Longtime bike advocate Noah Budnick, who came from New York City's Transportation Alternatives to take the exec director job at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition just over eight months ago, is leaving his post already amid some ongoing hubbub about the election for the organization's board. Budnick, who spoke to SFist shortly after he landed the job last December, now tells us this was a "tough decision" but he's "excited to work on new funding mechanisms to make cities around the world better connected, more beautiful and, of course, more fun!"
As the Examiner first reported yesterday, via a letter Budnick wrote to the SFBC membership, Budnick's departure comes at a tense moment in the organization in which two competing slates of candidates are up for election to the board, with the incumbent slate advocating for the removal of voting rights for the 10,000 members of the Coalition.
The decision to alter the organization's by-laws and remove the right of members to vote for board of directors candidates was made over the summer, and while I'm hazy on the details or motives behind this, SFist almost immediately got a letter of dissent from a disgruntled member in support of the dissenting spinoff group, Save SF Bike. As this member, Mike Cohn, told us at the time, "Noah Budnick and his Sarah Palin policy director Tyler [Frisbee] are running [SFBC] into the ground, turning it into a big bloated corporate 'non-profit' that no longer does anything except perpetuate their own careers until the next stepping stone to the MTA." Frisbee, incidentally, also recently quit.
Granted that is the opinion of one member, but it is an example of the anger, at least among some faction, that's been boiling over at the SFBC this year under Budnick's new leadership. Save SF Bike's language is less pointed, but they are pushing supporters to vote in the election, which began on November 15 and remains open for voting until December 30, to elect their "clean slate" of seven candidates for the open seats on the 15-person board. "We believe a member-elected Board means a SF Bicycle Coalition accountable to its members, donors, funders and its community," they write. "There is a very good chance this will be the last Board election if you don’t vote for the Save SF Bike slate."
Whether this turmoil had much to do with Budnick's decision to quit is unclear, and he's not saying. As he said in his open letter to the membership, "I know that what’s right for me and my family right now is to take a break, step back and explore the next set of opportunities for how I can make cities more livable, safe, and happy places."
Budnick further elaborated for SFist that he and his wife plan to remain in the Bay Area, and that they are "working through training to be foster parents."
A request for comment from the SFBC today has not yet been responded to, and the head of communications for the organization, Chris Cassidy, appears to be on vacation through December 1. Stepping in as acting executive director will be board member Jean Fraser until a longer-term replacement can be found.
Budnick sounds, still, very upbeat in talking to us. He says, "The SF Bicycle Coalition staff and org had an amazing year and are building great momentum for 2016 and beyond. As I wrote in my letter, things are on a strong trajectory. I'm proud of this organization and have a lot of confidence in it! Because of all this, I'm ready for my next challenge."