Unless the bylaws changes adopted by the LAB Board at its annual meeting in October at Madison, FL, are rescinded, the League of American Bicyclists has ceased to exist as a membership organization. The Board amended the Bylaws without members' consent to make three radical changes in League governance.
Change #1: The League's purpose in Article I was changed to: "promote bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation, and to work through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America". The previous wording enumerated specific functions, among them: educating bicyclists and the public about safe cycling and the rights and interests of cyclists; conducting rallies; and organizing local and regional bicycling organizations. While this change may appear innocuous, it allows the League to avoid entirely if it chooses, or to only selectively perform, many of the functions that were the reasons it was founded in 1880 and which set the stage for the rights we as cyclists enjoy today. LAB is the only national bicycling organization capable of doing these things, and now it is preparing to abandon them.
A much more serious threat comes from two changes that essentially eliminate member control of the organization. In change #2, the requirement for candidates to run for Board seats by petition has been raised so high that they virtually prevent member-nominated candidates. Previously, any member who collected 50 signatures from their region could run for the Board. That has now been raised to 10% of the members within the region. Each region has some 3-4,000 members and includes several states (Region 5 has 18 states!) It's very hard, even for someone well-known and respected in their home state, to become known outside that state. For the at-large seat, the requirement is 5% of the members nationwide, or well over 1,000 signatures.
Three of the four petition candidates in recent elections defeated the Board-nominated candidates, and the fourth was beaten in a very suspicious election, as explained below. So the only apparent explanation for this amendment was to make it harder for such candidates to get on the ballot, because they are seen as a threat to the entrenched and self-perpetuating group that's now running the League.
Change #3 raised a significant barrier to a member referendum. The number of members who must sign a petition to force the Board to conduct a referendum is now so high as to be nearly impossible.
These amendments come on the heels of a conference call vote in June to add another appointed seat, this one for a person with a financial background to serve as treasurer. (Never mind that LAB has managed quite well in the past with non-financial treasurers, because this is largely a ceremonial position. Hired professionals do most of the real work.) This brings the number of appointees to five on the 12-member Board, a total of 42%! The timing of this vote is very suspicious.
Effective June 1, the member-elected, at-large director, Fred Meredith, resigned because he was hired by LAB as a contractor to work on the BikeEd program. As an employee, he could no longer be on the Board. Fred was given the opportunity to recommend his successor, and he suggested Preston Tyree. Evidently, the ruling clique feared that Preston might vote "no", as Fred would have (he told me so), so they delayed appointing Preston until IMMEDIATELY AFTER the bylaws vote was concluded.
In the spring 2003 election, seven directors (a majority of the Board but acting as individuals) unethically interfered in the Region 4 election, which without doubt, resulted in their hand-picked candidate defeating a far better qualified petition candidate. I publicly called for these directors to resign for their irresponsible action, but they're all still there, except for one who was term-limited off and another who was defeated for re-election.
A very clear pattern has emerged, in which the current Board is more interested in lobbying for government funds and being a mouthpiece for the bicycle industry and the health and fitness community than in serving the interests of its own members, and in hearing dissenting opinions from members. The role of members has steadily been eroded by the current administration and its immediate predecessor. Members are now seen only as a revenue source, not as partners to carry out LAB's traditional mission at the local and state levels, where decisions that affect cycling the most are made.
Only a few years ago, LAB had a structure in place to do this work. But they dismantled it, and now claim they're not able to respond to local and state matters. But they have no trouble at all going before Congress, regulatory bodies, and deep-pocketed foundations seeking money for transportation enhancements and grants for programs. Many of these programs have been poorly conceived and badly managed, to the extent that some are harmful to the interests of cyclists.
Dedicated longtime volunteers are snubbed, or in my case, removed from involvement because I objected to the corruption of the League's mission, which was done without any request for membership input.
I find only two bright spots nowadays in LAB: (1) There is now competent staff running the BikeEd program, and quality is being restored to this core program. Ironically, the steps being taken are almost exactly those that I proposed two years ago, and for which my agitation got me kicked off the Education Committee. (2) LAB sent two officials from HQ to meet with senior managers of Clear Channel Communications over recent attacks on cyclists by several of their radio talk-show hosts, and it "deputized" a member in North Carolina to speak on its behalf at the FCC license renewal hearing of a Clear Channel affiliate in Raleigh where the most serious attack was made. This is excellent -- exactly the kind of advocacy LAB should be doing, but it's become the exception, not the rule.
Because of the current Board's actions, I strongly urge that you not donate a dime to LAB, and that your club not renew its affiliation when it next comes due. My local club (with 400 members) has done that. We used to donate several thousand dollars a year to LAB, but no more. LAB now provides very few services to clubs. I have personally stopped donating and have almost completely disinherited the League. These are drastic steps for someone who's been a Life Member since 1976 and is the League's second-longest serving volunteer, but LAB no longer represents the things that led me to join in 1971.
I'm not recommending at this time that you drop your individual (or family) membership, because doing so eliminates your right to vote in Board elections, limited as that right has become. You can now vote for only two out of twelve directors-your regional director and one at-large director. The nomination process has become more inbred, but you have no clout at all if you drop out.
LAB periodically sends out a fund solicitation letter. If the next one comes with a pre-paid return envelope, I suggest that you send it back with a check for $0.00, or enclose a note telling why you're not donating. If enough people do this, the word that many members are unhappy cannot fail to reach the Board.
Is there the opportunity for a new membership-oriented organization to replace LAB? I don't think so. Our best chance is to wrest control from the current clique, which they have deviously made much more difficult. Most members are apathetic, and that helps the "ins". But I haven't completely given up, and if you are troubled by what you've just read, I urge you to join the group of reformers that I'm proud to have instigated. Visit www.labreform.org for more detailed information on the issues I've described here, and others, and lend your support.
What else can you do? Forward this letter to other members you know. Only if enough members protest do we have any chance of returning LAB to its real owners, the members. We may still fail, but it shouldn't be for lack of trying.
Lancaster, PA, (717) 560-3636, [email protected]
LAB Life Member #34, LAB Director 1974-82 and 2001-02
LAB Education Committee Member 1994-2002 and chair 1996-2000; League Cycling Instructor #33 (since 1980)
1996 LAB Education Award recipient, 2000 LAB Volunteer of the Year co-recipient
Numerous other volunteer positions held from 1972-2002
© Copyright 2003 Bill Hoffman. Non Commercial distribution authorized.
Last Revised 1/ 3/04.