The Cascade Bicycle Club members meeting last night got a little ugly. But through the yelling and demands, it came out that the club’s Board had advised Executive Director Chuck Ayers to fire Advocacy Director David Hiller, and Ayers decided not to.
“If I get fired for protecting my staff, then so be it,” said Ayers to an eruption of applause from the crowd, many of whom were vocal supporters of Ayers. Applause quickly turned to anger at Board President Chris Weis, who had stated only minutes earlier that the Board had never issued Ayers an ultimatum to fire Hiller or be fired.
However, it would seem that Weis’s place on the Board is in a bit of limbo. Some members, such as those in the Bike Club Rescue Squad, have raised concerns that some club election bylaws had not been followed this year. Namely, the Board was supposed to elect a nomination committee, whose members should have been announced months ago. Weis admitted that this did not happen and the election would be postponed.
Two current Board members were up for reelection this year, Don Volta and Weis. Without an election, their terms should end in January. However, Board member Jim Oswald announced that the Board plans to appoint them both until elections can take place. There was some arguing over whether the Board has this power, and Oswald acknowledged that there was nothing in the bylaws that predicted this exact situation. The Board does have the power to appoint any club member to the Board to fill a vacancy, according to the bylaws. It does not appear to say anything about whether the new member and the member vacating the spot can be the same person (you can read the bylaws yourself, if you’re into that kind of thing).
Throughout the night, some members made calls to reinstate Ayers as the Executive Director permanently. But Weis said recalling the Board would not bring Ayers back, since Ayers had agreed to return only for a six-month interim period while the club searched for a new permanent Director. But when Weis asked Ayers if it was correct that he had agreed to this, he responded, “Under duress.”
Ayers clarified the disagreement between himself and the Board about the severity of some statements Hiller had made to the media. Ayers said that he was not too concerned about Hiller’s statements, but that the Board expressed a lot of concern about it.
The centerpiece of the disagreement surrounded statements Hiller made to The Stranger in January while advocating for the Vulnerable Users Bill. He was quoted saying, “I’d love to hang these people up by their toenails at the edge of town and paint ‘killer’ across their chest and let them hang there until the buzzards peck their eyes out,” in reference to people who hit and kill cyclists or pedestrians while driving carelessly. Ayers said he only received one email from a member who was upset about it.
But Weis said he was very upset about it. He said The Stranger ran a photo of a Critical Mass ride next to the story. “So Cascade Bicycle Club is associated with Critical Mass,” he said. After some more comments in the media that the Board did not like, Ayers proposed that staff undergo media training before going on the record, Weis said. But Hiller continued making comments to the media, and Weis said Ayers did not stop him. They asked for Ayers’ resignation, but he declined, so they fired him.
The meeting ended with very little resolved. Ayers’ future at the club is still up in the air, and the Board’s President is only on the Board as an appointed replacement for his own vacancy. The Board has formed a committee charged with suggesting changes to the bylaws to make the election process more democratic, amid concerns that the Board has too much power over it’s own membership selection process (see our previous story). The Bike Club Rescue Squad is collecting signatures on a petition to recall the Board, which could take some time.
We need advocacy right now
After tempers got hot, it’s not yet known whether letting off steam was good for the Club’s membership or if division within the Club — what Keith Hoeller of the Rescue Squad called a “civil war” — has grown wider.
But as a bicycling advocate, I hope this fight does not weaken bikers’ voices at this very important political moment. Ballots have arrived in mailboxes, and bike-friendly candidates could use Cascade’s help. At the same time, the City Council is in the midst of public hearings over the mayor’s proposed budget, which includes a modest increase in non-car transportation funding that will help continue the work of reshaping our roads to fit the needs for all roads users.
Cascade is clearly at a crossroads of some kind. It has grown dramatically in just the past 10 years. If the club needs to change things around, they should do it. If that requires arguing, then that’s great. A healthy club’s direction should always be debated and refined. But we need a strong cycling voice supporting the mayor’s proposed funding and supporting Joe Fitzgibbon in West Seattle.
If the cause of safe biking in the region takes a step back because of an ill-timed fight, we all lose.