FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks-based Farthest North Girl Scout Council is suing the Girl Scouts of the United States over the way the parent organization has increased fees.
Annual fees paid to the national organization for each girl and each adult went up from $12 to $15 in 2014 and are set to increase to $25 in 2018, according to the lawsuit filed by the Fairbanks council. The lawsuit comes after months of correspondence and negotiations between the local and national organizations, said Suellen Nelles, executive director of the Fairbanks council.
“We stand behind our lawsuit,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “We feel our members have been overcharged because the GSUSA Board does not have authority under their own governing documents to raise dues.”
The Alaska plaintiffs contend the fee increases violate the national organization’s constitution because the increases were approved by the organization’s 30-member National Board of Directors, not the larger National Council, which convenes every three years.
More than 100 regional Girl Scout councils exist in the United States. No other councils have decided to sue the Girl Scouts of the United States because of the increase, Nelles said.
“There is support (from other councils); however, we were the first to file,” she said. “Our board felt strongly enough about it.”
The plaintiffs seek monetary damages, attorney fees and a judgment that finds the National Board of Directors acted illegally when it increased fees without action from the National Council.
Leaders of the Farthest North Girl Scout Council filed the suit Feb. 14 in Fairbanks Superior Court. The case is also filed in federal District Court. The case is in both courts while attorneys determine which jurisdiction is more appropriate, Nelles said.
According to the plaintiffs’ opening brief, the national organization told the Farthest North Council in a November 2016 letter that the local organization violated its charter agreement by sending in payments at the old $12-per-person rate.
The national organization reportedly threatened not to enroll girls in the national movement or allow them to participate in Girl Scout activities.
The lawsuit shouldn’t affect daily operations for the more than 1,000 girls and adults who participate in scouting here because the local council’s charter doesn’t come up for renewal until 2018, Nelles said.
The Farthest North Girl Scout Council is the umbrella organization for about 75 girl Girl Scout troops that operate north of the Alaska Range.
In a written statement Tuesday, the national organization said it was working with lawyers to respond to the lawsuit.
“Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) is aware of the lawsuit filed against it in Alaska State Court by the Farthest North Girl Scout Council and is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the allegations made in the complaint. GSUSA is working with internal and external counsel to develop an appropriate response to the litigation and address the claims contained therein.”
This isn’t the first time the Fairbanks-based council has come into conflict with the national New York-based organization.
In 2009, the board resisted a national effort to merge Alaska’s three Girl Scout councils into one. The state’s Southeast and Southcentral councils were combined, but the Farthest North Council remained independent.
Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.
Correction: This article has been changed to reflect the following correction.
Wednesday's article: "Fairbanks Girl Scouts council sues national organization over fee increase" misspelled the first name of Farthest North Girl Scout Council Executive Director Suellen Nelles. The online story also adds a statement from the Girl Scouts of the USA.