New Chairperson selected for MDA National Council

The Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand (MDA) held their Annual General Meeting in Hamilton on Friday night at the Distinction Hotel.

Ken Green, a charted accounted, was selected as the new chairperson for National Council and brings with him a lot of experience within the organisation already. Green has been a part of the Council for just over a year and is also the head of the MDA’s Sub Finance committee.

Trevor Jenkin, a long time advocate and member of the MDA’s Northern committee was selected as vice chairperson on National Council.

Both men were selected unopposed.

An array of speakers were on hand to share their story following the official ceremonies at the AGM. Nic Brocklebank, the ambassador for MDA New Zealand, and Dr Alice Theodom, the lead researcher on Muscular Dystrophy prevention were the two stand outs.

Other names of interest including special guest Dr Larry Stern from the USA and Dr Richard Roxburgh also spoke on the night.

MDA’s Chief Executive wants to create member discussion about sex

Ronelle Baker believes that the MDA has an important role in providing services and information that normalises sex for disabled people.

The MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand) has already been involved in a couple of workshop like gatherings that explore sexuality and disability.

Those gatherings weren’t well attended and while the MDA, and others, scratch their head as to why, further training for fieldworkers is on the cards.

Baker, the interim Chief Executive of the MDA, believes that fieldworkers need more competencies in the area of sex and disability.

The long term vision for the MDA is to create peer to peer support, to link people to resources, and to allow confidential and safe conversations to occur so that individuals can explore their sexual thoughts, challenges, and experiences in constructive and therapeutic ways.

The matter of sexuality and disability is yet to be raised with MDA’s National Council.

Positive outlook for the MDA heading into 2016

It has been a year of change for the MDA, and as 2016 approaches, positive strives may be on the horizon thanks to a joint effort by National Council and staff.

In the latest In Touch magazine, National Council chairperson Heather Browning revealed that conversations about the aspirations that office staff have for the MDA had been held recently in Auckland.

Browning says that the National Council was left with a greater appreciation of the importance and complexity of working in the disability sector following the conversations.

A strategic plan has been set in motion for the next year.

“I am optimistic that 2016 will be a year of growth”, Browning said.

Former Canterbury chairperson Paul Arthur resigned from his role after a two-year reign, citing that he wanted to focus on his health, but The Real Michael Pulman understands that Arthur was left in a position where the decision was forced due to pressure from fellow branch member Warren Hall.

Acting Chief Executive Ronelle Baker has received positive feedback from Northern Branch chairperson Trevor Jenkin, but Baker herself is taking each day in her stride.

MDA “fairly smooth” under new leadership

Under the eye of new interim CEO Ronelle Baker, the Muscular Dystrophy Association of NZ recently met with KiwiRail to discuss access and mobility.

The meeting involving a couple of other disability organizations and KiwiRail took place last week with discussions set to be ongoing, and MDA’s National Council head Heather Browning called it a ‘great initiative’ on the organisations’ official Facebook page.

Insiders say that new CEO Ronelle Baker is a great asset to the MDA, and her transition into the role has been well received thus far.

MDA’s Northern Branch recently celebrated Duchenne Awareness Day in Auckland with a small gathering.

The Northern Branch has also been particularly active on social media in the last month.

As interim CEO following the resignation of Chris Higgins in August, Baker has been quietly shifting into her new role as talk of the organisations’ financial difficulties has died down somewhat.

The large deficit of over $300,000 remains to be explained.

Baker says it is an important milestone for the MDA to have a leader who is, like the members the organisation represents, also disabled.

“I have a huge learning curve ahead but I can feel lots of positive support building around me,” Baker said.

The Real Michael Pulman and Baker agreed to an interview about the state of the organisation once the new CEO had become familiar in her new role, and talks of this are set to begin again soon.

MDA’s National Council must be more transparent

National Council faces a tough task in providing clear transparency in their statement to staff and members regarding Chris Higgins’ resignation.

As of today, no official announcement has been made publicly to inform members of Chris Higgins resigning from his role of MDA Chief Executive.

Higgins resigned on Monday this week – according to sources.

One reason behind a delay in official communication from MDA’s National Council is due to lack of transparency and acknowledgement surrounding the circumstances that led to Higgins’ resignation.

National Council will find it difficult to present an official statement to members that will avoid potential repercussions about the state of the organisation and the ethics of council members who make day-to-day decisions about the running of the MDA.

The Real Michael Pulman contacted council chairperson Heather Browning earlier today to clarify if and when a statement would be made and is yet to receive a response.

It is likely that Chris Higgins and National Council are working together this week to pen a statement that prevents damages.

Clearly, Higgins opting to resign from the MDA is a result of the increasing questions about his leadership and the financial difficulties that the association is facing, and this is something that many are calling National Council to acknowledge in any statement that is released.

Ronelle Baker is set to become interim CEO of the MDA.

“Chris Higgins will get a payout” – MDA insider

MDA’s National Council face a big problem in more ways than one as the fallout from Chris Higgins resigning from his role as CEO continues.

It was revealed yesterday that Chris Higgins had resigned, but National Council is yet to make a public announcement, and speculation about the terms of Higgins leaving the organisation is set to continue in the coming days.

