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Spin and Lies: HEA Nov 2022 Committee Report
Warning - grab a cuppa - this post is LONG!
Gosh, I wish I could say I was shocked to learn Karen Chegwidden and Tere Latimer had resigned from their positions of president and vice president of the HEA committee this week. Especially for the reasons cited: frustration regarding ongoing disruptive behaviour, bullying and breaches of the rules by long-term volunteer Vivienne Fox. I am surprised, however, to hear them now publicly attack someone they fought so fiercely to champion four years ago, confident back then in her integrity to financially back her legal campaign in the NSW Supreme Court. But I can understand the turn-around in attitude. Many of us knew it was going to happen sooner or later.
Their letters of resignation, along with secretary Ruth Easton’s monthly report, paint an all too familiar picture to many past members of the HEA. But in amongst the admissions that the 2017 committee had just cause after all to discipline Vivienne Fox, and that there was (and continues to be) considerable dysfunction within the governance of the association, the rest of the November Committee Report is riddled with spin and lies.
Karen Chegwidden paints a rosy picture of her time as HEA president. What she fails to point out is that, without justification, she personally took four homeschooling mums to court in July 2018, naming them as defendants in a case seeking to recognise a private meeting held without notice to all HEA members, at which she was appointed president, as a legitimate AGM. None of the four defendants had a case to answer and all were dismissed or discontinued from the action during preliminary hearings.
The self-appointed so-called ‘committee’ of 2018 was never recognised as such. Not by the NSW Office of Fair Trading. Not by the NSW Supreme Court, because Ms Chegwidden withdrew her plea during mediation. And not by the membership, when in 2019 Ms Chegwidden asked the membership to suspend the constitution to allow a motion to retrospectively recognise it. The membership said no. Despite the HEA records continuing to say otherwise, there was no 2018 committee.
It is a travesty that a group of members, purporting to be the HEA’s committee, could - in the name of and on behalf of the membership - hire a lawyer and instigate legal action against fellow members of the association. There was never any authority provided by the membership to join the HEA in a legal action as a plaintiff, yet this is what Ms Chegwidden, Vivienne Fox, Karleen Gribble, and the self-appointed ‘committee’ did.
Ms Chegwidden also fails to mention that she, Ms Fox and Ms Gribble and the self-appointed ‘committee’ refused mediation five times sought by the defendants, past presidents, founding members and ordinary members of the association. A petition from 5% of the members calling for a special general meeting to elect a new committee was rejected. Ms Fox insisted on pushing through with court action, and the self-appointed committee led by Ms Chegwidden, Ms Latimer and Ms Easton made sure it happened.
Ultimately, after great and unnecessary expense, the special general meeting (that members had pleaded for) was finally agreed upon by the plaintiffs during court-ordered mediation.
The November Report, like so many other HEA documents penned over the last four years, will have you believe it was the 2017 committee, together with the HEA’s administrative officers, that caused the court case. Nothing could be further from the truth. No-one, apart from Ms Fox, Ms Gribble and the self-appointed ‘committee’ and their small band of supporters insisted on going to court.
Ms Fox and Ms Gribble had a right to seek restoration of their membership through the court system after being expelled. This would have been a simple case of suing the HEA.
However, in defending itself in such an action the HEA would have drawn on membership funds, something both Ms Fox and Ms Gribble had publicly reassured members would not happen.
What happened instead was that Ms Fox’s lawyer named the HEA as a plaintiff (without any authority to do so), and added the unresolved dispute regarding the postponed AGM, thereby drawing Ms Chegwidden with the support of the so-called ‘committee’, into the legal action. The case then needed defendants to sue against: people, who if found guilty, would conveniently cover the costs of an expensive court action.
When it was found that all four defendants had no case to answer, the lawyer switched the HEA from plaintiff to defendant. Mediation resulted in the restoration of the expelled members, withdrawal of Ms Chegwidden’s plea, and instructions to hold a special general meeting. Both outcomes could have been achieved without taking the matter to court.
It is ironic that if Ms Fox had not interfered with the planned May 2018 AGM, her supporters would have most likely been elected to the committee and both memberships would have been restored that day.
Ms Chegwidden also makes mention of the “ old, tired and poorly maintained” website and its replacement, but doesn’t mention that the outgoing 2017 committee had completed work on a top-quality website that also functioned as the association’s management suite and was set to expand services to enable members and their families to hold online classes.
The office functions were up and running, and the public pages ready to be populated with content by the incoming 2018 committee. She doesn’t mention that under her stewardship, instead of finalising the implementation, her committee took the web developer (a homeschooling family) to court. This was yet another failed court case. The current website lacks much of the functionality of the one researched and commissioned by members in 2016/17.
In her letter of resignation Ms Chegwidden cites an increase in the number of volunteers, from “3 plus the committee to 30”. However, the HEA has always operated with upwards of 20 volunteers or more. Even in the year when it was hijacked by a small group of disgruntled members, dozens of members worked in the background, helping the legal team provided by the HEA’s insurers to collate evidence to defend it. To say otherwise is to deny the labour and value of those volunteers that have worked tirelessly since 2001.
