A Challenge to the League's Board:  Reform Thyself

By John Schubert
LAB Vice President, 1997-1999


What do you say to a board of directors whose organization lurched from near-bankruptcy to financial stability and back to near-bankruptcy in just a few years; who cut most of its member service programs while vastly increasing office overhead; who appointed directors who were publicly hostile to the organization's long-standing mission, and whose executive director sleeps in Las Vegas's finest luxury hotel in the midst of the financial crisis?

You say, "Don't be so proud of your alleged accomplishments."

You are a dysfunctional board.

You have an ex-president and vice president who have repeatedly expressed contempt for the fact that LAB is supposed to be a member-controlled organization.

You have board members who have shown little understanding of LAB's historical mission, and who have shown no interest in even learning what that mission was or why it's been so central to LAB's existence for its over 125 years.

You have board members who have fought to curtail members' rights to control their League.

Over the last decade, the board and various executive directors have buried what should be the crown jewel of your organization, the education program.

There is a wide gulf between where the League is today and where "good" resides.

Can you get there from here?

Maybe.  But only if you are willing to bruise a few of the egos in your midst.  They put you in this pickle, and you can't get out of it without correcting their misdeeds.

Don't tell me how good the education program is today.  LAB has dithered with this program for a quarter century.  Currently, you train a couple hundred instructors per year and then fail to give them a marketable program they can easily sell to the public.  A decade ago, the board knew it needed to make the program more marketable.  The League got a federal grant to make the program more marketable, but instead used that money to water down the instructor training.  Today, the earlier ambitions of making the League's education program widespread are pretty much forgotten.

This is a sad failure.  This education program has the potential to reduce the accident rate of the people who follow it by about 80 percent.  At one time, I believed the bike industry would have jumped on this as a service to its customers, as a way to make bicycling safer and therefore more attractive in the public eye, and as a way to reduce its own liability exposure.  But the industry isn't interested, and at least one industry voice recently on the LAB board has fought to reduce the influence of the education program.

You have allowed the League to be cheerleaders for the "ribbon cutting" mentality.  By far the biggest emphasis in the League's advocacy is getting money for facilities.  Your current executive director and the previous two executive directors have failed to address fundamental questions about the safety or cost-effectiveness of some of the facilities the League promotes.

As one who has been an expert in state and federal courts in wrongful death lawsuits, I have to tell you:  Some of the facility designs you champion should keep you sleepless at night.

What I fear is that the "good people" on the board will continue to refuse to be confrontational enough to exorcise the demons.  You have problems.  It may be easier to ignore the naysayers than to face the true magnitude of the problems, but that's a short term solution that blows up in your face.

You have created an environment which just grows more inefficient over time.  You politely excuse the poor performance of managers ignorant of, or even hostile to, the programs they manage.  You politely excuse hostility to the League's own mission by members of its own board.  You politely ignore the fact that the League does a tiny fraction of what it did a quarter century ago when it ran on a far smaller budget.  You recently gave a lot of space in your own magazine to a so-called expert who supported a terribly frivolous lawsuit against the League some years ago.

The League was poorly run when I was asked to join its board in 1997.  I was appalled that we had board members who opposed its most valuable programs and other board members who tolerated the dysfunction while the discussions ran amok.  I resented the constant pressure to join in fundraising when I felt the money was being squandered.  I found that some board members had excess loyalty to staff they were supposed to supervise.  By insisting on accountability, I became an outcast.

I belong to some good boards of directors.  On these boards, we don't tolerate subversion of the organization, and we hold our employees accountable for results.  I have been both president and treasurer of a school board with a $40 million budget and a Moody's A1 bond rating, and I know a few things about good use of monies.  I feel good about asking people to donate their time and money to outfits that are well managed.

There is a wide gulf between where the League is today and where "good" resides.

Can you get there from here?

Maybe.  But only if you are willing to bruise a few of the egos in your midst.  They put you in this pickle, and you can't get out of it without correcting their misdeeds.


Please join us and help restore the BikeLeague to members.

See www.labreform.org to join LAB Reform.

© Copyright 2006-2010 John Schubert and LAB Reform.  Material may be copied with attribution.
Minor Revision Nov 2010