Higgins informed The Real Michael Pulman today that if he were to make a public statement, it would be done so through formal MDA communication channels.

During an interview back in June, Higgins said that any decision over making a public statement to members would be made by National Council, and with the MDA’s CEO now resigning, National Council would be foolish to assume not making a comment to members about the situation is in anyway viable.

Some of the MDA’s biggest critics would say that Higgins’ resignation is a case of history repeating itself and that no statement from National Council will contain all the facts.

According to sources, former employees have received revenue from MDA streams after leaving the organisation. Is it likely that Higgins will get the same treatment? The longer National Council and Higgins remain silent on the matter, the more questions will be asked.

Yesterday’s announcement came as a surprise to everyone except National Council, Higgins had made no indication that he would resign from the MDA in any of his comments about the state of the association.

In his annual report, Higgins was strongly committed to the future of the MDA, citing various new plans to try to solve the financial difficulties that the organisation faces.

It is likely that the decision for Higgins to resign from the MDA was made by National Council, and with that said, some are speculating Higgins will receive a payout on his way out the door.

Treatment of Paul Arthur a good sign of business at MDA

Pressure tactics are not uncommon in the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand, and the treatment of Canterbury chairperson Paul Arthur is a prime example.

Current and former staff revealed that Chris Higgins and Heather Browning aren’t the easiest to work for, and if staff ‘go against the grain’ at MDA, they are then harassed into keeping their issues quiet.

It appears that discomfort is common in the workplace at MDA.

National Council are set to make a decision regarding the future of the association shortly, but sources say that not all members on National Council have been informed of this, and the decision will not be made public or have any input from paying members.

The treatment of Paul Arthur is a good example of some of the issues that are happening behind closed doors at the MDA.

Arthur, also disabled, has been the chairperson for the Canterbury branch of the association for some time now.

But the once staunch supporter of positive change for the MDA has swallowed his pride and become silent on a scandal that has the potential to see New Zealand’s neuromuscular advocacy organisation become a laughing stock in the disability sector.

Arthur publicly slammed MDA head Chris Higgins, admitting to personal problems with the CEO before questioning his leadership.

Arthur went on to say he was personally concerned about the state of the finances in the organisation.

Arthur was in regular contact with The Real Michael Pulman before fellow Canterbury branch members attempted to stop him making contact, at the request of National Council.

At the latest National Council meeting, Warren Hall and Derek Woodward, two council members, laughed out loud when claims of their bullying Arthur were read out. This came days after Hall had verbally attacked Arthur in Christchurch, insisting that Arthur ceased all contact with The Real Michael Pulman.

Arthur hasn’t been heard from since.

In a recent column, Heather Browning claimed that the association is the leading advocate for people with neuromuscular conditions in New Zealand, but there a plenty of disability organizations around the country who can claim to this also.

The branches have done a good job at trying to advocate for members, but it appears that Browning is happy to take the credit for this on behalf of the association. It has been branch funds that have paid for member events like camps, Christmas parties, and regular gatherings for members and their families.

The association hasn’t paid for any of these events, it has been out of the pocket of the branches.

“No overspending” according to MDA in statement

Despite claiming so, the recently released statement by the MDA surrounding finances doesn’t bring fourth any clear evidence that overspending is not some of the factors involved in the $100,000 plus deficit.

In the statement, MDA cite increasing competition from other organisations for donations, and that the revenue from fund-raising was well below expectations.

Since spotlight when on National Office in April, some have speculated that the financial decision making of Chris Higgins as CEO of the MDA are a reason for the deficit.

Higgins is believed to be earning up to $150,000 annually in his role at the head of MDA, this includes benefits, and Higgins is left to make the day-to-day decisions regarding finances, and this is briefly overseen by National Council.

National Council appointed Higgins in the role, and Higgins said during an interview with The Real Michael Pulman that all decisions are made by National Council and not himself.

However, the statement released by National Office says that Chris Higgins is responsible for MDA’s finances.

The MDA provided no clear evidence that overspending was not a factor in posting its significant financial deficit. MDA also claim they have significant financial reserves for the next calendar year.

Is National Council’s response to a member acceptable?

MDA head Chris Higgins passed on concerns written to his email address to National Council leader Heather Browning.

The MDA hasn’t yet responded to public comments made by Canterbury branch chairperson Paul Arthur on social media.

Arthur claimed that MDA leader Chris Higgins is “impossible” to work with and went on to express concern over the financial problems the association has been infamous for.

In an email leaked to The Real Michael Pulman, national council chairperson Heather Browning claims that an investigation was launched by Chris Higgins into the Wellington branch office manager who forwarded an email using the private member database written by Liz Mills electioneering for the selection of Browning for NC.

In the email, Browning says that the investigation is now complete.

“The Wellington Branch Chair and the Office Manager both recognise their respective errors in judgement,” Browning said.

Chris Higgins was approached originally for clarification and comment by a member of the association, and the members concerns were passed on to National Council by Higgins who made no comment on the scandal.

Voting numbers for Heather Browning’s election have still not been released by the MDA.

It is also understood that RSM Hayes were only newly selected as the auditors for the MDA.