My name is Mark Eliot. I’m a long-time bike activist on the San Francisco peninsula and more recently in the City of San Francisco. As a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, I’m directing this post to other members of SFBC. It’s a bit long, but I hope you’ll bear with me.
SFBC would like members to vote on a change to the organization’s bylaws.
Please vote ‘no’ on this. Here’s why.
The ostensible reason for the change is to protect members’ privacy. Some members objected when another member emailed them using the SFBC membership list. Just to be clear, I wasn’t the emailer. Exactly how many objected and under what circumstances isn’t detailed in the SFBC voting statement. Now I’m sympathetic to those who might not want to receive what they consider spam email, but what’s proposed is actually a fundamental change to the organization’s governance.
Currently, SFBC is a true membership organization in which members have specific rights. These are principally inspection rights and voting rights. The right to inspect the membership records is the genesis of this proposed bylaws change. Members also have the right to inspect accounting records and minutes of meetings. Members voting rights include electing and removing board members and deciding on changes in how the organization is governed (bylaws and other important decisions).
If you compare the current and existing bylaws (they are linked on the SFBC “bylaw vote” page above), you’ll see a dramatic difference in the sections devoted to membership: five pages in the current bylaws versus four lines in the proposed bylaws. In the proposed bylaws members have no rights whatsoever. While the board could, if it chooses, create a class of non-voting membership with rights, the proposed bylaws do not include such a class.
SFBC is basically proposing to eliminate members’ right to inspect membership records by completely eliminating all members’ rights.
The current bylaws define the organization’s governance as something 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, etc. This is very important in a grassroots organization like SFBC.
I’ve heard that SFBC board elections typically have low turnout and that this may be interpreted as lack of interest or concern by members about governance. My interpretation is that people are unconcerned when they agree with the direction of the organization. SFBC has done a fantastic job on bike advocacy the last few years. Things are good; why bother voting.
It’s when people disagree or when things aren’t good that they get active and they look to make organizational changes. Under the proposed bylaws, members could certainly lobby staff and board members — as they’ve always done — to make the changes they want, but they would have no legal right to compel changes. It’s also when people disagree or when things aren’t good that those in charge are tempted to protect themselves and that promises of access and transparency may be forgotten. Member rights are protection from this.
If you vote in favor of this proposal you are irrevocably relinquishing any rights you have in SFBC. This strikes me as an extreme reaction to a very specific issue. While my privacy is important to me, I’d rather risk someone emailing me in favor of keeping my rights. Please join me in voting ‘no’ on this misguided proposal.