How to Create Subsections

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December 6, 2006                                                                          Conferences
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How to Create Subsections

For years, the Bylaws and Governing Documents of           leaders of subsections are geographically close to the
the American Water Works Association (AWWA)                members and are familiar with the issues and
have allowed sections to subdivide into units called       peculiarities of the region the subsection
subsections, districts, and regional branches.             encompasses. In addition, geographic proximity and
However, few sections have used this method of             the small size of subsections (compared to the whole
invigorating and diversifying their associations.          section) allow leaders to address members’ concerns
Sections that have created subsections find this           with speed and flexibility. Additional specific
structure offers many benefits.                            benefits include:
                                                                 Increased communication within the section 
What is a subsection?
                                                                 Expanded volunteer pool and a smaller
                                                                     burden on the existing volunteer pool 
The word subsection is used here to mean an
                                                                 Better support for small water systems 
administrative or operational unit created below the
section level to pursue the goals and activities of              Local access to information and support 
local AWWA members. Two types of subsections are                 A more organized and localized network for
defined in the AWWA Governing Documents                              the development and implementation of
(Article XI section 11.1.3). These are regional                      section initiatives 
branches and districts. Both types of subsections                The potential for better regional distribution
operate at a local level and are intimately associated               of trainings, teleconferences, and other
with the section members that are attached to them.                  activities that require members to
                                                                     congregate 
For the most part, the distinction between these two             An organizational structure that can work
types of subsections is not important to the discussion              closely with other locally based
of how to form subsections. Though regional                          organizations, such as the National Rural
branches are meant to be formal, semi-autonomous                     Water Association and operators’
administrative units that require specific criteria be               associations 
met in order to qualify for their creation, few sections         More avenues for members to become
will need to concern themselves with this because                    involved in the leadership of the section and
virtually any subsection structure can be created                    to develop leadership skills 
under the district classification. This removes the              Strong connections to members and the
need to meet the requirements for the creation of                    ability to respond quickly and expertly to
regional branches. Therefore, in the rest of this guide,             their needs 
no distinction will be made between the two types of             A local and personal system for the
subsections.                                                         recruitment and retention of members

