Sierra Club Board of Directors Meeting February 27, 2016 in Los Angeles

Introduction. The just concluded meeting featured some interesting and historic moments punctuated with various noteworthy events.  We started with an inspiring gathering together with the Sierra Club Foundation at which we were greeted to LA by none other than the mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti.  It is amazing to see how far we’ve come when someone as prominent as he is willing to practically commit his City to 100% fossil free energy in the near future.  He is also gaining the commitments of dozens of other mayors to do the same reflecting the goals of our own new campaign “Ready for 100”.                                  

clean-energy-paris-100-percent-renewablesSierra Club Board Meeting 2-25-16 Group Photo with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti

This was reiterated later that evening when, at a joint reception for board members of both the Club and Foundation and other local supporters, City of LA Councilman Paul Kerkorian also went full in on “Ready for 100”.  

Sierra Club Reception 2-25-16 at Sportman's Club in LA during Board Meeting with LA Councilman

We  had a lovely outdoor dinner in a beautiful courtyard with leaders of the LA Chapter where we discovered, among other things, they have a member of the Chapter and Club who is 104 years old and has been a Club member for 94 years!!!!!  (His father was a Club president.)

Once the meetings were finally over I had to chance to join a local hike in Griffith Park with several other Board members, staff and volunteers where we stopped to take this photo with the famous Hollywood sign in the background.  

Sierrra Club Group in Griffith Park Hike to Mt Hollywood 2-28-16

We also met the Club’s new Director of Human Resources (HR), Kerry O’Donnell,  who lead a two hour required compliance session on harassment both sexual or otherwise.   This included bullying and intimidation.  We are all more aware of our own behavior and recognize now that even if we say or do something that is received as harassment, it matters not if it was meant that way.  This is training that will be required for all Club leaders.  

And this is a good segue way to note a truly historic moment that I think brought President Mair to tears.  We were introduced to our new Director of Diversity, Equity  and Inclusion, Nellis Kennedy-Howard.   This is a new position in the Club and a direct outcome of our vote last May to adopt the DEI plan to make the Club a level 5 organization of diversity and inclusion.   It is our belief that not only are we the only Green group to pursue this initiative and create and fill this high level position, but one of the only not for profit organizations to do so.  It is a seminal moment in our history and pivotal in broadening our scope and reach to include a much more powerful and broad movement capable of achieving our ambitious and visionary goals.   

President’s Report. Aaron Mair’s President’s reported on his work and travels to promote our efforts to expand our reach to build a movement and connect and ally with broader constituencies based on DEI.   

Executive Directors Report. Mike Brune’s Executive Director’s report talked about the unique, historic and pivotal moment in which we are living.  It has been since the 1940’s and the waning days of the Truman Administration when we have been in the 8th year of Democratic President that wasn’t mired in controversy and therefore in which we had a chance to see dramatic movement on so many of our key initiatives.  Looking back in the future, this may be even a more historic time if we are able to move into another Democratic Administration given the craziness of this election.  And our goal is to push the Obama Administration to stretch for greatness!  This is the time to challenge ourselves to be bold and ambitious but not so audacious as the Republican candidates.  We will strive to be bold but also rational and not outrageous.  

Treasurer’s Report.  Treasurer Loren Blackford presented the Treasurer’s Report for the end of year results for 2015. There were two non operational items that had a major one time impact. First, we were finally able to close the sale of our former office building in Washington DC that gave us a substantial multimillion dollar positive impact. This was offset by the loss we incurred in our investment portfolio due to a depressed stock market. The net was result was positive and allowed us to increase our financial reserves by several million dollars. And speaking of Reserves, a new task force has been formed and has begun to function to help inform how we make budget decisions and balance current needs with the need to a build financial cushion for unexpected opportunities or unforeseen risks. I have been appointed to this task force and look forward to helping the Club reach a more informed understanding and policy of this critical facet of our operation. I

In relation with, but separate from, the reserve topic we are discussing a governance process that will help us move away from spending inordinate amounts of Board time considering how or whether to budget for relatively small but important programs. The issue is that we all think that one small program doesn’t have much of a financial impact and surely we must be able to afford it.  Certain champions will fight hard to get it included into the budget. The problem is that there are a great number of these and in combination they do have a meaningful impact on our ability to insure our long term financial stability by maintaining or adding to the reserves.  We are tying to develop some guidelines for decision making on this dilemma.  

Council of Club Leaders. Roberta Brashear-Kaulfers gave a Council of Club Leaders (CCL) report by updating several ongoing issues. One that is of interest to many volunteers is the ability to attend various Club events when they have to pay for their own lodging expenses and submit for reimbursement and wait for over two months in some cases to be repaid. This can cause a financial hardship that discourages or prohibits some from attending. We are working on a solution to alleviate this. Resolving this dilemma may also have a positive impact on our DEI efforts.