Her her statement, “membership has more than doubled in the years that she has served”, doesn’t acknowledge the loss of more than half of the membership during 2018 when she was instrumental in causing the HEA to be recognised as ‘in dispute’ by the Office of Fair Trading.
And finally, Ms Chegwidden claims she has led the HEA “from the brink of collapse to thriving”, yet it was her insistence in 2018 that the private meeting held without notice to all members be recognised as a legitimate AGM that plunged the HEA into dispute and chaos.
Next in the November Report we come to Ms Latimer’s letter of resignation, in which she states due to the action of Ms Fox, she “no longer wish[es] to continue” as a volunteer for the association.
I can empathise. I’ve had a couple of stints on the HEA committee (2008-10 and 2017) and volunteered as its newsletter and magazine editor. As the HEA SA Chapter representative in the latter half of 2017 I found working with Ms Fox and her small band of supporters incredibly frustrating.
The 2018 May AGM was not cancelled as Ms Latimer claims, it was postponed, due to threats of legal actions against members should it go ahead as planned without expelled member Ms Fox chairing the meeting. At the time it was postponed nominations for the AGM had closed and voting by online ballot had already commenced.
When informed about the postponement Ms Latimer, along with Ms Chegwidden and others, held a private meeting without notice to all members. None of the ballots already lodged online were included, and at least one nominee was not informed about this private meeting. The day after their meeting they declared they had held an ‘AGM’ and had ‘elected’ a ‘committee’.
Contrary to what Ms Latimer writes, there was never any need to “get the HEA back”. All that was required was for the people pretending to be its committee to agree to allow the postponed AGM to go ahead without further threats of legal action. Past presidents, founding members and ordinary members pleaded for this to occur and Ms Latimer was instrumental in ensuring this did not happen.
The next part of her resignation letter discusses Ms Fox’s inability to comply with the HEA policies, and details the alleged misconduct. For those of us who lived through the chaos in the HEA between October 2017 to May 2018 the similarities are freakishly surreal - same plot, same actions, same bullies. However, at that time Ms Latimer and Ms Easton were cheering for Ms Fox, they were her champions gathering around her, working against the 2017 committee, and encouraging legal action.
Besieged by this incredibly hostile minority within the membership, led by Ms Latimer who personally harassed the 2017 committee and administrative staff by sending up to 6 emails a day demanding instant replies, one after another committee members resigned until there were only two left to hand over to a new team at the AGM.
It is hard to have sympathy for Ms Latimer, Ms Chegwidden, Ms Easton and Mr Walters in their current predicament given their collective behaviour four years ago. We could say, “we warned you, we told you, but you didn’t listen”, but it is obvious from the spin and lies being pushed onto the HEA membership that they are still not listening.
Ms Latimer laments that current members at the recent special general meeting supported Ms Fox (in much the same way she did in 2018/19), and also that Ms Fox is “free to continue on as a voting member of the HEA despite the damage she has done.”
Ms Latimer complains that Ms Fox won her case at the SGM because of lobbying that included “untruths and half-truths”.
Press rewind to reflect on the nature of the chatter in the HEA Unite! Facebook group instigated by Ms Fox’s supporters in early 2018, a tool used to plot the takeover of the HEA. Not only did it include ‘untruths and half-truths’, but it also regularly featured defamatory slander and hate speech.
One only has to read “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, a HEA annual report in which Ms Chegwidden and Ms Latimer continue to defame former volunteers. This committee has caused untold damage to the reputation of these people and to the HEA itself. It seems ‘untruths and half-truths’ are acceptable when they’re spruiking them, but not when employed against them!
When are these people going to wake up and see that they’ve been played? That the hate they’ve dumped on the 2017 committee all these years has been misplaced? When are they going to admit that their actions are responsible for the very costly and unnecessary court case?
Ms Fox and Ms Gribble were free to sue the HEA at any time - they didn’t need to involve anyone else.
I can sympathise with Ms Latimer when she states she can “no longer continue to volunteer and devote the hours (which has essentially been full-time volunteering for the past 4 years) to the HEA when as a board we cannot enforce any of the policies we have put in place.” Heck, this was me, I did that, until Ms Latimer and company went into bat for Ms Fox.
And what did Ms Latimer and company say when I resigned? It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t polite, and it wasn’t the truth.
And although my reasons for resigning were many, chief among which was relapsing leukaemia together with an additional cancer scare and a need to avoid unnecessary stress. And just like Ms Chegwidden and Ms Latimer, it had become increasingly clear that an organisation beset by bullies is not a safe or stress-free place.
At least when I was on the committee the HEA had volunteer indemnity insurance. Anyone that puts their hand up to volunteer as a committee member without that cover is very vulnerable. Especially when they’ve admitted they are aware of, and can do nothing about, breaches of the constitution.
