Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Volunteers for Life are firmly in charge - but Sierra Club in NYC is defunct

Sierra Club is the nation's largest grassroots environmental organization.  In other large cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, it has a thriving and dynamic presence

However, its presence in NYC has been at best marginal. This is due to a tiny clique of longtime volunteers who have dominated both the NYC Group and the NY State Chapter of the Club ever since 1990.  

Sierra Club's NYC Group has been defunct for years

While there have been over 15,000 Sierra Club members in NYC, hardly any of them pay any attention to the virtually defunct SC NYC Group.  Visit their website.  While there are many committees listed, there's no discussion of their activities elsewhere on the website or in their occasional newsletter.  That's because the committees are inactive.  If their occasional public talks brought in any new volunteers or generated any group activities, wouldn't it be reflected on the website? The webmaster frequently posts verbose essays that are unrelated to actual activities of the NYC Group.   It maintains a pretense.

SC NYC Groups has been a Potemkin Village for many years - a fraudulent entity with one true purpose - to maintain its old guard - led by Jim Lane and his front man Ken Baer - in lifetime positions as Sierra Club volunteer officers. Since the 1990s, they and their cronies have also dominated their NY State Chapter of the Sierra Club.  

Between 2006 and 2010, I tried to bring in new volunteers and revitalize the NYC group.  Here's why that didn't work.  

Ways the old guard has maintained control

- SC National has steered clear of the NYC Group for many years.  Jim Lane, a self-employed attorney, sued National in the past.  To avoid expensive lawsuits, National has ignored the NYC group as much as possible.

- Very few of the 15,000 or so members pay any attention to the doings of the NYC Group.  Most of the a few hundred members who actually vote have known of the old guard for decades.


- The operations of the NYC Group have historically been very inefficient and dysfunctional, driving away potential volunteers.  For many years, Olive Freud disrupted monthly ExCom meetings with angry rants and crazy behavior, tolerated by the old guard.  This drove away most newcomers after one meeting.  I and other ExCom members successfully petitioned SC National to take away her SC membership. In recent years, two other SC NYC ExCom members, Annie Wilson and Margaret Young, have had their memberships taken away by National.  

Environmental activists seeking effective places to put their energy quickly realize that SC NYC is not a useful place for them.  One can speculate about the motivations of the few who stay.  Some are fully aware of what the old guard is about but are able to convince themselves that their presence - enabling the old guard in continuing to preserve appearances - is somehow good for the Sierra Club.   

Some find value in their association with the Club.  Back in 2012, Thelma Fellows, briefly chair of the NYC Group before she proved to be insufficiently compliant, proposed as the new energy committee chair one Lisa DiCaprio, an environmental studies professor at NYU and a highly dedicated activist.  She was harshly rejected by the old guard, who installed their crony Annie Wilson.   DiCaprio left for some time, identifies primarily with 350.org, although continues to associate with the SC in some form. It's rare for volunteers to stick around if they've been slapped down instead of welcomed.  She is a rarity.  


The old guard used libel and fraud in the 2009 and 2010 Executive Committee elections

This was unequivocally documented in a formal complaint to the Sierra Club's National Board.  Jim Lane is a master of using Sierra Club procedure and parliamentary law to create labyrinths and confusion.  

In the December 2009 ExCom election, Sierra Club members in NYC voted many new members onto the ExCom - voting out several long-serving members, including Jim Lane.  Because of delays at the printer there were less than 30 days between the mailing of the ballots and the day of their counting, as required by Sierra Club National bylaws.  Neither Lane, Baer or any other member of the ExCom suggested delaying the day of the ballot counting for a week, which would have put the election squarely within compliance of National regulations.  

I believe but cannot prove that they knew of the technical violation but kept silent so that if they lost they could raise the issue and force National to rerun the election - which they did.  In the August 2010 ExCom election, Ken Baer and Jim Lane, with the support of their faction, falsely claimed that I was wrongfully responsible for holding the December ballot at the printer because I was stalling until the candidates I recruited submitted their candidate statements. The accusation that my wrongful conduct was to blame for the delay was repeated in three locations.  

