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Seattle Sounders Alliance sets out new rules for GM retention votes

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Garth Lagerwey will get a full four seasons before being subject to an automatic vote.

Sounder at Heart / Mike Russell

A less flashy but important piece of news from the annual business meeting was that the Seattle Sounders Alliance Council has updated the rules that define the process of voting on the club's general manager. The council also put in place official language for a "recall vote" which can be initiated by the council just two years into a GM's tenure.

The Sounders Alliance charter established the season-ticket holders' right to hold a binding vote to remove the current general manager of the team, and says that vote should occur every four years. This went according to plan in 2012, when Adrian Hanauer was retained with nearly 97 percent of the nearly 14,000 votes cast.

What the council and the front office did not hammer out at the time, though, were the rules to be used if another GM was hired in the middle of a four-year "term." When Garth Lagerwey was brought on before the 2015 season, it raised exactly this issue. Fans are expecting another GM vote in 2016, but that would mean alliance members had a pretty short time to judge the former Real Salt Lake man before an up or down vote.

In February the team and the council met and agreed that the GM vote process needed to be given teeth and clarified to cover all future scenarios.

The new rules establish that a vote will take place every four seasons after a new GM is hired (so the Sounders bringing in Lagerwey essentially reset the clock). At least 40 percent of Alliance Members must cast a vote in order to make the result valid, and only a supermajority of 67 percent can effectively "fire" the GM. This is a change from the 2012 vote, which had a 10,000-vote threshold for validity, and required only a simple majority for a binding decision.

Alliance members' votes will continue to be weighted based on the number of season ticket seats on their account, one vote per seat, just as before.

The rules also define "General Manager" to mean the individual "identified and recognized by Major League Soccer, LLC as the senior most soccer decision maker, whom is designated to represent the Club at all league wide competition related committees and meetings." This prevents the club from messing with the titles or roles of employees such that the GM is not really the one in charge.

In addition to the regularly-scheduled vote on the GM, the rules officially establish another process: a recall vote. This is a more complex undertaking, but one that can be started at any time after a GM has been in charge for at least two full seasons. Any Alliance member can bring up a "question of competence" concerning the GM to a council member, then the council will bring that question up at the next meeting. At that point the council will decide whether the issue is worth voting on. If so, they will let the team know.

A two-thirds majority of the council must then agree to put the vote to the general alliance members. Then, at least 20 percent of of the alliance members need to agree that a recall vote should go ahead. Only then will the full voting process go ahead with the same rules as the regular every-four-years GM vote.

Another restriction on the recall vote system is that if the recall fails, another can't be attempted for at least six months.

The upshot of all this is that Lagerwey will not be subject to a retention vote until after the 2018 season. A recall vote is possible before then, but not until after the end of the 2016 season, which will mark two years of Lagerwey's tenure.