NACS Shuffle Crushes Committees

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NACS Shuffle Crushes Committees

By Mitch Morrison - 10/14/2002
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- As the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) buffs up its board of directors from 30 to 38 U.S. retail members and promises a composition divided equally among larger and smaller chains, what has garnered scant attention is what will be missing.


NACS is eliminating all standing committees, replacing them with board-driven task forces to probe issues as they arise. The move, approved by the board last month, was adopted to intensify its overall involvement of hot button matters.

Some members however are privately questioning whether the move was designed for a less noble reason -- to avert a repeat of last winter's embarrassment when the NACS Motor Fuels Committee endorsed a federal below-cost sales law, only to have the board overrule it and quash efforts to pursue a national law that could inadvertently target some of the organization's most active members, including Sheetz Inc.

"We were told that they wanted to bring the decision-making power back to the board, to make quicker decisions. They said it had nothing to do with us per se," a member of the Motor Fuels Committee told CSNews Online.

The restructuring of NACS' decision-making process came as little surprise, said the committee member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Some members of the motor fuels committee have been privately critical of NACS' unwillingness to take stances that might offend major oil companies and other influential players.

In early September, NACS approved seven changes to its bylaws intended to:
* Enhance diversity of the board and expand the board to provide broader representation of NACS membership.
* Enhance the ability of each of NACS' three board committees-the Government Relations Board Committee, the Industry Relations Board Committee, and the Research and Development Board Committee to deliberate on industry issues and discuss and identify solutions for member needs.
* Enable each board committee to draw on member talents and expertise by having several non-voting special advisors from the membership.
* Create an Audit Committee that enhances the oversight of the board and acknowledges the changes occurring in American business governance today.

The reorganization, NACS spokesman Jeff Lenard said, "was a way to be able to address issues tactically."

NACS learned some valuable lessons from the hotly-contested below-cost debate, which ultimately resulted in some dues-paying members dropping out of the organization. "A lot of debate happened in the committee level," said John Eichberger, NACS' motor fuels director. "But by the time it reached the Board level, the board felt a step removed and had missed out on important discussions."

There was another concern -- speed.

"The below-cost process was very slow," Eichberger said. The Board chose not to endorse a national price-protection law but to publicly oppose below-cost maneuvers aimed at driving out competition. The decision, approved overwhelmingly at the NACS Leadership Assembly meeting in early March, came some two weeks after Motor Fuels Chairman Dale Valvo notified NACS' Government Relations Board of the committee recommendation to move forward with a national below-cost statute.

"This will speed up the process," Eichberger said of the changes, "We want to be much more nimble."

But will NACS' assurances of being more inclusive materialize when it is eliminating what has long been considered a critical component to ensuring multiple viewpoints?

Like NACS, PMAA, which is the primary sponsor behind a federal below-cost fuel sales law, is also eliminating its committees. But PMAA President Dan Gilligan said the comparison ends there.

"PMAA is getting rid of the committees because we're narrowing our agenda tremendously and because we are a federation that is an umbrella to state associations that are already well engaged on the issues," said Gilligan. "NACS is not narrowing its agenda. It will be more of a challenge for NACS to make its reorganization work for their needs."

ABOVE: John Eichberger, NACS' motor fuels director.