Formal complaint to Sierra Club National Board documenting election fraud and libel 

In October 2010 I submitted a 27 page formal complaint that documented clearly how the statements from Lane and Baer constituted libel and fraud, and their use in Sierra Club elections constituted serious misconduct under the Sierra Club Standing Rules.  I requested that National immediately remove Lane and Baer's leadership privileges, in accordance with SC Standing Rules 5.10.2.

To its great shame, National dismissed the complaint.  "...The Standing Rule specifically gives us discretion not to act on requests that we believe should be dealt with more appropriately by other means....We believe that working with chapter leadership will be a more effective alternative than acting serially on multiple leadership removal requests...."

In November 2010, SC Board President Robin Mann issued a stern sounding slap-on-the-wrist memo to all NY State Chapter leaders, promising close oversight and demanding civil behavior.  With dissent crushed, the doings of the NYC Group and State Chapter are presumably quite civil. 

The NYC Group is still under the complete control of Lane and Baer, and still does virtually nothing.  What are the long term consequences for the Sierra Club brand in NYC and State?  I think it's likely that volunteers, activists, and donors that might have been attracted to Sierra Club have long since found other places to bring their energy and their money.    

Recent dealings with SC NYC reveal that minutes of meetings are often not recorded, and not shared with the ExCom members and the few who bother to attend meetings.  Some complain weakly but are unwilling to ruffle feathers.  Not surprisingly, the person responsible for keeping minutes - who usually doesn't - is none other than Jim Lane, who is ironically the procedural compliance officer for the NY State Chapter of the Club.  

I share this material so that the unfortunate and shameful history of the Sierra Club in NYC doesn't complete vanish down the memory hole.  I encourage environmentalists to reform the Sierra Club, if that is possible, but perhaps the wiser course is to learn from my mistake and avoid it altogether.  

Documenting Fraud in 12/09 ExCom Election

Originally published in 2010

In the December 2009 ExCom election, Sierra Club members in NYC voted many new members onto the ExCom, voting out several long-serving members, including attorney Jim Lane - the Secretary of Sierra Club's New York City Group - and of the Club's New York State Chapter. Because of delays at the printer, there were less than 30 days between the mailing of the ballots and the day of their counting, as required by Sierra Club National bylaws. Neither Lane, Baer, or any other member of the ExCom suggested delaying the day of the ballot counting for a week, which would have put the election squarely within compliance of National regulations.

I believe but cannot prove that Lane knew of the technical violation with the election, but kept silent so if he or his faction lost, he could raise it to force National to rerun the election.In the August 2010 ExCom election, Ken Baer and Jim Lane, with the support of their faction, falsely claimed that I was wrongfully responsible for holding the December ballot newsletter at the printer because I was stalling until the candidates I recruited submitted their candidate statements. The accusation that my wrongful conduct was to blame for the delay was repeated in three locations.

To prove that this charge is false, I submit below a copy of an email I sent to the Nominations Committee chair Antuan Cannon on December 1, 2009, with the attachment that contained all the candidate statements. I sent a copy of this email to Greg Casini of Sierra Club National, and his response that he received it. Anyone who wants a copy of this email can have it as well.

Antuan Cannon, as the chair of the nominations committee, was responsible for confirming all ExCom candidates. On Tuesday, December 1, I sent him an email with a draft committee report I wrote for him to edit and send out under his signature, along with an attachment that contained all the candidate statements, which I had compiled, except for that of Margaret Young, whose candidacy the committee had voted to deny. The key point is that this email proves I had all the candidate statements and was distributing them internally as early as December 1 - contrary to the Lane-Baer campaign allegations. (Incidentally, after the August election, Antuan Cannon was named Vice Chair of the NYC Group.)




See the image below of my email to Greg Casini of Sierra Club National on August 24, in which I forwarded the Dec. 1 email and the attached candidate statements - and Greg's confirmation that he received the email.