Political Endorsements. One item on the Agenda was a closed session to discuss political endorsements. Due to the fact that the press could have a keen interest in our deliberations it was determined that we would not keep this conversation open to the public. What I can reveal is that we were informed of the extensive process of outreach that is occurring to our activists and the candidates.

LeConte Lodge. We next engaged in a session to address the issues surrounding the funding of the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. This has become a somewhat complicated and contentious issue which has touched off some very passionate reactions. For this reason, interested parties were invited to attend the meeting in person or call in on Google Hangout. About two dozen members were there in person and maybe another dozen or so on the Hangout. We heard input from the volunteers, a representative from the NPS and leaders for the Our Wild America Campaign under who’s purview the Lodge is now. Here is a website address in case you want more information on the Lodge:

For various reasons I have become very engaged in this item. It basically has evolved into a decision as to whether to continue funding the staff and program there in 2016 and/or beyond. And if so, how?  Since I originally voted for ending the funding as part of our budgeting process last fall two principal factors have changed. First, the position of the National Park Service and, secondly, my understanding on how important keeping the Lodge open is to a wide and deep segment of our members and volunteers. My perception of the general feeling of at least a majority of the Board members is that the program there does not align well with our recently adopted Strategic Plan and as we move forward to align our funding priorities with our vision adopted by the plan that directing scarce C4 and C3 unrestricted revenue does not fit. That said, I am supportive of not dropping this program with virtually no notice to a large contingent of our members and volunteers who have so passionately supported LeConte for decades. I am also mindful of the link to our heritage and core DNA that this place and program involves. And the fact that once we give up stewardship of the Lodge there will unlikely be any chance of being able to reverse this decision. Furthermore, I believe that we should give the LeConte Committee the opportunity to develop a method of funding and advancing the program after the current budget year (2016). I would hate to see us end our relationship there prematurely if a solution can be arranged that works for everyone. I also worry that we might be cutting off our nose to spite our face in so far as the financial fallout from ending our annual $85,000 to $100,000 funding of  The Lodge could end up in reduced membership income by more than this amount on an annual basis and in lost bequests that many of our longest standing and most dedicated members and volunteers may have designated to the Club.

Despite that this was scheduled to be strictly a “listening” session, the following motion was made by Director Dean Wallraff.  I seconded the motion because, while we received a number of important pieces of new information at the meeting that could impact how we eventually create a manageable plan, in my mind, there was nothing that still needs to be determined that would change my  mind about continuing to support the Lodge for one more year while we determine if a going forward plan with Sierra Club involvement is viable.  Nevertheless, a motion to table the motion until our March 17 Board Meeting conference call was passed 9 to 6.

“Moved that funding for the Lodge formerly known as “Le Conte Memorial Lodge” be continued through 2016 at the same level as in 2015; that the BOD direct FinCom to determine how this continued funding is to be integrated into the 2016 budget; and that the BOD ExCom appoint a Lodge Task Force to develop a plan for the continued management and funding of the Lodge, and for increasing its impact on Club membership and advocacy, in time for their proposal to be considered during the 2017 budget process.”

At the end of this blog is the statement I made as the seconder of the motion in support. I generally believe that there is a majority of the Board that is supportive of this process. A call in number will be provided to allow all who care to to listen in on the discussion on March 17th. I do not know whether there will actually be an opportunity for member input or involvement in that discussion. For more information on this, contact Michael Bryant at: or  (h) 707-579-1429 (c) 707-953-9058.


Advancement. We briefly heard about how our investment in expanding the Advancement department was unfolding and developing with increasing competencies, staff, resources and results. This portends well for our future ability to grow our revenues and support expanding campaigns.

On Line Strategies: AddUp, Core and Campfire. We are getting close to integrating AddUp and Core into the DNA of the Club and live up to the promise. After a great deal of development and testing we are in a growth phase in technology and adaptation and increasingly generating revenue. We are ahead of expectations in actions taken, visits, revisits and revenue. Campfire should be up and running by the end of 2016 replacing Clubhouse and Helen. For AddUp, our #1 priority is growing the number of users. #2 is growing the number of actions taken. #3 is raising money which relies on accomplishing the first two items above. There are a great deal of exciting developments progressing that will tie together many Club functions which are currently unconnected.

Strategic Plan. We reviewed our annual goals and saw the we are doing quite well in almost all aspects. We discussed how often the Board wants to be updated and by what process.

Statement by Director Chuck Frank in support of the motion to fund the LeConte Memorial Lodge (under a new name) for 2016.

