Amid online furor, Gem-A, the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, will not appoint a new CEO to replace departing James Riley until after members elect a new board, says chairman Nigel Israel.
“We don’t want to appoint anyone until we know what a council might look like,” he says. “The future council may look very different.”
The group’s annual meeting will be held on July 29; election results won’t be announced until Aug. 26.
Riley was dismissed after he charged massage parlor expenses to his corporate credit card during a business trip to Australia. Riley says the massages were meant to soothe an ongoing back problem. The parlor also advertises “adult services,” but Riley says that he wasn’t aware of that, did not do anything improper, and paid the expenses back. He plans to appeal his dismissal.
Israel says the dismissal was not only for the charges, but for trying to hide them, and argues the board had no choice but to take the action it did.
“We have filed a serious incident report with the U.K. Charity Commission, as required,” he says. “There is no way it would accept a chief executive of a charity using funds in that way with the amount of money involved. The Charity Commission does not allow trustees of a charity to overlook such things.”
Riley was first suspended in June, and the sudden and initially unexplained action sparked an outcry from his supporters in the organization, particularly on social media. One trustee, Steve Collins, reportedly resigned in protest. Many criticized the board for spending a large amount of money investigating the matter.
“No charity can afford the luxury of spending such money to prove a point,” says Ronnie Bauer, an Australian who is running for a trustee position. “I ask members: What is worse? Insisting that the CEO repay £850 for misuse of the company credit card or wasting £100,000 of charities’ money—your money—to prove this discretion?”
“To call them trustees is a misnomer,” he continues. “It will take years for Gem A to recoup the losses they have burdened us with.”
But Israel argues that, again, the trustees had no choice.
“The trustees of the charity do not have the expertise to handle these matters,” he says. “Therefore we had to use professional advice, and that professional advice comes very expensively. We would have been at fault not to seek professional advice.”
Some are also upset that the organization pulled the plug on a course on corporate social responsibility.
“The trustees felt that that the Gemmological Association was in the business of educating about scientific gemology,” Israel says. “We felt that a worldwide ethics course was more properly the providence of trade associations. In our bylaws we put great emphasis on members behaving ethically, but it is a big leap from that to having a course on ethics.”
But Greg Valerio, who has worked with Gem-A on supply chain issues and is currently running for a trustee position, argued in a blog post that “the new world demands gemology is more than a one-dimensional single issue scientific understanding of gemstones. The ethical nature of a gemstone is as much to do with its social context and its environmental provenance as it is with its scientific mineral composition. These things are not mutually exclusive, they are in fact proudly complimentary.”
Currently, 16 nominees are running to fill as many as nine slots on the board. (The board’s composition is capped at 12, depending on how many nominees win more “approve” votes than “disapprove” from members. It currently has seven trustees; three trustees are not up for reelection and will remain in their positions, while four are retiring.)
An unusual number of members running for positions are from overseas, including Bauer and several Americans, including Kathryn Bonanno and Chris Smith, president of American Gemological Laboratories.
“These are uncharted waters for us,” Israel says. “Charity Commission guidance says the majority of the trustees must be residents of the United Kingdom. But it is unlikely that the [winning] majority will be from abroad.”
He says that while “there are always things that we could have been done better,” he regrets all the public fuss.
“If people were concerned about the organization, perhaps they ought to be concerned about the damage they are doing to the reputation of the association,” he says. “Gem-A is there to teach people in identifying gemstones and not to put all its energy into internal squabbles that are counterproductive.”
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