This fraudulent, libelous charge against me was not incidental - but was the very core of the Lane-Baer faction's campaign.

- The candidate statement submitted in the name of Ashley Cole, which consisted entirely of personal attacks on me. Cole is the spouse of Margaret Hayes Young, a member of the ExCom whose Sierra Club membership was terminated because of a separate dispute with Sierra Club National. Jim Lane argued for Cole's right to use the venue of the ballot statement for his defamatory assault on me as expression of free speech, even though Cole admitted in the statement that he was uninterested in serving on the ExCom. (After the summer 2010 election, in n a stunning display of hypocrisy, the ExCom passed a resolution preventing non-candidates from submitting candidate statements.)

- Ken Baer's postcard mailing.

- The website for Lane, Baer and their slate of candidates, http://www.nycactivists.org/. See for yourself. If the site is removed, screen capture images follow below. Click on them for a larger version.









Election Fraud Carries the Day

The Lane-Baer slate knowingly and falsely accused me of wrongful conduct. They knowingly and falsely claimed that Sierra Club National's decision to rerun the December 2009 ExCom election stemmed from this wrongful conduct on my part.
Only 350 or so of the 10,000+ Sierra Club members in NYC bothered to vote in either election. In December, the reform candidates I promoted won a controlling majority of the ExCom. The campaign was based on positive, pragmatic organizing efforts that were already taking place.

In August 2010, the reform candidates I promoted all lost. The decisive factor was the intensely negative campaign run by the Lane-Baer slate - based on the slanders presented here.


Blowing the Whistle: Sierra Club National Should Investigate the Club's NYC Group - 2010

Originally published in 2010

Some SC Groups in big cities, like those in LA and Chicago, have hundreds of activists, with literally thousands of people each year attending group events. (See quotes from those Groups in earlier posts on this page.)

At the other end of the spectrum, like failed states, are failed Groups.
The Executive Committee of the virtually defunct NYC Group has long been controlled by a tiny faction, out of touch and inept. Ask what they have actually accomplished over the decades they have been in control of the group.

I and other volunteers blew the whistle and twice tried to unseat them. Why? Because something better was possible, in service both to the Sierra Club and NYC.

The Sierra Club is one of the largest and best known of US environmental groups, and unique in its structure as a grassroots network, with a robust capacity to support volunteers. Ideally, volunteer members can draw on Club resources support their local projects, while raising the Sierra Club's profile as an active participant at local levels. The Sierra Club's greatest asset is not its national staff, or its many members, but its name and reputation.

Most people are passive members of Sierra Club, sending donations, but otherwise apathetic to volunteer activities. Many of the relatively few Sierra Club members who volunteer do so benignly.

The clout of the Sierra Club name can be used to support worthy local initiatives and build the environmental movement, or it can be co-opted by self-serving individuals, providing them with impressive titles, and undeserved authority, as has taken place in the NYC Group.

Those with a hankering for power can attain it, despite their limited abilities, by attaching themselves as parasites to the Club. Careful use of Club internal procedures allow parasitic volunteers, coupled with the apathy of most of its members, to operate tiny fiefdoms indefinitely, without building the overall Club, and blocking growth or innovation.

Over the last two years, I set out a vision for local sustainability organizing in NYC. Use of the Sierra Club name would assist in its spread. In turn, the organizing efforts would bring positive regard to the Sierra Club brand, commonly seen as old-fashioned and behind the times. This was not to be.

The reform slate I organized won the winter 2009 election, but the faction forced its overturn on a technicality. The faction won the summer 2010 rerun election through a ruthless campaign of fraud and libel, swaying most of the 350 or so of the 10,000+ members in NYC who actually voted. I do not use those terms lightly, and back them up in great detail in the following posts. Fraud and libel are considered serious misconduct under the Sierra Club Standing Rules.I applaud Michael Brune, the new Executive Director of the National Sierra Club, and wish him the best of luck as he attempts to make the organization relevant to the concerns of the 21st century. The Club's focus on climate change as its top priority shows that he is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, the National Club is deprived of a vital and growing presence in NYC because of the faction that has regained control of the ExCom. He should do something about this. If you care about the future of Sierra Club, so should you.

