Saturday, October 23, 2010

League petition drive comes up short of 5%

As some of you know, after being rejected to run for the LAB Board by the LAB Nominating Committee, and not getting any reason why, I considered my options carefully and decided to exercise the petition option  with two other League Cycling Instructors, John Brooking and Eli Damon. The current  League board chose not to nominate any of the three of us (i.e., allow us on the ballot) on the basis of our applications, but has never told membership why, in detail, it chose who it chose and rejected who it rejected. That fault in governance, i.e., transparency, is my single, overriding criticism of the League. As I said, if we treated our national elections this way, citizens might as well stay home and leave Congressional appointments to Congress and their lobbyist backers. Opaque or even translucent elections are excellent generators of mistrust. We have to do better.

My decision was not made lightly. Don't worry. I don't claim to ride on water nor am I probably the worst possible candidate either--apparently over 400 members didn't think we were too shabby either. The bottom line is members, not the existing Board, should decide such things.

LAB Reform, long critical of the League's Board election policies, helped us with the petition drive. We needed to form an alliance because frankly, the League has made it a herculean task in time, effort, and money, to mount a petition drive.  Since 2003, the League's bylaws have required signatures from 5% of the League members to put a candidate on the ballot via petition (around 800-1000 signatures).  Until 2003, it took only 50 signatures to get on the  ballot by petition. According to LAB Reform, most of the directors who pushed this change through did not even need members' votes for their seats but were themselves appointed (I doubt any of them know 5% of members).  I further surmise that the current League Board's philosophy is increasingly that a "corporate" style board vetted from the top  is better suited to running the organization than a grassroots, membership-elected board. I have no problem setting high standards for Board membership, but the details of how candidates are chosen need to be more transparent and member-friendly. Presently, the system has resulted in serious disagreement on the state of LAB governance; solutions need to be worked out.

Eli and John spearheaded this drive and I thank them for their efforts. They found the League board and management frustrating to deal with.  Further, LAB Board members ignored my request for information on the vetting process and my suggestion for a more transparent system (note added 10/26/10--I had a long and fruitful conversation with Governance Committee Chair Tim Young tonight). Nonetheless, it seems LAB interpreted  requirements to our disadvantage, and, when time was running short, refused to allow an email announcement to members on the grounds that it was not an option explicitly spelled out in policy, despite the fact that it was known to be technically feasible and that frankly, the LAB Board adjusts both governance and policy to its own goals and objectives. For example, changing the ratio of appointed to elected Board members, and the total number of board members, without membership approval. Shades of FDR's Court-Packing Plan!

In addition, this year's election will be conducted entirely electronically, and obtaining petitions is a long-established part of the election process. So why did LAB refuse to allow us to send a petition request--that they would approve in advance--to all members for whom it has email addresses, as it's apparently been done for candidates in the past few elections? I think that is a rhetorical question but welcome a response here. Therefore, our appeal was limited to lists, clubs,  instructors and individual cyclists we know or for whom we could find addresses. One of my comments to LAB is that LAB ought to cooperate with members in a petition situation so it doesn't seem like we are bitter adversaries, thus fanning the flames of disengagement, but instead that we are colleagues with honorable and negotiable disagreements.

Some of whom we contacted told us that they could not sign the petition because they had quit the League due to concerns about its current management practices. Despite these limitations, we ended up with about 400 valid signatures.  We think this is considerably more than the number of ballots cast in any recent LAB election. A large portion of the signatures are from LCIs. Many are from life members, former directors, and even former League presidents and current director nominees. These are among the League's most active and valuable members. By signing the petition, they have voiced their displeasure over the election process.

We (i.e., the three of us, petitioners, and LAB Reform) have been discussing tactics to follow up the petition. Some who signed the petition have suggested forming a new organization to take up the causes the League has abandoned or in some of our opinions, has given inadequate effort. 

The League (that's supposed to be us) may wish to consider whether we want to stay in one big tent--I think we do. Forming a separate organization is a huge challenge and one has to ask what we would accomplish fractured that could not be accomplished better with all of us speaking with a common, if sometimes discordant voice. But the alternatives to reform are to see yet more people drift away from LAB. Individual League memberships are estimated to be less than 20,000. Membership peaked at over 100,000 a century ago in a much smaller nation but at a time when cycling was in its heyday. Isn't it supposed to be in a heyday again? The turnout to the League Rally, held in Albuquerque last summer, was disappointing. Albuquerque is a great place to ride. Where was everybody**? Have individual members decided that the League is now a house organ for the money players in DC, i.e., the bike industry and urban planners? I hope not.

