In a long letter to its membership, Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club confirms our earlier analysis while shedding little light on the future of other officials, including advocacy director David Hiller. More later, but here’s the letter as posted on the club’s blog:
The following is a message from Chris Weiss, President and Chair, Board of Directors of Cascade Bicycle Club:
First, let me thank you for your ongoing support and your commitment to the Club. Since we announced the Board of Directors’ decision on Monday to make a change in our Executive Director, some of you have asked for more information about why we made the decision. On behalf of the Board, I want to share a few more details with you.
On Monday, Oct. 4, we met with Chuck Ayers to summarize management issues we had discussed with him for many months, to explain our need for a smooth transition in leadership and to request his resignation. After a long and respectful discussion, Chuck declined our request and the Board terminated his employment.
This decision was very difficult for the Board. All of us are avid cyclists. Chuck personally recruited most of us to serve as volunteer Board members. He’s our friend. Chuck is a person of the highest integrity and we deeply appreciate his contributions to the Club over the years. We considered our decision very carefully, over time and always through the lens of what was in the best interest of the Club now and for years to come. Difficult as it was, it is the right decision.
Cascade Bicycle Club was founded 40 years ago as a grassroots membership organization. The Board is charged with overseeing the Club’s financial viability, charting its strategic direction and supervising the Executive Director, including, if necessary, deciding whether the ED should continue to lead our Club. These core governance responsibilities are essential to the long-term viability and effective function of Cascade Bicycle Club.
Over the past few years, the Board consistently has supported Chuck and the Club staff. In addition to being responsible stewards of the Club’s finances, we evaluate and approve electoral endorsements recommended by the staff and authorize Cascade’s legal challenges, such as our successful battle with Lake Forest Park to protect the Burke Gilman Trail, the ongoing BGT Missing Link litigation, and our current challenge to the legality of the Transportation 2040 Plan.
The Board fully supports the public policy positions and strong advocacy voice of the Cascade Bicycle Club. We are 100% committed to Cascade’s continuing role as an unwavering and consistent grassroots voice to demand safe and accessible streets and trails for cycling and cyclists.
So, why the change?
As Cascade’s membership has grown – now to more than 13,000 members – so did the staff (now 23 employees), our programs and the complexity of our operations, demanding different management skills than in our earlier years.
The Club’s public voice now helps to shape our region’s transportation policies. We are one of the most potent political forces in the region and one of the strongest and most influential advocates in the nation for cyclists and cycling. To continue to be a successful advocate – in fact, in order to strengthen our advocacy while also enhancing our rides, programs and activities – we must become more strategic and focused. When tough tactics are called for, we will not shy away. But we also must build coalitions and back up our beliefs with reason and with dignity. Cascade Bicycle Club is its members, and we must always be mindful that when we speak, we represent each of you.
Chuck’s leadership helped build our advocacy position. However, increasingly, his leadership style resulted in actions and public statements that periodically were counterproductive to the image we wanted for our Club and jeopardized our lobbying to secure passage of the Vulnerable User Bill and many other advocacy initiatives. The Board grew more and more concerned that this underlying management philosophy would limit the Club’s effectiveness in serving members as well as its appeal to donors and sponsors. Critical comments of Cascade began to arise not just in the media, but among the grassroots cyclists and citizen advocates who are the lifeblood of our Club, risking the polarization of the community against cycling as Seattle moves forward with many pro-cycling reforms.
These issues are only part of a larger assessment of the Club’s leadership needs. Over the past few years, the Board has worked with and consistently supported Chuck in his efforts to promote growth and to position the Club for the future. More recently, our views have increasingly diverged regarding how the Executive Director should best execute his duties to ensure the efficient and effective management of the Club. To go into further detail about this personnel issue, and the specifics of how the Board worked with Chuck to address the Board’s concerns, would be inappropriate and inconsistent with our desire to respect Chuck’s privacy. Ultimately, only after a long process and after many careful discussions with Chuck, did the Board reach its conclusion that a change was necessary in order for the Club to realize its potential.
A change in leadership is not unusual in the business world or the nonprofit world. Many organizations find themselves at a crossroads where the successes of existing leadership cause the organization to evolve to the point where continued success requires a different style of leadership, fresh perspectives and new ideas. This is where Cascade is today.
The Board is deeply appreciative of Chuck and of the many accomplishments Cascade made under Chuck’s leadership. During his 13-year tenure, Chuck, staff, volunteers and our sponsors helped grow Cascade into the nation’s largest cycling organization. Cascade runs thousands of rides and manages dozens of events and educational programs each year. And, as noted earlier, we are influential advocates for policies to benefit cycling, cyclists and communities. Now that the Club has reached this level of success, we need an executive director who can build upon these accomplishments and expand our potential over the next decade.
This growth demands that Cascade remain a powerful voice in advocacy. Again, I want to emphasize that the Board is 100% committed to Cascade’s existing policy positions and to our identity as a grassroots organization. We endorse our local governments’ continuing strong actions to improve and extend bike trails and make bold changes to improve cycling on our roads.
To ensure a smooth transition and the ongoing operations of all our programs and activities, Board Vice-Chair Peter Morgan has taken on daily management duties for the next several weeks. A veteran cyclist, Peter is on leave from the Board and is serving Cascade pro bono. Through 2009, Peter was the Executive Vice President at Group Health. He brings extensive management experience to the role and has worked closely with Cascade staff this year in framing Cascade’s almost-completed strategic plan. The Board will immediately begin recruiting an interim executive director who will likely serve for three to six months before we hire a permanent executive director.
We will post the Executive Director job description soon. With the involvement of the Club’s staff, the Board will look for a visionary and dynamic organizational leader with experience in inspiring members, staff and communities. We’ll be looking for an ED with experience managing a large organization so that we can drive and manage continued growth.
In closing, it is important to remember that all of us are the Cascade Bicycle Club – not just a single individual – and, together, we are the voice of cyclists and cycling.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss the transition further. The Annual Meeting of the Cascade Bicycle Club is on Thursday, October 21, at 6:30 p.m. at REI. We encourage you to come. Again, thank you for your continued support.
President and Chair, Board of Directors
Cascade Bicycle Club