What can you do?1. Boycott the ineffective SC NYC ExCom, whose members orchestrated or condoned election fraud. I am disappointed that some of the candidates I once backed have chosen to condone and support the leaders of the faction that regained control by such disreputable means.

2. In this ExCom election, vote for me as a watchdog on their activities.

3. Protest the outrage to Michael Brune at michael.brune@sierraclub.org.

As for me, I am moving forward with my sustainability organizing projects. In winter 2011 I will be promoting white roof painting projects, and continuing my collaboration with many NYC green initiatives. For details, contact me at beyondoilnyc@yahoo.com.

Dan

SC National Board disregards documentation of flawed election in 2010 - my act of civil disobedience

After the August 2010 election, described in earlier posts, I prepared a detailed complaint and sent it to Greg Cassini, Sierra Club's Associate Director of Volunteer Development. In the following months, I learned that there were two speeds for National Sierra Club resolution of member complaints over rules disputes: rapid and ultra-slow. 

In January 2010, when Jim Lane told Cassini that the December ExCom election was invalid because the days between ballot mailing and ballot counting were a few days less than mandated by bylaws, Mr. Cassini responded rapidly. Cassini proposed several responses, which Lane rejected. Lane held out for an re-run election in August election, with a second ExCom election in December 2010 for the remainder of the ExCom seats. Cassini accepted Lane's terms.

When I informed Cassini that Lane and Baer's August 2010 ExCom campaign was fraudulent and libelous, in violation of Club standing rules, he told me to prepare a complaint with all the evidence. I did. I documented the charges, and requested Sierra Club National immediately remove leadership privileges from Lane and Baer, in accordance with Sierra Club Standing Rules 5.10.2, for fraud and libel in the conduct of Club business, defined as serious misconduct in SR 2.2.6. Click here to download the PDF of the complaint.

I submitted it in early October and heard nothing further.

My expectation that National would act on my complaint was reduced when I saw the letter that Robin Mann, President of the Sierra Club National Board of Directors, sent to the New York State Chapter. Clearly, the NYC dispute had come to the attention of the Club's highest levels. However, I interpreted it as a message that National would forgive and ignore previous scandals as long as there were no more embarrassments or disasters coming from the New York State Chapter.(full text of her letter below)

Why the fast response to Lane and Baer's complaint? Lane, as a self-employed lawyer, sued Sierra Club National in the early 2000s to prevent the dissolution of the NYC Group. It seems likely that National Board and staff will go to great lengths to avoid confronting Lane again, even if that means ignoring clear violations of Club rules.

Still, it looked like National was quite willing to toss my complaint in the recycling bin. I felt I had to compel National to address it. I ran for the NYC ExCom again in the December election. In my ballot statement, I asked for National to investigate the NYC Group. I also committed acts of civil disobedience. I still had the list of SC NYC members from November 2009, when I was sending out emails about Group activities to NYC members (a practice that stopped with me). On December 20, 2011, I sent out two emails to a list of 5560 members. One was an introduction to my new personal project, http://www.beyondoilnyc.org/.

This was both to partly rehabilitate my reputation, and to use a Sierra Club list for other than Sierra Club business. The second email was a denunciation of what had happened. (See below) As it was sent by me, as a candidate in an ExCom election, I am certain it must have violated National rules. The emails were opened by 880 on that list. (Evidence on request) I then copied these emails to the New York City Group ExCom, the New York State Chapter Excom, and finally, to the National Board of Directors.

As of early January, 2011, I am mystified at the lack of response to these actions. But I still want to know what National will do with my complaints about the election of August 2010.