What do subsections offer?                                 What is the process for creating
Subdividing a section into smaller administrative or
operational units makes sense for many reasons. In         There are two phases to the process of creating
general terms, it provides localized and responsive        subsections that must be completed before you can
units for addressing member concerns and local             actually implement this structural change. First,
issues. Because each subsection comprises just one         section officers and interested members must
segment of the section’s total membership, the             determine what the subsection structure will be. This
is the planning phase. Next, these changes must be         associated with creating subsections, and demands
codified in your section's policies, procedures, and       thoughtful planning.
bylaws. We'll call this the enabling phase. After you
complete both phases, you can actually implement           Give careful consideration to who you will involve in
the structural change.                                     the planning process. Some members have more at
                                                           stake than others. Some members have expertise that
Phase 1 Planning                                           is valuable to the planning process. Members who
                                                           will be involved in the implementation should be
A number of things must be considered before you           consulted. Moreover, the general membership of the
begin the process of changing your bylaws,                 section should be aware of what is being done and be
developing policies, and implementing the structural       involved in the planning process at some level. You
change. The AWWA Bylaws and Governing                      might survey members on the advantages and
Documents give the section great latitude in the           disadvantages of creating subsections as they see
structure and purpose of subsections. Your subsection      them. You might appoint members outside the
structure might take any form, as long as it does not      section leadership to serve on an ad hoc planning
conflict directly with the AWWA Bylaws and                 committee. Whatever planning process you use, you
Governing Documents. Thus, the primary                     will need members’ support and perspectives.
consideration in formulating your subsection
structure is the needs to which your section is            The following elementary four-step process can be
responding.                                                used to bring structure to the planning process:
                                                           1.        Identify the problems or needs you are
The range of designs and purposes of subsection            trying to address.
systems can be seen in systems created to date. Some       2.        Using a brainstorming or another process to
sections have created quite formal systems, in which       generate ideas, list ways subsections might offer
subsections have their own budgets, raise funds, hold      solutions for each problem or need identified.
meetings, have committees, and have their own              3.        Refine the best ideas generated to respond to
governing board and bylaws. On the other end of the        each problem or need.
spectrum are sections with very simple geographic          4.        Develop a structure that incorporates all of
divisions and some sort of subsection coordinator.         these ideas.
Many sections with subsections have a representative
from each subsection serve on the governing board of       In addition to the needs of your section, other things
the section. Any of these characteristics – and a          must be considered when designing your subsections.
nearly unlimited number of others – could be               They are:
employed in your subsection structure. The key is to             How the subsections will be defined
create a structure that serves your section’s needs in a             geographically 
way that is in harmony with the goals and structure of           What the governing structure of the
AWWA.                                                                subsection will be -- if they are to have one
                                                                     at all 
Though generic language is provided in this guide                What the relationship and nature of the
and examples of existing bylaws are also available, it               interactions between section and subsections
will pay in the long run to take some time to carefully              will be 
identify and plan around the needs of your section.              What roles the subsection will be expected
                                                                     to play 
The planning process                                             What resources – in terms of money,
                                                                     administrative support, information, and the
Many planning processes exist. Very likely, there is                 like – the subsections will need to fulfill
someone in your section who has substantial                          their roles and how these resources will be
experience in planning who can provide assistance in                 provided 
selecting and organizing the planning process that               How officers, managers, coordinators, and
will best serve you. Often, appointing an ad hoc                     staff will be selected and how they will
committee to explore the potential of subsections and                interact with section officers and staff 
to develop a plan for their creation is an effective
                                                                 Other issues related to the specific structure
means of handling the planning process. Whatever
                                                                     you are creating
planning process you employ, be sure it is sequential,
provides for a complete appraisal of the issues
It is particularly important that you take the time to    of policies and procedures that can be modified at the
carefully consider the roles and relationships between    section level, avoiding the amendment process
subsections and other entities, particularly the          required to change bylaws. For more information on
section. Poor planning in this area probably won’t        amending your bylaws, refer to the AWWA How To
doom the subsections to failure, but it can lead to       Revise Your Section Bylaws.
conflict. If you don’t give this proper attention, you
may later find your governing board struggling,           The following examples of amendments give the
under much less-than-ideal circumstances, with the        section’s governing board general authority over
subsection structure and issues relating to roles and     subsections. If this language is used, then, after the
responsibilities.                                         bylaws (with amendments) are approved by the
                                                          AWWA Board of Directors, the section governing
It is also important that you give your governing         board should not have to amend the section bylaws
board the authority to make changes to the subsection     again when changes to the subsection structure are
system that is being created. Regardless of how           needed, except in rare cases. Instead, the changes
meticulous your planning is, you are likely to want to    would be made to the subsection manual or other
make some adjustments to the structure after it is in     governing document referred to in the bylaws. These
place. Most adjustments can be made without               documents do not require AWWA Board approval;
difficulty if your governing board has the power to       thus they can be changed according to the procedure
make changes.                                             you have created for amending them.

There is a clear distinction between good planning        Example 1 The geographic area of the
and too much planning. Take the time to plan well         _____________ Section shall be considered as
and you will have a good subsection structure, but        divided into such subsections as the (section
don't let planning prevent you from moving ahead          governing board) may determine. The exact
with creating subsections. No planning process can        boundaries of the subsection may be established or
anticipate everything.                                    altered by the (section governing board) to best meet
                                                          the convenience of the members living therein.
Phase 2 Enabling
                                                          Example 2 The (governing board of the section)
In this phase you write the language that makes           shall have the authority to promulgate rules and
creating your subsections possible. There are two         procedures for the governance of the subsections, as
parts to this phase: (1) making changes to the section    it deems necessary.
bylaws and (2) creating policies and procedures.
                                                          Example 3 Any subsection may be dissolved by the
Amending section bylaws                                   (section governing board) for reasons that it believes
                                                          to be sufficient.
Changing the section bylaws is probably the easier of     Example 4 The (section governing board) may
the two steps. For many sections, all that is needed is   authorize the Secretary-Treasurer to distribute funds,
an article empowering the section governing board to      based on a formula established by the (section
create, govern and dissolve the subsections (see          governing board), to each subsection that is active
Examples 1, 2, and 3). If subsection officers are         and functioning. Such funds shall be used by
going to serve on the section governing board,            subsections for defraying the reasonable costs of
changes to the articles of the bylaws that deal with      mailing notices and other operational expenses. Each
the makeup of the governing board and election            subsection will provide the Secretary-Treasurer
processes must be made to accommodate the addition        records as required by the (section governing board).
of board officers. If funds will be raised, transferred   The (section governing board) may adopt other
to, or otherwise managed by the subsection, these         policies and procedures relating to the raising, use,
activities should also be briefly described in the        and accounting of funds by the subsections as it
bylaws (see Example 4).                                   deems necessary and appropriate.

