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SCAA Board to Review Controversial Election Process Following Legal Threat

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.

Marty Curtis coffee roasting

Marty Curtis. Campaign photo via

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.

(more: A Look Back at A Really Big SCAA 2014 in Seattle (Plus Photo Gallery))

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.

(more: We’re Not Gonna Take It: Twisted Sister Threatens Coffee Shop with Lawsuit)

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.



Neal F Cowan

Way to go, Marty.

‘David vs. Goliath’ story. It takes a Lot of guts for an individual like a Marty Curtis to stand up and be heard. Especially so when what the individual is standing up to is not merely another individual, but a well-funded group.

The group I am alluding to is a non-profit trade organization which on the surface, at least, purports to be politically neutral, but then reveals its true stripes by doing such things as inviting a political partisan as its keynote speaker to one of it’s events. This was done back in 2010, of course, when the SCAA invited Arianna Huffington to serve as that Show’s keynote speaker.

This is one reason why so many in the coffee community are not members of The SCAA. We feel our views are marginalized. Mr. Curtis chooses to fight as an insider. For many others we choose battles outside the organization. Guess it’s about knowing how and when to pick one’s fights.

Neal Cowan
DataBase Cafe
Las Vegas, NV


I have to agree with Neal Cowan, especially when he says “this is one reason why so many in the coffee community are not members of the SCAA”. I’ve been a member in the past (press member), and a committee member, but I won’t ever be one again for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the kind of “circle the wagons” mentality that exists.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the SCAA was almost ended because of some really bad decisions (2000 trade show), and the old boys network it was at the time was a big reason. The Scott Welker situation happened and the old boys network fractured, and the new guard came in, including Peter G. and Rick R.

But as the Who song goes, “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss. I really like Marshall Fuss and go way back with him but to read that he was trying to silence the board and discourage them from discussing this very serious matter publicly… well that just stinks of backroom. closed door shenanigans.

I don’t agree with Mr. Curtis on some things in his goals and aims for the SCAA, but at the end of the day, he represents the sole thing I like in “politics”. Someone not afraid to speak their mind and stir up the pot a bit. Get people thinking. Get people doing the right thing.

IMO, it’s a farce that the SCAA only nominates just enough handpicked “they feel like we do, won’t rock the boat” people to fill board positions. Rubber stamps, they hope (until a guy like Marty comes along and stirs the pot with his write in candidacy). If the organization really wants to move towards better transparency, more representation of a bigger scale of their members, their entire board nominating and election process needs a complete reboot. My suggestion: no nominated by board candidates. Put out a call for nominations to the membership. Allow for multiple candidates for each board position. Allow for an orderly way for membership to find out about the nominees (Google Hangouts, yo) and do transparent and proper elections.

And Marshall? Backroom dealin’s only help those doing the backroom dealings. They do NOT serve the membership. They do not instill trust. They do not instill confidence in the organization.

Lastly… why haven’t we heard anything more about the massive theft of funds by Scott Welker from the SCAA? He was supposedly bonded, so was the money recovered from the bond company? Is this guy in jail? What the hell is going on. The SCAA went completely silent on this many, many years ago now.

Neal F Cowan

Thank you for “standing up”, Mark, and making your voice heard. I concur wholeheartedly with the content you communicated in your post.

The group-think which plagues this organization is, in my opinion, a kind of microcosm of a similar phenomenon which is plaguing our country on a more macro level. The kind of totalitarian group-think strangling the organization in question and the society at large are a real drag. Figuratively and literally speaking.

Without independently-minded individualists such as yourself willing and able to stand up and make their voices heard, one at a time if needs be, then this experiment known as the USA will continue in its trajectory downwards.

That’s how I view it, anyways. I may be wrong about this analysis. I don’t claim certitude about prognostications regarding future events. Yet my gut tells me I am correct about this.

DataBase Cafe

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