----- Original Message --
From: "Robin Mann, Sierra Club"
Sent: Wednesday, November 03, 2010 8:00 PM
Subject: Letter to Atlantic Chapter leaders from Sierra Club President Robin Mann
November 3, 2010

TO: Atlantic Chapter & Group Leaders
FROM: Robin Mann, Sierra Club President, on behalf of the Board of Directors
RE: Please Address These Matters Promptly

Dear Chapter and Group Leaders,

We know that there has been a lot of great conservation and electoral work going on in New York. We thank you and congratulate you for that. There are, however, also some red flags emerging including recent chapter committee resignations, group election conflicts, and reports of some interactions between leaders and public officials reflecting poorly on the Sierra Club - in our experience, all potential warning signs of escalating factionalism. We are sharing our concerns with you at this time in order to encourage you collectively take steps to proactively and constructively resolve your disputes and avoid further deterioration that may necessitate national Club intervention.

The Board of Directors expects all of the chapters to participate in building and maintaining a vibrant grassroots organization that advances the Club's mission. As Chapter & Group leaders, you all have an obligation to protect the Club's name and reputation, ensure a safe and productive working environment for members and staff, and foster a Club in which people want to participate.

The two recent resignations from the Chapter Political Committee and a NYC Group election that had to be rerun and still resulted in negative, disputed campaign mailings to local members call into question the ability of Chapter & Group leaders to work together effectively and provide the kind of leadership the Club expects of its chapters. Due to these concerns, we have asked the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Committee and staff in the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services to offer support to the Atlantic Chapter to help address these concerns. Greg Casini will be the lead staff for this effort, which will continue until it is evident the following has occurred:

WHAT WE EXPECT TO SEE:

+ A welcoming and respectful environment for all volunteers and staff
- No basis for requests to suspend or remove leaders

+ Sincere efforts to involve new volunteers in meaningful ways
- No reports of factionalism or cliquishness

+ Positive public relationships with elected officials and other community leaders
- No reports of behavior that harms the Club's reputation and effectiveness with public officials

+ Chairs fostering productive and satisfying teamwork for their committee members
- No angry resignations

+ ExCom elections viewed by all as fair
- Complaint-free elections

Collectively, all chapter and group leaders are responsible for the vibrancy of the organization. All of you are responsible for the leaders you appoint, the ExCom officers you select, and the authorization of individuals to speak publically on behalf of the Club. As we do with all chapters, we expect you to work together to build a strong, healthy chapter and vibrant groups. When this is accomplished, we have great confidence in your ability to achieve even more important conservation victories.


***


To: Sierra Club Board of Directors
Re: Controversy connected with SC NYC Group ExCom Elections
I regret having to communicate with this list on a sensitive and unpleasant topic. There have been some difficulties at the Atlantic Chapter and the NYC Group ExCom. While National leaders are making diligent and careful efforts to improve volunteer operations, I am concerned that they may be willing to overlook serious violations of Club procedures in the past in the hope of smooth functioning in the future. Failing to address past violations will leave unchanged the conditions that are bound to result in future issues. In the hope of optimizing the Club’s presence in New York State, I would encourage Club leaders not to sweep things under the rug.

In order to assure these matters are not ignored, I have myself committed violations of procedure, as an act of civil disobedience.
I hope these matters can be thoroughly resolved, with the ultimate best interests of the Club in mind.

Sincerely, Dan Miner

***

Sent: Monday, December 20, 2010 10:50 AM
To: ATL-LEADERS LISTS.SIERRACLUB.ORG
Subject: Notification to Sierra Club National of unauthorized communications through the NYC Group Members List

From: New York City Group ExCom members
On Behalf Of Dan Miner
Sent: Monday, December 20, 2010 10:46 AM
To: ATL-NYC-EXCOM@LISTS.SIERRACLUB.ORG
Subject: Notification to Sierra Club National of unauthorized communications through the NYC Group Members List December 20, 2010

Notification to Sierra Club National of unauthorized communications through the NYC Group Members List
Greg, I am relieved to hear that the National Board is paying close attention to the difficulties that have taken place in the Atlantic Chapter and the NYC Group, and that you have been assigned to oversee efforts to improve matters. However, review of Robin Mann’s November 3, 2010 letter to the Atlantic Chapter leaders leaves me deeply troubled.

