When we learned two weeks ago that newly hired SF Bicycle Coalition executive director Noah Budnick was stepping down after just eight months, we also learned that this came after several months of turmoil among a faction of the SFBC's membership regarding this year's election for their board of directors. Board elections have typically been uncontested affairs, as Streetsblog SF explains, with seven board seats coming up for election each year, current board members nominating and endorsing their own seven candidates, and the membership voting on those endorsements along with self-nominated member candidates. But all hell broke loose in 2014 when one candidate failed to get an endorsement, and caused a kerfuffle over the fact that all he got was a 150-word candidate statement on the election site, essentially questioning the democratic process in the organization. This candidate then insisted on being able to reach out to the full membership himself, to make his pitch as a candidate, and this caused further conflict over the sharing of the organizations' member email list, which many members felt was an invasion of privacy and they didn't want to be receiving all this guy's emails.
Fast forward to this past summer, when the board decided that privacy was more important than preserving this election process, and decided to make a change to the SFBC's bylaws that turned the board into a self-selected, appointed "professional" one, rather than an elected one. This has led to a "clean slate" of seven candidates who now want to upset the incumbent board members and preserve democracy in the org. They've started Save SF Bike, with the core of their platform being to "respect, honor, and listen to members" and preserve their voting rights.
The incumbents have their Love SFBC platform, which promises to keep members' contact information private, and to appoint "professional Board members who understand and have experience in these roles," and who will focus "on what the membership really wants, not personal agendas" or overly political "pet projects" that take up staff's time.
Says current board member Amandeep Jawa, who is not up for reelection, "[Every year] anybody can run for the board. But most years there’s just the board-endorsed candidates in part because it’s a lot of work, and it’s a thankless job.” And, he adds, this entire conflict seems kind of ironic because, "Every year we struggle to get a quorum of votes [from the membership], because [they] thinks things are going well. The board members have to work our tails off to recruit candidates, and then work our tails off to get people to vote.”
Save SFBC candidate Jeremy Pollock, who is also an aide to Supervisor John Avalos, says that his cohort only want to "reinvigorate member involvement, and expand and diversify membership" in the organization. And, to the claims about professionalism, he counters, "All of our candidates have years of experience as nonprofit board members and/or staffers."
But current staffer and Love SFBC candidate Andy Thornley rings an optimistic note about it all saying it's a "great thing" and "How wonderful that we have fifteen people interested in being on the bike coalition’s board!" He adds that this seemingly contentious election is "not inordinately poisonous or vicious." "This is San Francisco," he says. "SFBC swims in the ocean of passionate electoral politics, but that’s not really what’s happening. This isn’t tearing apart the organization."