The annual Seattle Bike Expo, one of Cascade Bicycle Club's largest events Credit: Cascade Bicycle Club
Members of the Cascade Bicycle Club and the directors and officers of its board agreed on little during the club’s town-hall style meeting Tuesday night (Nov. 30) at the Mountaineers program center in Magnuson Park.
If the intent was to clear the air and repair some of the hard feelings and distrust created the past few months over the firing (and temporary re-hiring) of executive director Chuck Ayers, not much progress was made.
Consensus was reached at least once, when one of the approximately 50 members who attended declared, “It’s a mess.”
“I agree,” said board vice president, Peter Morgan. “It hasn’t gone the way I hoped it would.”
At least one board member, Don Volta, has resigned amid the turmoil. His departure creates seven vacancies on the board, which will be expanded from 11 members to 15. The terms of president Chris Weiss and Renee Duprel are also ending this year. So far, only four nominations have been received by the board for those seven openings.
Asked why he quit the board, Volta, who will remain a club member, said his efforts at being an aggressive spokesman for the club were starting to undermine his good standing in the club. “Besides,” he said, “I’m retired; I don’t need any grief.”
At a time when the club’s membership numbers and political power are at a zenith, its morale is sagging for reasons not related to its performance but to its governance. Even Morgan agreed, “We have a lot of work to do to strengthen our governance process.” To that end, the board has agreed to rework the club’s bylaws and to involve members in the selection of board members and the club’s future executive director.
Ayers’ dismissal remains the main source of frustration for members. Those who signed up to speak Tuesday night almost all raised the issue and voiced support for Ayers (who did not attend the meeting), repeatedly asking board members to explain their decision to fire him in October. Asked a half-dozen ways to divulge their reasons, board members simply deflected the question by saying they were respecting Ayers’ wishes not to discuss the matter.
“I don’t know who benefits from vetting all the details,” Morgan said. “You may disagree with us but we had a process … and we did what we felt was the right thing for the club.”
The board essentially asked members to give it the benefit of the doubt, and judging by their comments, the answer was no. Virtually all the members who spoke called the board’s decision a mistake.
When Morgan started to say “I appreciate Chuck Ayers,” he was interrupted by shouts of “No you don’t!”
“It’s not incongruous,” Morgan went on to say, “to appreciate what a person has done and still look to the future. It’s a hard thing for people to grasp… I’m asking you to accept that.”
Morgan did say the board’s decision was not based on a single or recent event, but took into account years of evaluation and consideration of Ayers’ performance. Asked again why he would not explain the board’s reasons, Morgan said, “if I were Chuck I would not want my performance dragged out in front of everyone.”
“Are you asking us as members to get over it?” someone asked.
“Yes, we do want to move on, that’s exactly right,” Morgan said. “We don’t have any new information to give you.”
What was not clear from the exchange is whose interests are being protected by the board’s refusal to explain its decision, Ayers’ or the board’s. The board consistently cited Ayers’ right to privacy, but it is not clear that Ayers wants his privacy on this matter protected. His absence only deepened the members’ confusion. In his stead, the club’s finance director Kathy Mania stood up during the meeting and delivered a statement from Ayers, sounding on the verge of tears as she read.
In his statement, Ayers explained he did not go to the meeting because he attended his daughter’s sports awards banquet that night. He expressed resentment over the board’s inference that he had “something to hide … as if I had some dark secret in the closet.” He said he did not recall agreeing with the board to keep the matter of his dismissal private; board president Chris Weiss said Ayers himself asked to keep the matter confidential. (The board also indicated it did not ask Ayers to come back on an interim basis, but that he offered to do so.)
At one point, a member shouted, “I-M him. You have his cell phone number. Ask him right now!”
“Even if Chuck wants to do this, I’m not sure it would be a constructive exercise,” Morgan said.
Ayers has implied the reasons for his dismissal pertain to his management style and his loyalty to advocacy director David Hiller — the board denies it gave Ayers an ultimatum to fire Hiller — but has not given a detailed accounting of the board’s decision. In the statement read by Mania, he refrained from going into detail about his firing but did refer to a negative review he received from a former staffer with whom he had a conflicted relationship. It was unclear whether that negative review was a real factor in his dismissal or whether it was simply an excuse used by the board to move against him.
The overall tone of meeting was civil but clearly contentious and often blunt. One of the last members to speak said, “You’re a failed board. You’re not bad people. But you have to recognize that you have failed as a board.… You can’t ride this out.”