Bylaws Update: Arguments for Both Sides

The following are four opinions about changes to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s bylaws — two for, and two against. Members may cast one vote on the updated bylaws at sfbike.org/bylawvote by the end of Fri. July 31. An executive summary and frequently asked questions are also available at sfbike.org/news/bylawvote.

Vote “Yes,” by Leah Shahum

I want to share my strong support for the proposed bylaw change for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC).

As the longtime Executive Director of the SFBC (and previously Program Director and Membership Director), I have been proud of how we have grown and strengthened as an organization and advocated for so many positive changes in San Francisco — always relying on our strong base of members, who are today and always have been the heart of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s success.

It is exactly that membership base — you all, as members — that this bylaw change is proposed to protect. Your privacy does not deserve to be intruded upon just because you are supporting advocacy for better biking and a better San Francisco.

In my 17 years working for the SFBC, I never saw so much member discontent as when one member was able to access your contact information a few months ago. It was surprising, to say the least, to learn, after extensive legal counsel, that such sharing of information was legally required by California law.

This proposed bylaw change will ensure that your contact information remains private, as it should be. And it will enable the SFBC to continue to grow and strengthen to protect your rights on the road and to fight for a safer, saner San Francisco for all of us.

I want to emphasize the important fact that any member of the SFBC can still be considered for the Board of Directors. Under the bylaw change, there will continue to be an annual, public call-out to all members to ask who is interested in serving on the Board. And all interested members will be considered based on their skills, experience and history with the organization.

All of us, as members, are today — and always will be — the heart and soul of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

I hope you’ll help protect this hard-working organization advocating for a better San Francisco for all of us by joining me in voting “yes” to the proposed bylaw change.

*****

Vote “No,” by Mark Eliot

SFBC proposes to protect members’ privacy by eliminating all members’ rights – an extreme reaction to a very specific issue.

Currently, SFBC’s governance is analogous to representative democracy. Members elect the board; the board hires an executive director and provides oversight; that director hires staff and runs the organization day-to-day. Ultimately there is accountability back to the members because members can decide to replace board members, who can change the organization’s direction. If this proposal is approved, the members will no longer have any real power in the organization.

This vote is really about whether SFBC will continue to be a grassroots organization.  What does it mean for an organization to be grassroots and does it matter?  For me, it’s when members actually have power and, yes, it matters very much. There is still a place for grassroots bicycle advocacy.  That place is San Francisco.

Proponents of this proposal believe that voting members are a potential threat to the organization.  On the contrary, members importantly provide energy, new ideas and a collective conscience.  SFBC’s engaged and empowered members have been critical to the organization’s success and ensure that the organization remains true to its mission. The real risk is that organizations not accountable to their members can become out-of-touch, complacent, and stagnant over time.

SFBC is a true membership organization in which members have specific rights. Inspecting membership records is the ostensible origin of this proposal. Member rights also include inspecting accounting records and minutes of meetings, electing and removing board members, and deciding on changes to its charter. However, in the proposed bylaws members have no rights whatsoever. Five pages of member rights in the current bylaws are reduced to four lines in the proposed bylaws.

Concerns about privacy can be addressed by engaging the membership to develop reasonable alternatives, like this blog.

The vote announcement promises continued inclusion, access, and transparency.  Promises are different from rights.  Promises are ephemeral; rights are eternal, unless voluntarily ceded.  Don’t vote them away.  You can’t get them back.  If opposed or unsure, vote ‘no’.

See: savesfbike.org

*****

Vote “Yes,” by Dave Snyder

I was the primary author of the current bylaws that make the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) a membership corporation. I think we were wrong and I heartily encourage voting “Yes” on this change.

I give the SFBC my money because I want high-powered, professional bike advocacy in San Francisco. That takes legions of organizers, media buys, and a winning public image. It takes strategic focus, opinion research, and policy expertise. It takes money, the more the better. This is what I want for the SFBC because if the SFBC wins on its priorities, it’s great for the city, because bikes are just awesome like that.

I don’t want a vote in choosing the SFBC Board because I have no idea which people create the combination of talent and expertise and connections to serve that mission best. I’m not nearly close enough and I’m closer than most members, most of whom agree with me; voter turnout for Board elections is next to nil. I don’t want the SFBC to spend its time and money managing a Board election. I want them to be able to recruit Board members who meet their needs and not necessarily the “popular” ones who would win elections.

If they want some acerbic rich dude who most members don’t like and would never elect but who is willing to bankroll a campaign to close Market Street to cars, they should be able to recruit him. If they need a legal expert with plenty of volunteer time on her hands but no charisma and electability, they should be able to appoint her. If they don’t want someone who brings nothing but dissent and advocacy for a discredited strategy, they shouldn’t have to endure a huge campaign to avoid his election by the members. It weakens the organization.

I love democracy but based on my two-and-a-half decades of experience as a bike advocate, electing the Board of our local beloved bicycle advocacy organization is a misplaced desire and harmful to effective bicycle advocacy. That’s why I’m voting ‘yes’ on this bylaws change.

*****

Vote “No,” by Jeremy Pollock

The Bike Coalition has presented this bylaw changes as being solely about protecting members’ privacy. But it’s actually the most drastic change to the governance of the Bike Coalition in decades. Members would no longer vote for the Board of Directors! In fact, the changes go even further: the proposed bylaws eliminate all member rights!

We strongly believe keeping our Bike Coalition democratic is the best way to maintain the grassroots, volunteer-driven ethic we love about the SFBC. Before we fundamentally change the SFBC, we need to have a real debate about this. There may be legitimate reasons to eliminate elections for the Board of Directors, but protecting our privacy is not one of them.

State law DOES NOT require the Bike Coalition to turn over our contact information to any member who asks for it. The SFBC could simply deliver messages from members through their regular email blasts. And these requests can be granted only under very narrow, specific circumstances.

And the proposed bylaws don’t actually create any privacy protections! If a future Board wanted to, there’s nothing in the new bylaws preventing them from sharing our information with whomever they wanted to.

We believe having members elect the Board is a great way to engage members in the Bike Coalition’s work. If the problem is low turnout in these elections, let’s try to encourage member before we abandon democracy. Let’s encourage more people to run and have a public debate to hear what they think.

We remain committed to all of the good work the Bike Coalition does. From Market Street improvements to Vision Zero to community bike builds, there are a lot of reasons we’re proud to be members. And we think the best way to continue that work is for the Bike Coalition to continue to be member-led and accountable to our community.

Please vote NO on these bylaw changes. And if you already voted yes, you can change your vote! Email boardpresident@sfbike.org and say you want to change your vote to NO, and copy us at savesfbike@gmail.com.

savesfbike.org

Become a member and you'll improve your commute and get discounts at shops across the city.