The letter implies that as long as the Atlantic Chapter and the NYC Group avoid major missteps that would embarrass the National Sierra Club, past misdeeds will be ignored. As you know, there were technical violations in the NYC ExCom election of December 2009. They were doubtlessly obvious to Jim Lane and Ken Baer, masters of Sierra Club internal procedures, but neither spoke up, allowing the election to be completed with technical flaws, cleverly preserving grounds for appeal. Soon after Jim brought them to your attention, the election was nullified. He rejected compromises that you proposed, and that many members of the ExCom were willing to accept. Lane and Baer won complete control of the ExCom in the summer 2010 re-run election by orchestrating a campaign of fraud and libel against me. These actions are considered to be serious misconduct within the Club’s standing rules, and are profoundly significant when carried out in the course of Club elections. (The details are enumerated in the copied communications below, and on http://www.sierraclubnyc.blogspot.com/)

I fear that I have been played for a sucker when I was told to enter an official complaint to National, as it has languished for many months with no evidence that National will address these very serious violations. On the other hand, it seems apparent that National is unwilling to engage Jim Lane, the self-employed lawyer who has sued Sierra Club before, no matter what he does, out of fear that he can tie the Club up in expensive litigation. Neither the Atlantic Chapter ExCom nor the NYC Group ExCom has acknowledged the gravity of what has happened, and both bodies seem content to move on to business as usual.

It looks increasingly likely that my complaint, after suitable delay, will be dismissed in the interests of calm and stability. I find such selective enforcement of Club standing rules to be unfair, morally repugnant, and contrary to the best interests of the Club. Regretfully, I am forced to protest through civil disobedience.
As NYC Group Chair and newsletter editor, I had access to the members list and sent out email notifications of Club events. It contains the emails of about five thousand members. This morning, I have sent out two communications to that list, in violation of Club policy for using member lists. They are copied below.
One is about my own personal environmental organizing activities, not on Club business, that may somewhat repair the slanderous assault on my reputation carried out this summer. The other casts a spotlight on the heinous actions of Club leaders in the recent NYC ExCom elections. Since I am a candidate in the current election, it is especially inappropriate, and I am sure it violates many rules.

I don’t think either communication will have much material influence on the ExCom election, as the very few people who bother to vote will be heavily biased against me from the summer’s smear campaign, but I am sure others will argue otherwise. I recognize that my possession of the member list gives me an unfair advantage over other ExCom members. I have remedied this by sharing my list with them, so they can communicate directly with members as well, if they wish.

As you and other National staff and volunteers decide how to enforce these violations, I ask again how you plan to act on the violations detailed in my complaint, which I consider even more serious than mine. The saga of Julian Assange of Wikileaks suggests that organizations have an interest in proactive transparency. I suggest that National Sierra Club will be strengthened by this opportunity to deal with past difficulties rather than ignoring them.

Sincerely,

Dan Miner

***
Subject line Was your environmental group naughty or nice in 2011? [Email stationary template removed]

Dear XXX,

Thanks for your support of Sierra Club this year. Member donations support the Club's full time staff, ably headed by new Executive Director Michael Brune. Some of your donation is sent from the National Club down to regional or state Chapters, which are further divided into subregional Groups. Chapters and Groups are operated mostly by whichever members step forward and volunteer. The Atlantic (New York State) Chapter contains 11 regional groups, one of which is the NYC Group.

Some Groups are Nice!
Some chapters and groups, especially in large urban areas, are amazingly dynamic. The Los Angeles Chapter is the oldest and largest chapter in the country, made up of 62 regional groups, activity sections and committees, with 46,000 members. Perhaps more comparable to NYC is the Chicago Group. Its 8,500 members actively campaign for the local, state and national candidates they endorse. The Group has beach clean-ups monthly from April through September, with up to 400 attending, and an active outing program. Their Social Committee hosts monthly dinners, bar nights, neighborhood walks, movie nights and book discussion groups.They have e-newsletters & a well-maintained website, advertise their events on Facebook & Meet-up, and in local newspapers. Read statements from the LA and Chicago Groups.