I voted in favor of the budget last November that did not include funding for the LeConte Memorial Lodge on the basis of the situation as it was presented to us then.  There were three basic tenants upon which I relied.  

1.  The name LeConte had become a problem and the NPS would not allow us to change it.

2.  The MOU was very restrictive and we were unable to promote our mission there or develop membership and revenue and that our financial resources could be utilized more effectively with greater impact elsewhere.  

3.  While a few loyal volunteers would be upset, in the big scheme of things, this is something that happens when we have to make tough decisions as I do well know.

The circumstances today are not as they were then or as presented.  And, my views have evolved.  

Clearly, the position of the Park Service has changed eliminating the name issue barrier.   And, according to the input from scores of volunteers, now thousands, it appears to me that the impact of the lodge and our ability to promote the Sierra Club and our mission and initiatives is significantly greater than I was lead to believe.  And what better audience to reach out to than people who have self selected to visit Yosemite?

Regarding the funding, I believe this is a red herring.  I recognize that it is not so easy to simply say that in a budget of $110+ million this is a very small percentage based on how much of our funding is restricted and divided between C3 and C4 which severely limits our flexibility in our discretion.   Nevertheless, to try and micromanage a budget for what is less than two tenths of one percent of our unrestricted membership C4 revenue ignores the fact that there are an enormous number of variables in our budget that are changing daily and I believe we can find the funding to allow the Lodge to stay open and funded this year while we work with the volunteers and staff to determine if we can figure out a way to maintain the Lodge as a Sierra Club entity and program in perpetuity or at least for the foreseeable future.  In addition, we put at risk future membership income and bequests.   A loss of just 1800 memberships would offset ANY financial benefit we might achieve by defunding the Lodge.  

I will begin to help in that regard by directing the $5000 of funds that I committed to contribute yesterday to the Lodge’s 2016 budget if it will be matched by our two Boards and volunteers.   Furthermore, I will also forgo any budget that is put aside for a face to face meeting for the Visibility and Outreach Committee which I Chair if the FinCom will allow me to do that.

I have discovered through the experiences I have had I my career and life that there are often unintended consequences to our actions and behavior.   Sometimes it is perceptions that are skewed or in fact there was a blind side.  And sometimes a behavior hits a nerve that was unforeseen.   I think this is one of those cases and it is therefore appropriate to take a step back and reassess and reconsider.   There is a perception among many volunteers, right or wrong, that the Sierra Club is abandoning its roots and core values of protecting our wild and scenic landscapes and wildlife.   This step, rightly or wrongly, will reenforce  that narrative.   And in so doing so, will alienate our core constituency who have been our most loyal and committed members and volunteers especially those here in California in these local groups and Chapters from which we’ve heard.  It is a commonly accepted reality, supported by extensive research, that for every complaint that is received, that person will tell 10 other people.  Therefore, I believe that the nerve we’ve touched is substantially greater than we’ve actually heard.   And by not allowing the volunteers an opportunity to develop a solution could subject the Club to serious fallout both financially and reputation-ally ESPECIALLY, from our CORE California constituency.  

Lastly, I want to address the concept that we cannot simply change our Board decisions any time a few members are upset and complain.   While I generally agree with that I also believe we are elected to at least listen to our members and reconsider our decisions if even one member makes a good point and always respect everyone who has a different viewpoint.  In this case I think that there is substantial input to raise this issue to a higher level.  The process did not work ideally in this case and I think we owe it to the passionate volunteers and members to allow the time to work out a solution before we make a landmark decision that cannot be reversed.  

I for one am even ok if as a result, at the end of the year, our reserve balance of around $24 million, now $2 million higher than a year ago, drops by $85,000.  I believe that this expenditure is a valid use of these unanticipated expenses.  

I hope I am not alone on this board in voting for the motion and urge the rest of you to provide the time and money to see if we can’t maintain a jewel of our heritage, one I now hope to take my grandson too, to continue to tie us to our roots in Yosemite in the heart of our Sierra Nevada Mountains.  

Footnote:  Well, if you’ve read this far I just want to add a little personal note.  Last summer marked my 45th year of backpacking from 1971 to 2016.  Here’s a photo from my first and most recent hike.  The first one was with my Fraternity brother Steve Antonoff (who will get this blog) in Shenandoah National Part to Mary’s Rock where we actually ran into Ed Garvey!  And last summer I hiked with my son in law Adam Friedman in the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho.  See photos below!  

1st Backpacking Trip at Mary's Rocks in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia Chuck Frank with Steve Antonoff Fall 1971 ResizedChuck and Adam on Final Ridge Revised Resized

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