has little if any formal scientific or philosophical training. His previous job seems to have been organising trade promotions and exhibitions by American companies for the US High Commission in Sydney. His main qualification for the Skeptics job seems to have been that he happened to be the President of the small NSW committee when national responsibility for the Skeptics was transferred for the time being to that state in 1986 and, due in the main to the undemocratic structure of the sceptical movement, he managed to hold on to that position for ten years. Although during that time he had performed his presidential role and that of magazine editor to the best of his ability, his performance in both was not without critics, and no-one could claim that Williams did such an outstanding job that he stood out as the only possible person in Australia who could fill the position. Williams may or may not have been the best person for the job, but this was never tested by wide advertisement for the position and competitive application by possible alternative candidates.
By his own criteria, Williams' tenure in the job has not wholly met expectations. In a proposal submitted to his NSW committee in late 1996, Williams clearly stated how he would justify the job and associated salary and expenses. Many of his undertakings do not seem to have been achieved.
Williams undertook to:
- 'upgrade appearance, quality and format of magazine'. A close investigation of recent issues shows only the print size and font style have changed.
- 'produce within three years (i.e. by 1999) a bi-monthly magazine that is sold through newsagents'. Subscribers and the public at large would be aware this has not eventuated.
- 'Compile and publish second volume (1986-88) of composite issues', and
- 'Compile and publish third volume (1989-1991)' These tasks refer to compilations of 'Best of' journal stories in published form (one was released in 1992). Williams has been unable to achieve this, even though the contents were provided to him on disk some five years ago.
- 'Produce and publish position papers on various topics (Astrology, numerology etc)'. The content for these are currently being compiled by individuals of the Queensland, Victorian and NSW committees, based on a series of brochures released by the Victorian Skeptics in 1993.
- 'To double (at least) the subscriber base by the end of 1997'. When Williams commenced as a full-time employee at the beginning of 1997, there were approximately 2000 subscribers. In the ensuing three years, $150,000 was spent on the CEO/editor’s salary and expenses, and another $20,000 on advertising and new computers. By 2000, the membership figures were still much the same, but exact figures were hard to ascertain due to the inclusion in reported figures of non-financial members and 'give-aways' to media and others. Former Skeptics trust chairman, Harry Edwards, claims he has documentation from a 1997 meeting revealing nearly 450 non-financial subscribers were included in overall subscriber numbers.
- 'To organise regular public meetings'. An area sadly neglected and a concern to many on the NSW committee. It is well known that Williams had a stand-up row in 1998 with current NSW president Dr. Richard Gordon over the matter, witnessed by most committee members.
- 'To write articles'. Williams has certainly achieved this promise. As a full-time employee, he is the only writer in the journal who gets paid. Articles sent in by other contributors as 'opinion pieces' are unpaid.
Many subscribers are now asking why many thousands of dollars are now being spent by the NSW-based organisation without any commensurate increase in Skeptics activities and with membership, still around 2000 nationally, approximately the same as in 1996. Some people have also questioned whether journal subscribers are getting value for money. The subscription price of The Skeptic has risen from $25 to $45 (an 80% increase) in three years, much greater than the inflation rate. While there has been a marginal increase in printing and paper costs, the bulk of the increased income has effectively gone towards paying the Editor/Executive Officer's salary and expenses.
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