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San Fernando
Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Choosing the Nominees, Winners

By THOM SENZEE Contributing Reporter The Fernando Award is known for being the most prestigious award Valley businesspeople can receive for their civic and charitable activities. But in recent years some have come to perceive its selection process as cumbersome and complicated at best, surreptitious and mystifying at worst. However, every detail of the entire selection process is readily available to anyone just for the asking. In fact, the Fernando Award Foundation’s website (fernandoawards.org) has an outline of the process available for review to the public. A close examination of the process, as defined by leaders of the organization shows that, while the Fernando Award’s selection process is perhaps a bit cumbersome, it is hardly covert. “We have all of it, every step of the process, clearly spelled out in our bylaws,” said Fernando Award Foundation board member and treasurer Tom Soule. Soule, a Sherman Oaks CPA, has been on the board of the Fernando Award Foundation for a decade. He laid out the selection process, step by step, for the Business Journal during an interview the week before the Fernando Award’s 50th anniversary gala dinner. But even a longtime Fernando insider can temporarily lose track while explaining the lengthy process. “First, in August of each year we have a luncheon where we honor all the nominees, and announce the five finalists,” he said. “Well actually I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First, we put out the call for nominees.” The call for nominees is a major undertaking, Soule said. Announcements are made asking Valley businesspeople to submit nomination applications for individuals they believe merit consideration because they have demonstrated a long-term, consistent commitment to service, fundraising, organizing, and recruitment on behalf of nonprofit, charitable organizations. Whether nominees serve on boards of formal organizations or more informally do good for underprivileged, at-risk, disabled, elderly, young and marginalized members of society, the Fernando Award Foundation will consider each nomination on its merits, said Fernando board member, most recent award recipient, and past president, Gloria Pollack. “The entire Valley has a chance to nominate someone,” she said. The trick is getting the word out. According to Soule, approximately 200 letters inviting nominations are sent to as many nonprofit organizations during the first part of each year. There is also a nominating packet that includes a five-page application, which asks for details about the nominees’ volunteer activities. “The length of the application ensures that people understand we’re looking for a lot of substance from the nominees,” Soule said. “Many nominees need to attach several more pages to include all of the activities they have been involved in.” In addition to direct mailings, announcements are made in the media and by word-of-mouth that it is the time of year in the San Fernando Valley for lifetimes of service to be recognized once again. “Then we put an ad in the Daily News,” Soule said. “And board members go out into the community we’re almost all on multiple boards and let people know it’s time to get your nominations in.” Chambers invited In addition to community groups and business organizations, such as the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, chambers of commerce are also invited to nominate one person of their choosing most often a chamber member. Once all the nominations are in usually somewhere between 15 and 20 a 14-member selection committee begins sifting through the applications, looking for five finalists. “The Selection Committee is made up of three past recipients, four board members, four of what we call corporate members,” Soule explained. Chamber of commerce members would be a better way of describing the so-called corporate members of the selection committee, because they are each representatives from four separate chambers. Which four of the nearly two dozen chambers that get to send someone to the Fernando Award Selection Committee is decided by using a list compiled by the United Chambers of Commerce. “The United Chambers has the entire area divided into four geographical quadrants and the committee is careful to choose from different parts of the Valley each year,” he said. According to Soule, keeping the committee’s membership fresh each year is a top priority. “Ideally, we try to make sure it’s an entirely new committee every year,” he said. Rounding out the makeup of the panel are three people from a group called patrons and benefactors mostly companies that pay up to $650 to help support the Fernando Award’s programs. Once all of the applications are in, copies are provided to each member of the selection committee so that they can review the nominees prior to the annual Jesse F. McHam Nomination Luncheon, named for one of the award’s founding members and longest-serving president. Discussion and voting among the 14 members of the selection committee lead to the choosing of five finalists during the morning hours before the highly anticipated luncheon. Then comes the voting process. “Each chamber of commerce votes, and they get three votes,” Soule said. “Also VICA (the Valley Industry and Commerce Association) gets three votes, just as the United Chambers of Commerce gets three votes.” In addition to that, each past recipient of the Fernando Award, of which there are currently 23, gets three votes as, as does each member of the Fernando Award Foundation’s board of directors. Patrons and benefactors get one vote each. If there is overlap, such as a Fernando board member also being a past recipient and/or their company being a benefactor, the individual can only vote once in whichever capacity yields the most votes. An independent accounting firm then tabulates the votes. No one knows whose name is in the envelope that goes to the emcee of the next event, the first of two dinners. “In November, at the first dinner, each of the five finalists are honored,” Soule said. “That’s also when the winner is announced.” Recognition dinner But that’s not the end of the Fernando festivities. In February of the following year, the Annual Fernando Award Special Recognition Dinner takes place. “That night is all about the person receiving the Fernando,” said current recipient, Gloria Pollack. “To have the mayor and other dignitaries there and congratulate you is it’s the feeling of a lifetime.” Because the Fernando Award Foundation is honoring the award itself this year, by recognizing 50 local non-profits and all of the past recipients, Pollack will be the only person ever to retain the Fernando title for two consecutive years. One past selection committee member, who asked to speak anonymously, believes Fernando has lost its way because the selection process, they said, is corrupt. “It’s not corrupt as in there’s any wrongdoing,” the past committee member said. “It’s corrupt because it no longer represents the spirit of Fernando, which is to recognize the unrecognized volunteer. Some of these people are getting paid to do jobs that do help people, but they’re not volunteers by a long shot.” The source believes the award has become insular, taking turns patting one another on the back. In fact, there are currently six past recipients on the Fernando Award Foundation board of directors. Outreach The solution, according to the past committee member, is for the Fernando Award Foundation to do a much better job at outreach and rewrite its bylaws so that only past recipients vote. “They need to get the word out to the churches; the small organizations; the neighborhood councils and not just the same old groups and people over and over again.” Bruce Ackerman, president of the foundation, said greater outreach is something he and past presidents Gloria Pollack and Brad Rosenheim intend to do during the coming year. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting to the churches, synagogues and other faith centers to let people know we’re out here,” he said. “That’s a top priority for the next few years.” There are no plans, however, to change the essential nature of the voting process. Officials at Fernando believe the weighted vote system is the best way to ensure a diverse and fair process. Who Votes on the Winners These organizations/people get three votes each: – United Chambers of Commerce – VICA – Individual chambers – All past recipients – All Foundation board members Patrons and benefactors each get one vote.

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