Almost everything else – such as the geographic           Subsection Manual
distribution of subsections, roles and relationships
between the section and subsections, administration       Step two of the enabling process involves a detailed
of the subsections, the selection process for             elaboration of the operation and structure of the
subsection officers, and specifics of money               subsections. Policies and procedures need to be
management and meetings -- can be included in a set       created and the general design of the system
described before the plan can be fully implemented.         Reporting
A subsection manual (or policies and procedures
manual) can contain the documents that specify the                  Subsection activities 
policies, procedures, and details of design. This                   Committee activities 
manual has the same authority to govern the                         Membership 
subsections that the documents would have if they                   Financial 
were put directly into the bylaws. However, as
mentioned before, the advantage to putting most of                  Elections
the details in a manual is that changes can be made to      Elections
the manual without going through the complicated
and time-consuming process of amending the bylaws.                  Nomination process 
                                                                    Balloting process 
The policies and procedures you create depend                       Qualifications of candidates   
greatly on the subsection structure you are creating.
                                                                    Deadlines
Clearly, it is advisable to include information about
election processes, money management and                    Membership of subsections
reporting, roles and responsibilities, and anything
else that is critical to the operation of the subsection.
                                                                    Who is a member of the subsection
However, care is needed not to overburden the               Subsection boundaries
subsections with rules. As with any administrative
unit, some autonomy and room for creativity are                     Boundaries map and written definition
necessary for their organizational health and for them      Subsection board, manager, or coordinator
to find the best ways to fulfill their mandates. In
general, make sure the governing board of the section               List of offices 
has the authority it needs to meet its obligation to                Description of roles and responsibilities of
effectively and responsibly govern the section and                   officers, manager, or coordinator 
that the subsection structure is defined well enough to             Terms of offices 
operate as you have envisioned.
                                                                    Required meetings, frequency, location,
                                                                     announcements 
Following is a list of some of the issues a subsection
manual might address. Other materials, such as forms                Procedures for the conduct of meetings
the subsection must complete and examples of other          Subsection meetings
materials, such as flyers, ballots, etc., could also be
included in the manual.                                             Required meetings 
                                                                    Location and timing of meetings 
Hiring and staff management                                         Rules governing meetings with other
     Information about employment laws                             organizations 
     Income reporting                                             Will there be member and non-member
     General information about staff management                    prices
     Sample job descriptions
Committees                                                  With your section bylaws amended to allow for the
     Committees the subsections should have               creation of subsections and the more detailed
     Composition of the committees                        description of the subsection system and procedures
                                                            established, you are ready to implement the plan.
     Purpose of the committees 
     Relationship with section-level committees           Please remember this guide is a general outline of the
     Meeting schedules                                    process and is not meant to be an exclusive source of
     Selection and responsibilities of committee           information on this process. Following is a list of
        officers                                            sources from which you can draw additional
Financial Activities                                        information on the processes involved in creating
     Record keeping                                       subsections. We hope you will use these resources
     Reporting                                            and any others that you may know of as you consider
     Audits                                               the creation of subsections in your section.
     Expenditures 
     Taxes
Other Resources for Information and                      Other how-to guides available from AWWA may
Assistance During this Process                           help you with some of the processes involved in
                                                         creating subsections. Two guides that are pertinent to
                                                         subsection creation are How To Revise Your Section
Sections with Subsections
                                                         Bylaws and How To Develop A Strategic Plan.
Many sections now have well-developed, long-
                                                         Finally, you may consider taking a broader look at
established subsection structures. Members of these
                                                         your needs and ways to respond to them. The staff of
sections can be great resources of information on
                                                         AWWA offers assistance with self-assessments and
what works and what doesn't.
                                                         the development of strategic plans.
It may make sense to take time to talk with members
                                                         For more information about topics covered by this
of some of these sections to see what the section has
                                                         guide, please contact your section's Section Services
created and to get insights based on their experience
                                                         Representative in AWWA’s Section Services Group.
with subsections. Following is a list of the sections
that currently have subsections. If you need a contact
within a section on this list, call AWWA Section
Services at 303/347-6202.
        Alaska 
        British Columbia 
        Florida 
        Georgia 
        Illinois 
        Indiana 
        Iowa 
        Minnesota 
        Ohio 
        Ontario 
        Pacific Northwest 
        Pennsylvania
AWWA Headquarters Staff and
AWWA’s Section Services Group can assist you by
        additional examples of language used to
         amend section bylaws to allow the creation
         of subsections 
        sample subsection handbooks 
        help drafting language for bylaws
         amendments, policies, manuals, and other
         documents 
        help in the development of your subsection
         plan 
        a review of your bylaws before you submit
         them to AWWA Board of Directors for
         approval 
        general help getting answers to your