I sent the following via email to the LAB Board and President on
November 29, 2010. The only change here is the bold headings I added to
make the piece easier to read.|
— Bill Hoffman
|LAB is no longer a true membership organization; it is now a political pressure group that happens to have members. And I might add, LAB membership is 27% lower today than it was as recently as 8 years ago.|
After much soul-searching, I have decided to resign from the Board at the end of my current term, and wish to withdraw as a candidate for re-election. My reasons follow
The LAB of today, in my opinion, is not acting in the interests of its most loyal members. Instead, it is marching to the drumbeat of the bicycle industry, bicycle facilities planners, urban visionaries, and environmentalists. This is seen in the increasing share of League funds that now comes from these outside sources. LAB is no longer a true membership organization; it is now a political pressure group that happens to have members. And I might add, LAB membership is 27% lower today than it was as recently as 8 years ago—14,836 as of Oct., 2010 vs. 20,257 at 9/30/02. Moreover, the current membership is lower than it was in 1991. While there are undoubtedly numerous reasons for the decline, a drop of this magnitude should cause you to re-examine the populist appeal you are now pursuing. The reasons I joined in 1971 and became a life member in 1976, and why I am the second-longest serving volunteer in League history, are no longer at the fore.
LAB has adopted what I’ll call the “lowest common denominator” in terms of what it advocates for. By this I mean seeking preferential treatment for cyclists in transportation funding and road design, portraying cyclists as needing special consideration instead of being capable of and expected to learn how to operate on public roads just like other drivers, or being viewed as an “endangered species.”
This approach is based on the belief—a faulty belief, in my opinion—that the fortunes of cyclists will improve if more facilities are built, which in turn will entice more people to take up cycling. That growth might or might not occur, but if it does, the newcomers will, by and large, not be good candidates for LAB membership. League members historically have been, and largely still are, cycling enthusiasts, not occasional recreational cyclists or those who do utility cycling only because a car is either unaffordable or, for those who live in a few large cities, not necessary. Meanwhile, the cycling environment will have been dumbed down in an attempt to accommodate and encourage these people, thereby creating greater risks for all cyclists, skilled and unskilled alike. Stating it another way, the “bicycle advocates” want to increase the quantity of cycling, while the enthusiasts—the bulk of those League members who have not already dropped out—are more interested in improving the quality of the cycling environment for those who already ride than in simply increasing the supply of cyclists.
Had this paradigm shift occurred with the full knowledge and approval of the members, I could accept it as legitimate, even though I might disapprove. What happened instead is that over the past dozen years or so there has been a gradual erosion of members’ rights and autonomy over the organization, without a vote to move in this direction ever being taken. You might claim that the annual membership survey proves that most members approve of this change in direction, but I contend that you have not given the members a full range of viewpoints on which to base their response. Note also the decline in membership over the past 20 years; undoubtedly some of those people left because the League was no longer pursuing its traditional mission. I make the comparison to a frog being placed in a pail of water, and then the water is gradually heated until the frog is boiled to death. The change occurred slowly enough that the frog never noticed that “it’s getting rather warm in here.”
I believe the populist approach is one of intellectual bankruptcy as well as a strategic operational mistake. In addition, there is now an aspect of ethical bankruptcy because of the sneaky way two more appointed seats were added to the Board with virtually no notice to the members and no chance for them to register their approval or disapproval. This was done in the name of “corporate advancement,” not to better serve the members.
The petition drive of three members to get onto this year’s election ballot, if you analyze it carefully, shows a much deeper dissatisfaction with the League’s direction than you seem willing to recognize. Had the petition campaign been controlled in a more rational way by Governance Committee chair Tim Young and President Andy Clarke, I have no doubt that the petitioners would have easily met the very stringent signature requirement, and given past voting trends, probably would win their respective elections. Note that they reached over half the threshold with only limited outreach to members, with a full canvass being unavailable to them except at excessive cost. I suspect that Tim and Andy, and perhaps others on the Board, feared that the results would have been exactly as I’ve described, so they interpreted the election rules (which are incomplete and unclear as currently written) in the narrowest possible way in order to thwart the petitioners. It may come as no surprise to you that I encouraged the petitioners to run and helped them get signatures. I was sent every email and details of every phone conversation between them and Tim and Andy, so I’m fully aware of the run-around they got.
This shameful conduct of Tim and Andy has further reduced my sense of loyalty to the League. Using a matrimonial allusion, if my role in the formation of LAB Reform could be considered a trial separation, then my resignation is the divorce. No longer being on the Board, I’ll be free to speak my mind without fear of being sanctioned, as you have already tried to do.
Although I have succeeded in having a few improvements in the League’s operations adopted during my current term, I’ve come to realize that major reforms will not happen with the current Board and management in place. And now that you have further stacked the deck to secure like-minded directors, I see no point in continuing. I would rather spend my energy on a new organization, if one is attempted, that will do what LAB has abandoned.
In resigning from the Board, I am also resigning from the Education and Audit Committees, as well as the ad-hoc committee set up find a permanent home for the League’s historical records. I am also removing the League as a beneficiary of my estate. Being a “lifer,” I can’t resign as a member, and for now at least, I plan to keep my LCI certification, as this is one bright spot in an otherwise dismal LAB. I retain the distinction of being the longest-serving director in the League’s modern history, and the only one with three separate stints on the Board.
I leave with no personal malice toward any of you. My departure is more the result of disillusionment and disappointment than of anger. In my nearly 40 years as a League member I have made many lasting friendships that will continue. I feel that my service to the League and to cycling in general has repaid me far more than the time, effort, and money I have spent working for the “cause.” I don’t wish to burn all my bridges, as there is always the possibility that the League will someday return to its roots. But I believe a clear mandate from the membership will be necessary to make that happen.
I reserve the right to distribute this letter as I see fit, but I am giving you the courtesy of seeing it first.
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