According to Ms Latimer, “members need to support their elected committees”: if only she’d done that in March and April of 2018 instead of undermining it! And that members “not allow themselves to be caught up in the ‘spin’ from the loud minority”. The irony and hypocrisy in these statements are overwhelming.
And although both Ms Chegwidden and Ms Latimer want you to believe the HEA is in good shape, the best it’s ever been, Ms Latimer advises members to “step up” because she and Karen “carried a large amount of the operational duties of the HEA”. This is despite the aid of all 30 of the volunteers previously cited in the Report!
And lastly, we come to Ruth Easton’s monthly secretarial report. Again, bittersweet irony: “Firstly, many do not understand the history of the HEA and whilst we would like to leave it as history, if it is not understood it will be repeated.”
She’s wrong when she accuses the 2017 committee of attempting “to close the HEA down altogether”. It was a hopeful 2017 committee leading up to the 2018 AGM: the new office management system was operating well, policies had been updated, the website was almost ready to go live, and the future of the HEA looked bright. They knew that most of the members nominating for positions on the committee were hostile to them, but they trusted that if elected they would serve the association well. They didn’t anticipate a legal threat derailing the AGM at the last minute.
Failing to recognise a private meeting held without notice to all members as an AGM is not an attempt to close the HEA down altogether. It’s abiding by the rules in the HEA’s constitution. And if the private meeting did have a legitimate claim as an AGM, surely the NSW Office of Fair Trading would have recognised it as such. It did not.
Taking the HEA to court did the damage. And who took the HEA to court?
Ms Easton deplores that “Vivienne Fox still refuses to accept any responsibility for that debacle and court battle”.
Yet, as an expelled member, Ms Fox had every right to sue the HEA for membership restoration.
What her lawyer didn’t have was the authority to join the HEA as a plaintiff in an action against four members of the association. That aspect of the case, which was fully supported and encouraged by Ms Chegwidden, Ms Latimer, Ms Easton and Mr Walters at the time, was unnecessary folly. It wasn’t ever a viable action: all four defendants had no case to answer and were subsequently dismissed or discontinued during preliminary hearings.
It was the actions of Ms Fox’s supporters that brought forth the court case. Their support for her against the 2017 committee in March 2018 sowed the seeds that blossomed into chaos in the ensuing months.
Ms Easton reminds members “that the Committee takes on the legal responsibility for the Association” and that the current committee “could no longer carry the risk for Vivienne and her volunteering role” and that her refusal to step away forced them to stand her down. She then discusses subsequent behaviour: “it was discovered that she . deleted all the emails, documents and changed access to other documents that were not hers to control.”
In 2017 the committee were reluctant to publicly announce to members the reasons why they took the disciplinary action they did, valuing the past work Ms Fox had done for the homeschooling community, and wanting her legacy to remain a positive one. They rejected requests by Ms Latimer and others to disclose those reasons, citing a need to protect Ms Fox’s privacy.
The 2022 committee takes a very different view: they publish, in great detail, their grievances against Ms Fox.
Ms Easton reveals how Ms Fox “once again, decided not to follow due process, nor the constitutional rules, and instead campaigned and lobbied fellow members”.
It seems that in 2022 stacking meetings is unconstitutional, yet in 2018 when Ms Latimer and Ms Easton supported Ms Fox, such behaviour was totally acceptable. As was, apparently, creating a public Facebook group for the sole purpose of overturning the legitimate committee.
The hypocrisy in this November HEA Monthly Report is astounding and alarming.
Ms Easton concludes that “without the support of the members good governance is impossible. the committee needs to be able to sanction members/volunteers appropriately.”
But when those sanctions fail, what happens? The president and vice president resign.
And I don’t blame them. After all, as executive committee members they are legally responsible for the actions of the association, an association they admit that can’t be governed effectively and no longer has volunteer indemnity insurance to protect them.
In 2018 Ms Chegwidden, Ms Latimer and Ms Easton chose to champion Ms Fox and refused to trust their committee. They chose to listen to Ms Fox and not the founding members and past presidents. They chose to reject a petition from 5% of the membership. Now the HEA they say they ‘saved’ by taking four homeschooling mums to court without just cause, is once again at risk.
Ms Easton’s parting words: “Without [good governance] the Association is left vulnerable.”
And that’s where we leave it: the HEA is a vulnerable organisation unable to function effectively, not because the 2017 committee postponed the AGM apparently forcing a court case, but because at its core is an unredeemable and unapologetic culture of bullying.
It is way past time for the HEA to apologise to homeschooling mums Myfanwy Dibben, Kerry Wennersten, Tamara Kidd, and April Jermey for suing them without just cause in 2018/19, and for the HEA committee to make good on its debts and pay the $37,000 in outstanding wages to former office employees. With a bank balance in excess of $119,000 it can surely afford it!
Beverley Paine, HEA member 2003-2004, 2007-2018, regular volunteer, served on committee and various subcommittees, state chapter foundation member, newsletter editor, magazine editor and producer. She revoked her life membership after a hostile takeover of the association by a small group of members in 2018.
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