Open Letter to the President of ATIF

ATIFDear Mr. Messulam,

As you know, the most fundamental obligation of ATIF’s Board of Directors is to serve its members, and I believe the survey you sent on March 25 is a fantastic way to learn about the membership. It is a broad survey that addresses various topics through simple, yet powerful questions that will undoubtedly give you a better idea of the reality of linguists working in Florida. However, there are also a number of leading —as well as erroneous— questions that warrant clarification.  This is especially important because I see that you sent this survey using Google Forms, which means that anyone —not only members of ATIF— can answer your survey. And while this will help you get a clearer picture of interpreters and translators in our state, the way you presented some of these questions is misleading, has deep implications for ATIF as a non-for profit organization, and for our profession at large.

The following comments are a result of discussions with several colleagues —some in other states— about our collective impressions about your survey.

Questions 3-4Questions #3 and #4 are (mis)leading. Are we trying to perpetuate a culture of bottom-feeders or seek better recognition for our profession? As a professional organization, your duty is to promote the latter. Most people will answer “Depends” to question #3, so what’s the value for you as a surveyor? And question #4 is completely out of place. I don’t even know how to answer this question because those “price points” are so off my chart that I will not even consider it as a serious proposition.

Question #9: As a freelance interpreter you currently charge … Here are some things that come to mind as I read your question: As a freelance interpreter in what field? As a freelance court interpreter? As a medical interpreter? Or as a conference interpreter? Working in Miami or on an assignment in [insert random country here]? Including mileage or not? By stating a number you’re setting up a benchmark. It would be much better to offer a range that would more accurately represent the different scenarios we often face when accepting or declining a job.

Question #12. Have you obtained work from the ATIF website? I think that’s a fair question, but I would also like to know: Have you obtained work as a result of your membership? Which are two different things. While I, personally, haven’t obtained any contracts through the website, I have worked on several lucrative projects with other members I met through ATIF functions. And I have referred several colleagues I have met via ATIF for jobs I couldn’t take.

Question #13: Do you think that interpreters who work without being certified should be reported to the State Attorney’s Office for ‘doing business without a license’? Once more, this question fails to specify whether we’re talking about a court interpreter, but I’ll assume so. This is the same situation as a nonlawyer helping someone file a plea. According to Florida Law, this information needs to be disclosed, and I see no difference between having a non-certified court interpreter working on a case, and the nonlawyer disclosure (unless we’re dealing with a rare language). I don’t believe a non-certified interpreter should be “reported”, but there must be a way to disclose this information.

Q25 Q14Questions #14 and #25. Although far apart, these two questions are related —one casually sets the tone and the other one openly reveals the intention. Unless these questions were specifically directed to staff interpreters and translators, I don’t see how we could ever form a union (in the sense of a labor union) as we are freelancers, and hence don’t work for on single employer. Also, this brings up to mind a discussion that has been going around lately, better summarized in the following tweet from @integlangsbiz:


Question #15: Anyone can be a member of ATIF with equal rights and privileges, but to be on ATIF’s professional directory you must have the proper credentials. As the person in charge of the redeveloping and relaunching of ATIF’s website, and former webmaster —and unless your board is doing things differently— I can attest that this is absolutely wrong and misleading. All members of ATIF regardless of credentials shall be listed in the professional directory. While there is a section to list your credentials in the directory, lack of credentials does not preclude members from being listed in the directory.

Question #17. Do you have dual citizenship? Anyone claiming to be a naturalized US citizen has one nationality, and one only. The Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America reads:

Renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which the applicant was before a subject or citizen;

Q18-19Questions #18 and #19. Great legal framework, but it’s missing an important piece of information: The IRS Code, which clearly sets the scope, limitations, and other definitions that govern 501(c)(6) organizations such as ATIF. Suggested further reading can be found here, with great discussions and case analysis.

Question #24: ATIF must have a set of bylaws that have been approved by the majority vote of its members. This is closely related to questions 18 and 19, but it goes a bit further because it creates doubt as to whether or not ATIF bylaws were approved by the majority vote of its members. When ATIF was born the board of directors were the members, and they were the ones who drafted and voted the bylaws, which were subsequently filed with the IRS and the State of Florida. Later, in 2012, the bylaws were amended and submitted to the membership at large for vote.

This is also in direct compliance with Florida Statues, Chapter 617 that you have been referring to, which reads:

617.0206 Bylaws.—The initial bylaws of a corporation shall be adopted by its board of directors. The power to alter, amend, or repeal the bylaws or adopt new bylaws shall be vested in the board of directors unless otherwise provided in the articles of incorporation or the bylaws. The bylaws may contain any provision for the regulation and management of the affairs of the corporation not inconsistent with law or the articles of incorporation.

And with ATIF Bylaws, regarding amendments:

“Article XIII – Amending the Bylaws

These Bylaws may be amended by a majority vote of the members in a closed written ballot or electronic vote, as determined by the Board.  An amendment may be proposed in writing by any member. The Board then submits the proposed amendment to the members for a vote, with the recommendations of the Board of Directors. The texts of proposed amendments are sent with a ballot to members at least twenty (20) and no more than fifty (50) days before the deadline for their return. A majority of votes by eligible members is required for adoption.”

Question #26: How much money should ATIF keep in its treasury “for a rainy day”? There is already an operating budget in place. However, I understand you inherited a large sum from previous boards (close to $23,000), and your focus is education —which I think is wonderful. However, as the President of ATIF, and also owner of a company specializing in interpreter training, you must not be involved in decisions regarding spending money for training courses where presenters will be paid, as this will be perceived as a conflict of interest. Neither you nor any board member should make any decisions that will directly or indirectly benefit you monetarily. So here is an idea: As a way to guarantee maximum transparency, create a Membership Budget Committee, comprised by the Treasurer, two members from previous boards, and two other regular members. Members of this committee must not be an interested party in any of the decisions being made, and if at any time there is a conflict, this member shall recuse him or herself. I’ll be happy to discuss this in further detail.

I would have liked to see a question about volunteering for ATIF and ways to engage the membership. You mentioned in a previous letter that you are happy to see a reverse in the downward trend of membership from the past few years, but this means nothing if you are failing to retain your own board members: Three have quit, and yet, the membership at large is unaware of this fact and is not being invited to participate in your board.

As a voting member of ATIF I have a vested interest in the present and future of my local professional association. As former vice-president I’m also a part of ATIF’s legacy. A legacy that was built upon the hard work of dedicated and selfless individuals who donated their time to form, keep, and move forward an organization that represents the interests of all interpreters and translators in Florida. A legacy that that has been entrusted to you and your board.