Spotlight On: Farthest North Girl Scout Council

FAIRBANKS—A state judge in Fairbanks has ruled against the local Girl Scout council in its lawsuit against the national Girl Scout organization over fee increases.

In the suit, the Farthest North Girl Scout Council claimed the national organization violated its own constitution when its National Board increased annual fees for each girl and adult volunteer to $25 from $12 between 2012 and 2018. The Farthest North Girl Scout Council argued only the organization's National Council, which meets every three years, can approve a fee increase, not the 30-member National Board that runs day-to-day operations.

In a ruling signed May 1, Alaska Superior Court Judge Bethany Harbison sided with the national Girl Scout organization. Harbison concluded that both the council and the board have authority to raise fees. Harbison's ruling followed her review of the organization's bylaws and 1 1/2 hours of oral arguments made in March.

Despite being an Alaska judge, Harbison analyzed the rules in the context of Washington, D.C. law because the Girl Scouts are a congressionally chartered organization.

"The plaintiffs'' arguments rest on the proposition that the National Council has the exclusive authority to set the amount of membership dues," Harbison said. "However, the court finds that the governing documents of GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the USA) provide the National Board and the National Council shared authority regarding the amount of membership dues."

Harbison also noted that if the National Council objected to the National Board's actions, the National Council has had two opportunities since 2012 to reverse the membership rate change. But the council hasn't acted.

"The record indicates that the National Council accepts that the National Board has shared authority to set membership dues," Harbison said.

Suellen Nelles, executive director of the Fairbanks council, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the Farthest North Council is considering whether to appeal the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Nelles said the National Council's inaction on the fee issue doesn't mean it's ceding authority to the National Board. Based on the structure of the National Council, it's hard to get enough votes to approve most actions, she said.

During the runup to the lawsuit, the national organization argued the Farthest North Council was violating its charter by refusing to pay the higher fees. The national organization threatened to not enroll Farthest North girls in the national organization or allow them to participate in Girl Scout activities.

But the ongoing lawsuit hasn't affected day-to-day activities for the more than 1,000 girls and adults who are part of the Farthest North Council, Nelles said. During the lawsuit, the Farthest North Council asked girls and adults to pay the old (lower) membership fee. The council has been making up the difference out of its own budget, she said.

According to the national organization, the Farthest North Girl Scout Council has the fewest number of members of any council in the United States and is the only council that's suing the national organization over the fee increase.

Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.