Marty Curtis, a longtime member of the North American roasting community, has verbally agreed to discontinue his pursuit of arbitration or other legal action against the Specialty Coffee Association Board of Directors following a controversial board election earlier this year.
His announcement came on Saturday, April 26, during an open meeting called by the SCAA board for its membership at the SCAA Conference in Seattle. It followed a heated meeting a day earlier in which Curtis — who had a rolling camera suspended above his right shoulder from a torso harness — twice walked out of the room during exchanges with SCAA legal representative Marshall Fuss, who urged the board not to discuss specifics publicly.
Curtis, well-known for his extensive work rebuilding and refurbishing roasters and afterburners, was a write-in candidate for the board Vice President position, in what was effectively the board’s first competitive election since transitioning to an online ballot system in 2010. Typically, the SCAA nominating board brings forth the exact number of candidates to fill the open seats in a given year, and those nominees are approved, but the SCAA bylaws do allow a petition process for write-ins. Following a campaign period in which both candidates requested email lists of voting members from the SCAA, Curtis lost the election by nine votes to Ben Pitts of Royal Cup Coffee.
Curtis has said that the election results should be invalidated, alleging inconsistencies in the SCAA’s distribution of voting member lists to the candidates, as well as ballot language that may have created confusion among eligible voting members, specifically language related to SCAA organization member ID numbers. Curtis has also questioned the election results auditing process, which according to SCAA bylaws was run by a third-party auditor contracted by the SCAA.
For its part, the SCAA board has acknowledged some existing flaws in the balloting system, even releasing a “Transparency Report” earlier this month to help clear the air. In it, current SCAA President Paul Thornton said the audit revealed that 386 of the 519 ballots cast were accepted, while the others were determined ineligible because they either came from a non-voting-class member or because they came from an individual from a member company from which a vote had already been counted.
In Saturday’s meeting, SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart admitted, “Our system is not set up for competitive elections.”
The board acknowledged the need to improve not only its balloting process, but all its communication channels with the SCAA’s existing membership, after hearing numerous complaints from members related to updating their personal contact information. Curtis’s own concession came under the condition that the SCAA board and staff leadership commits to revising ballot language to mitigate confusion among voting members and allow for maximum participation.