2007 Annual Gathering of American Mensa
The 2007 Annual Gathering of American Mensa, "Give Me That Old Fashioned AGn", was held in Birmingham, Alabama, which had hosted an AG ten years earlier. It was once again held at the Sheraton Civic Center and was originally chaired by Steve and LeAnne Porter until the leadership was abruptly changed in June, 2007, just weeks before the AG, due to problems between the AG committee and the hotel management over hospitality. Beth Anne Demeter became the new chair. The gathering went from July 3rd through 8th, and attendance was 1161.
Old-time AG plans
In contrast to recent AGs in expensive "destination" cities, with increasing amounts of management and organization provided by the paid staff of the national office, this was planned to be a more "home-grown" volunteer-based effort, similar to AGs of days gone by.
The Birmingham AG was referred to as "a good old time AG" by promoters who cited its "old-time" registration prices, starting at $40.00, as well as the hotel room price of $89.25 plus tax (with free parking and airport shuttle).
A wide variety of programs were planned, along with a well-stocked games room, three dances, and a friendly, comfortable Hospitality Suite, open round the clock and full of candy (Umm, Chocolate!), chips, dips and veggies, drinks, and even real food.
Hospitality issues and leadership change
On Saturday, June 23, it was announced that the management of the gathering had changed due to a "a quickly deteriorating relationship with the hotel over Hospitality issues, and a lack of adequate communication between AML and the core committee". According to information released by American Mensa and by people involved in the issue, the problem was that the organizers of the gathering intended to bring in home-cooked food and heat it up in the hotel. The city-owned hotel and the local health authorities had a problem with that.
The hotel contract allowed for the bringing in and preparation of food by Mensan volunteers, but another section of the contract specified that everybody would comply with local, state and national laws and regulations.
Ultimately, the 2005-2007 Excom, a sub-group of the AMC comprising the 5 nationally elected officers, and the RVC for Alabama got involved. Communications involved the ExCom, the Mensa national office, the AG team and the hotel. Communications broke down, and deadlines passed. The ExCom informed the local committee they had a choice of relinquishing control of hospitality and keeping control of the event, or relinquishing all control of the event. The team decided to step out of event management altogether. This has led to much discussion and controversy in Mensa political forums.
A friend of the Porters reports that the Central Alabama Mensa ExComm said that "since Hospitality is the heart and soul of an AG, they are not willing to turn it over to the AMC. That caused the ExCom to remove Central Alabama Mensa as the AG Host Group."
The show must go on
Despite the change in management, the gathering still went on as scheduled, with many of the original volunteers and some new ones helping out. Hospitality food was rather different from what was planned, but still included full meals (some hot and some cold). Due to regulations, meals had to be served within strictly-enforced two hour time periods, with any remaining food whisked away promptly. In between mealtimes there was mostly candy, chips, trail-mix and nuts. Coffee sometimes ran out, and at the last couple of meals they were also out of dinner-size plates and used tiny hors-d'ouvres plates instead. Still, the food in hospitality was well ahead of most recent AGs. Other than hospitality, pretty much everything in the AG proceeded as scheduled, and people had a good time. However, some signs of protest of the forced management change were in evidence. A number of attendees wore black dots on their badges alongside the red, yellow, and green hugging dots; these were intended to show opposition to the national takeover while still showing support for the hard-working volunteers, though a few critics of the critics complained about the negativity of such a "statement" and felt that it was demeaning to those who worked on the gathering even though it was not intended that way. There were also some slogans on buttons and T-shirts printed up for the occasion to protest the takeover, like "From Soup to Nuts".
At the Annual Business Meeting and the AMC meeting, there were also some statements made by both supporters and opponents of what had happened, some of them pretty extreme (such as a call by one speaker for the AMC members to "resign in disgrace"), but everybody remained basically civil and non-disruptive.
The Porters chose to cancel their own registrations to the gathering (like all of the original AG committee and volunteers, they had registered at their own expense rather than taken "freebie" registrations) and stayed at their home about 10 miles from the AG hotel, where they invited any Mensans to visit at any time, day or night, at what became known on some Mensa-related mailing lists as the "Alternative Smoking Hospitality" or the "Porterhouse Hotel", and some of the soups and cookies that had been made for AG use were served. Some of the cookies did also make it to the regular AG hospitality as well, given a Health Department ruling that certain baked goods were acceptable.
War of words
The AG program book, printed just before the change of management, referred to the hotel dealing "a major blow regarding hospitality" and anticipated the use of "unorthodox" methods to serve the "loads of wonderful food" they had prepared. In response to this, national chairman Russ Bakke wrote a letter that was slipped under the door of all attendees staying in the hotel, saying that it was "far from the case" that "the hotel was being less than cooperative", and that they were working "diligently with the hotel to develop a hospitality plan that meets the regulations of the local Health Department while at the same time ensuring Mensa style hospitality."
A local free tabloid, Birmingham Weekly, commented on the Mensa mess in an issue available during the gathering, saying that a "hitherto-unsuspected strain of doofusism afflicting the sagacious, has resulted in the expulsion of the trappings of down-home charm", and that "Yankees will be in charge of the Southern hospitality."
Notes and references
- ^ Information and documents relating to the hospitality issues and change of AG management are in the American Mensa member Web site (member login needed to access it).
- ^ Porter rebuttal from a friend of theirs, in Gary Rimar's Web site. (No longer online)
- ^ Welcome note, on page 1 of the Birmingham Give Me That Old Time AG'n 2007 program book: "As of this writing the hotel has dealt us a major blow regarding hospitality. We have prepared loads of wonderful food for your delectation. Now the hotel is saying we may not serve it even though this ability is specified in our contract. They have even gone to outside sources in their efforts to prevent this. However, do not despair -- you will have food. Details have not been finalized and our methods will almost certainly be unorthodox, but plans are in the making. Possibly it will be more fun than a simple Hospitality Room!
- ^ Russ Bakke, "On Behalf of American Mensa... Welcome to Birmingham!", letter distributed to AG attendees at hotel
- ^ Courtney Haden, "Conventional Wisdom: Hotel manages to pull one over on Mensa", Birmingham Weekly, July 5-12, 2007, pp. 4-5
- Official 2007 AG Site
- Annual Gathering 2007 Preliminary Report (requires member login)
- Article 1 from Birmingham Weekly
- Article 2 from Birmingham Weekly
- Photos by multiple photographers
- Photos by Travis Hardin
2006: Orlando (WG)
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