We thank all those who signed and especially those who helped us collect signatures. Please check back for future news about the reform campaign, and please let us know if you have any thoughts or ideas. Frustrating as this is, let's stay optimistic about the future of the League.  There are good programs, and others which if improved could be outstanding. The LCI network is LAB's crown jewel and needs to be nurtured--LCIs donate a lot of time and sweat equity to the League's core missions. Every quality cyclist, every police officer, and every government official positively influenced by an LCI is a huge contribution to the future of cycling and to cyclist's rights. Furthermore, integrating the LCI network into the Bicycle-Friendly Community program, with power of veto over the application (Local LCIs including me reviewed Santa Fe's recent application) would make that an outstanding program. The recent fiasco with Reed Bates aside, the League is starting a legal defense program according to a recent League statement. Finally, we need to do more fun stuff to raise membership. League rallies and bennies bring in customers. When I was President of the Hawaii Bicycling League, we knew the best way to raise member numbers was to put on great rides and offer great rider benefits. All other activities rode on top of that.

Although staff administers programs and is held accountable for operations, the Board is responsible for the overall strategic tenor of the organization. That's why members who want to have any real power to influence LAB need to be more than a passive rubber stamp during Board elections that largely decide themselves in a closed, smoke-free room.

Let's keep plugging away. I still advise folks to join the League, but also tell them to write the League and demand that members be far more empowered in the governance of the organization.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. If you have two cents to put in to LAB, contact Exec. Director Andy Clarke or Board Chair Hans vanNaerssen

For LAB Reform, you can contact Fred Oswald at

For Eli Damon's extensive timeline of this process, go here.

Keep the rubber side down,
Khal Spencer

** The League reports from The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors that "...approximately 57 million people, 27.3% of the population age 16 or older, rode a bicycle at least once during the summer of 2002..."  But there are less than 20,000 individual League members, or less than one tenth of one percent of that total. By contrast, the AAA claims about 50 million members. Looks like we need to be far more relevant to the everyday cyclist.


John said...

Thanks, Khal. Excellent summary.

danc said...

Thank you, Khal, John and Eli for running a remarkable petition campaign.

Steve A said...

If it is difficult, it merely means different tactics must be considered.

Unknown said...

Khal, John and Eli, you guys worked hard against a rigged system. I only wish the incumbent board members had enough self awareness to be ashamed of themselves for rigging the system.
The petition signature requirements weren't designed to be difficult. They were designed to be impossible. And they are.
I have long said that petition signature requirements are a poor way to have a good board. Instead, I believe _every_ prospective director should spell out in detail what he wants for the League, and that information should be on the web site.
Please, don't refer to this as an "election." It's a North Korean blessing of the Chosen Colleagues.
I am one of the people who couldn't sign. I was a League member for more than 20 years, and I was vice president of the board for two years. But I can't stomach the prospect of sending the League one thin dime. The way they treated you only hardens my resolve.
-- John Schubert

Chuck Davis said...

Bummer +

In retrospect the result mirrors what I have observed locally (Tulsa)over ten years or more

If members do not pay attention what is happening at the top tier, the top will take over

John said...

One followup comment. We use the language here and other places that the board never stated publicly why the three of us were not selected to be on the ballot, but I was never told privately either, even when I asked after the petition process was all over. The reply I got was that there were no particular reasons discussed, it was just by vote of the Nominating Committee. I find that a little hard to believe, but in either case, there was no answer given to me, and in closing, it was suggested that I should try to "move on" and find other ways to contribute my services to the League.

Benn Pamphleteer said...

Now that the election has begun, is there anyone on the current board you would recommend we endorse by voting? It seems to me a better alternative than not voting or voting blindly.

Bruce Lierman

Khal said...

The only person running for a Board seat that supported the petition, as far as I know, was Diane Albert. As for the rest, I guess we can all read their statements. I am disappointed that the existing Board did not lift a finger to assist the petition campaign. That says all it needs to say.

I think the way the voting works is that if you only vote for her it is better than voting for anyone else as a second candidate, since those second votes also count.