Are the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) cooking the books? An explosive article in the Dallas Morning News of Feb. 25 headlined a 25 percent decline in membership in the regional council from what has been claimed.
The news account was based on internal documents leaked to the paper that are tied to an ongoing mail fraud investigation of the council by the U.S. Postal Service.
The Circle Ten Council, covering 11 counties in the Dallas area, until recently claimed to be the fifth largest in the nation serving about 74,000 traditional scouts.
The mail fraud investigation centers on inflating that figure with "ghost scouts," primarily in lower income and minority neighborhoods. The leaked documents revise membership figures downward by nearly a quarter.
In a statement released Feb. 22, Circle Ten acknowledged dramatic losses in membership and attributed it in part to negative publicity associated with the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June that allowed the BSA to exclude gays. Council president Bobby Lyle said, "Unfortunately, we're in a period where Scout numbers are suffering across the country from the national policy."
That statement is in direct contradiction to the spin being put out by BSA national headquarters a few miles down the road in Irving, Texas. National spokesman Gregg Shields claims that there has been little fallout from their antigay policy, and maintains that national membership grew by nearly one percent last year.
Regardless what the figures were last year, many signs point to a decline in membership in the current and ensuing years. These include the national expulsion of scout troops in Oak Park, Illinois, the decision by Reform Judaism to disassociate themselves from sponsorship of scouting activities, similar actions by scores of local government agencies, and individual acts of conscience across the nation.
The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has taken the mail fraud investigation very seriously and is conducting its own audit of membership numbers claimed by Council Ten. It could have an impact on the distribution of funds to the organization.
The New York City Council is threatening to pull all support from the Boy Scouts for its antigay policies. It held a committee hearing Feb. 26 to grill leaders of the Greater New York Councils, BSA, which runs programs for about 130,000 youth in the region.
The New York BSA leaders called the national policy "repugnant" and "stupid." It joined other councils in Rhode Island, Minnesota, and California in calling on the national headquarters to renounce the policy.
"We would like to be an agent of change," said Deryck A. Palmer, a local BSA official, in pleading for six months in which to try to change the national position. He said the local governing board recently voted overwhelmingly to take the action.
Michael O'Connor, a member of the NYC board and a former city transit police chief, called the BSA national board "a bunch of rednecks from Texas." Others of his colleagues at the public meeting were more diplomatic.
"We need a policy that is acceptable for all New Yorkers and a policy that is completely free of discrimination," said Daniel R. Gasparo, chief executive of the New York Councils. There were hints that if the national did not change its policy, the local councils would withdraw from affiliation with that body.
Manhattan City Councilman Philip Reed, who is openly gay, told The New York Times that he sensed "a real sincerity on their part to resolve this." The committee agreed to give local Scout leaders four months to try to persuade the national organization to change its policy.
BSA officials at the national headquarters are hunkering down and not talking with the media.
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