The sudden and unexpected resignation of three AIPP National Board members, including former president Melissa Neumann, along with the joint company secretary, has left some members feeling the Institute is in a state of disarray and uncertainty.
The resignations come after a reasonably ‘straightforward’ Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Tuesday night, November 26, in Brisbane. The following day at the Board meeting all director roles, including president, become vacant. The board then votes to elect – or in most cases re-elect – members to specific roles.
Melissa Neumann was voted out of the role of AIPP president, with vice president Louise Bagger elected to replace her. The unexpected leadership shake-up triggered Melissa’s resignation as a Board member as well, and not long after there were also resignations from fellow Board members, Dan O’Day and Sara McKenna, and AIPP joint company secretary, Roger Rosentreter.
‘We were asked to give a statement prior to the election, and I made it clear that I never wanted the role of president but was happy to take it on,’ Melissa told Inside Imaging. ‘Once my services were no longer required as president, that’s when I planned to leave the Board. So this was not something that was a surprise [to anyone on the Board] – it was a known outcome.’
New president Louise Bagger told Inside Imaging that neither Melissa nor she were in the room during the Board discussion prior to the vote, so she cannot speculate on why the presidency changed.
In ordinary instances, the vote is treated as a formality, and board members are generally re-elected unopposed. At this AGM in particular, following an extended period of tumult, there were concerns another leadership change could be damaging.
The AIPP is undergoing a major restructure, following financial and membership turmoil in early 2018 that nearly sunk it. Since then it has also faced the Lisa Saad cheating scandal, and numerous board member resignations. Many feel the last thing the AIPP needs is further instability, demonstrated by an inability to maintain continuous leadership and a clear vision.
‘…I urge all members of the National Board to really think about the decision they make at the next board meeting when positions are declared vacant,’ Hilary Wardhaugh an AIPP Master photographer with two decades serving on the ACT Council, wrote in a letter to the board prior to the AGM. ‘Think about the bigger picture, not personalities. Good governance requires putting aside personal differences and agendas, toxic power struggles and conflicts and deciding on what is best for the current ever-evolving membership, one that is becoming younger and more diverse. Good governance requires stability, patience and time, and I would urge you to keep the stability for another year to ensure the currency and sustainability of the AIPP.’
Hilary told Inside Imaging that yet another shake up will threaten to drive away current or future members, or sponsors. She has cancelled her own membership.
While Inside Imaging was not present at the AIPP AGM, it’s understood another long-standing and active female member, Mel Anderson, spoke about the importance of stability and vision in a world of ‘corporate social responsibility’.
Yet these arguments weren’t enough to prevent the Board from removing Melissa as president. Louise claims the AIPP will continue in its current direction.
‘We will continue to build on the path that has been set. We’ve set some fantastic initiatives in the last six to 12 months, built upon by Melissa, Dan, and Sara,’ she said. ‘We’ll continue to work on that, and we’re not going to stop working on those initiatives. It’s full steam ahead.’
Over on the private AIPP Community Facebook group, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Melissa said she suspected her presidency was under threat. ‘In the back of my mind I had an idea it could happen. I like to believe in the best of everyone, but also prepare for the worst,’ she said. ‘So I actually had a prepared statement and resignation letter just in case the worst happened.’
After votes were cast and Louise was announced as president, Melissa handed over the envelope containing her resignation and statement, congratulated Louise and left. Asked if she was shocked by the outcome, Melissa responded ‘nothing shocks me in the AIPP, I’ve been around for a long time and you never know what’s going to happen’.
Asked if the Board vote was a premeditated manoeuvre, or if anything signalled a change of leadership, Louise said ‘I certainly hope not’ as it would be ‘a breach of Board confidentiality’ and a case of external influence, ‘which can’t happen’.
Melissa said she was unaware of any events or conversations that took place during her seven months as president that suggested other board members, or even disgruntled older members, were dissatisfied with her direction. Even though she had prepared a resignation letter, she said nothing indicated to her why fellow Board members would vote against her continued role as president.
The AIPP under her presidency represented a change of direction, which aspired to be more in tune with the changing photo industry. For instance, the AIPP is on the cusp of rolling out a new membership system that would open membership up to anyone in the industry, not just working pros.
‘From what I can tell, there was no resistance to any of the strategies that we were putting in place. There was talk that we were being very pro-active in bringing in new members and opening the Institute up to more than just “working professionals”. I don’t know if that made a difference, but I’ve also heard concerns that I’m not you’re typical pants-suit-type management style. I say it how it is. And there was concern that didn’t really fit what some felt the look of the Institute should be’.
Louise reiterated that all existing strategies will remain in place, and a strategy planning meeting is scheduled for early next year.
‘This board will keep steering the ship. We’re not going to let it run off course, we’ve got a path set and we intend on building on that path. We hope that members will see that we have a solid board, with some fantastic new board members, who are looking forward to putting their stamp on the board, and how the Institute is run from here.’
Inside Imaging has had several discussions with AIPP members who are disappointed by the outcome of the AGM. There is speculation this marks a return to what some label the AIPP ‘old boys’ club’. Time will tell.
The AIPP National Board now consists of Louise Bagger as president, Bruce Pottinger as vice president, Geoff Comfort as board convener, David Simmonds, Ben Kopilow, and Felisha Mina.
More to come…
Here’s an excerpt of the AIPP National Board statement:
On Wednesday we had a full agenda for our Board meeting which included the induction of our two new Directors Geoff Comfort FAIPP APPLM GMPhotog and Ben Kopilow APP MPhotogI. We’re grateful to both of them for offering their valuable time for the benefit of the institute.
As required by the constitution, all officer bearer positions were declared vacant at the start of that meeting and elections were held to appoint new office bearers for the next 12 months.
Through difficult circumstances, we have regretfully received resignations from the Board from Melissa Neumann, Sara McKenna and Dan O’Day.
While elected as Treasurer, Sara raised concerns that her position as a director could impact other aspects of her life. Sara has done a remarkable job stabilising the financial protocols of the AIPP and we have agreed for her to continue to help with the finances but she has resigned as a director.
We have also received the resignation from our Joint Company Secretary Roger Rosentreter APP. Roger provided countless hours of his time dedicated to the AIPP to ensure the AIPP’s corporate compliance of which we are extremely grateful.
We would like to sincerely thank all four of them for the enormous contribution they have made to the AIPP.
The National Board is already underway looking at the strategic issues and future of the AIPP. We will be heavily involving our Councils and Committees to continue to develop the institute in the new environments in which we, as photographers, live and work in today.
We will continue talking with all of you on a regular basis and look forward to your ongoing support as we evolve through 2020 and beyond.