Why I don’t support SFBC board recommendation of board candidates

I have served on the board of directors of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for four years. Each year, the SFBC board of directors votes on whether to endorse/recommend board candidates for the annual election of directors. Each year, I vote no. Each year, I have been out-voted. This year is no different.

Board vote at October 2019 board meeting
A motion was made to recommend board candidates for the 2020 board election.

  • Ayes: Andy Thornley, Alex Sweet, Brad Williford, Jane Natoli, Juli Uota, Marie Jonas, Meghan Mitchell, Robin Abad Ocubillo, Sarah Bindman
  • Nays: Kelli Shields, Preston Rhea, Shirley Johnson
  • Abstentions: Jean Kao, Mary Kay Chin, Nic Jay Aulston

The motion passed and the board recommended candidates for the 2020 election.

My dissenting opinion
The board recommending candidates is an attempt to officially influence the election results, counter to democratic principles. I believe the board, as a body, should remain neutral in the election process, just as staff remains neutral. Individual directors, not acting in their official capacity, would still be free to evaluate and recommend candidates.

There are several reasons I have always voted against board recommendation of board candidates:

Board recommendations are political, not objective
Subjectivity and unconscious bias result in the board recommending candidates who are similar to the board. Put bluntly, the board recommends candidates who align with the majority opinion and tries to knock off candidates with differing views. The process is politics disguised as “evaluating” a candidate’s “skills.” Directors may believe they have the best of intentions, but the impact is that board recommendations lead to an insular, less effective board.

Board recommendations reduce the number of candidates
Every year, the board-endorsement process causes candidates to drop out of the race when they don’t get endorsed, discouraging member engagement. For example, a blog post from the 2014 election states:

This year, a Board Slate was endorsed including eight individuals for the eight open slots on the board. Several other qualified individuals were not selected for the slate. (All but one of them chose not to run at this time.)

Our goal as a board should be to encourage members to run for the board and to facilitate an open exchange of information about the candidates so that voters can make well-informed decisions to elect a representative board. Instead, the board-recommendation process has had the opposite effect – skewed participation in board elections expands the gap between the board and the membership, reducing overall membership participation and effectiveness of the SF Bicycle Coalition.

The early deadline for board recommendations excludes candidates
The deadline for board recommendation this year was October 25, 2019 whereas the deadline to commit to run was January 8, 2020 – a 2.5-month gap between deadlines. Every year, there are candidate(s) who commit to run after the recommendation deadline. These candidates meet all the requirements for candidacy and may have a valid reason for submitting their candidacy after the recommendation deadline, but are excluded from the recommendation process, putting them at a disadvantage in the election. As such, the board recommendation process may prevent qualified candidates from being elected.

The board decides recommendations in closed session
Some directors have opined that the board provides a service to the membership by recommending candidates. However, the board determines these recommendations in closed session. This closed process does not permit the membership to learn what criteria are ultimately used to determine the recommendations. A closed and unaccountable recommendation process undermines credibility of the board.

Board recommendations cause conflict in multiple ways
The board recommendation process and the recommendations themselves breed conflict. Board discussions regarding which candidates to recommend have caused unnecessary tension on the board. A board-endorsed slate causes other candidates to form opposing slates, leading to contentious elections. Candidates who weren’t recommended but get elected anyway may not feel welcome on the board, causing awkwardness in board relations. All this could be avoided by doing away with board recommendations.

Conclusion
For an open, fair democracy and a more effective board, the board should not attempt to officially influence the board election outcome by recommending candidates.

Disclaimer
Views in this communication are my own and do not reflect the views of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

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