Some Groups are...ah...Not As Nice...?
You're probably glad for the Sierra Club members in LA and Chicago. And you're glad to be supporting the Sierra Club's National staff and programs with your donation. But you might wonder, what's up with NYC? Where's the NYC Group, anyway?As a member, you get a quarterly newsletter, and sometimes some emails. Unfortunately, Sierra Club's NYC Group just doesn't do that much. Out of about 10,000 New Yorkers who pay dues to Sierra Club, about 20 actively volunteer with the Group. (The separate Photography Committee is much larger and more active.) That's too bad, because a more active Group could play positive role in the City, and support National programs in one of the world's media and financial centers.

Why is this the case? Well, hardly any of the members vote for the Executive Committee - about 100 in 2008, and around 350 in the last two elections. The few who vote keep re-electing the handful of volunteers who have run things for many years. How do I know? I spent a couple of years on the Executive Committee, trying to move things forward. I had a plan to get more people involved, and get positive things done. Things haven't worked out as I hoped within the NYC Group, so I'm carrying out the plan independently.

Some Groups are Naughty!
Things didn't work out because the volunteers who were running things liked being in charge, even if not much got doneI recruited a slate of candidates who won a majority of the ExCom in the winter 2009 election. But some of the folks on the governing faction are very, very skilled at using Sierra Club internal regulations. One is a self-employed lawyer who has sued Sierra Club National before. National is very, very cautious in its dealings with the NYC Group. The election was overturned. In the rerun election this summer, the governing faction ran a negative campaign of fraud and libel against me personally. All the candidates I was backing lost.

That's standard campaign tactics for government elections. However, fraud and libel are still considered serious violations of the internal rules for Sierra Club volunteers. The governing faction was able to pressure National to quickly overturn the election they lost because of technical violations. Months after I went to National with a formal complaint, I'm told that National is processing it, and watching the NYC Group very carefully. There's no telling when or if it will act. Should this naughty group get only rocks in its stockings? I bet Santa thinks so, but I think someone's holding a gun on him. What do you think?

Sending this email to you, using an official list, with my personal and controversial opinions, during the conduct of an ExCom election in which I am a candidate, completely violates a slew of internal rules. Well, my role within Sierra Club is not so important. Some people will be offended, but that's not so important either. I hope this will stimulate discussion, lead to better practices, and get more members involved.What is important is building the global sustainability movement as quickly and effectively as possible. Sierra Club's ability to operate effectively in NYC as a part of that movement is very important. Please help Sierra Club, and increase your committment to the sustainability movement, however you see fit.

Thanks, and happy holidays.

Dan Miner
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?llr=t7oeipdab&et=1104097373807&s=4535&e=0016Ice08MNo1qvtXU_L7az0yVyAvxEeYW3ZwECOIFPzrE2XdvmX6861X7aueuH9phlUtER4ZKaMTMlS_EU6Oj_5uJvh-V2-E8EeBhk5choOz-MLlSLxXzBXg==


[The second email has been deleted for brevity.]

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Sierra Club National Puts NY State Chapter on Probation in Nov. 2010

Originally published in winter 2010

The leaders of the governing faction of the NYC Group are at the center of the controversies cited by the Sierra Club National President. Sierra Club members in New York State should be very concerned about the conduct of the volunteer leaders who act in their name. However, since so few members are aware of Group and Chapter volunteer activities, let alone vote, Club leadership in NY State tends to be a self-perpetuating oligarchy.

----- Original Message -----
From: Robin Mann, Sierra Club
To: Sierra Club Activists
Sent: Wednesday, November 03, 2010 8:00 PM

Subject: Letter to Atlantic Chapter leaders from Sierra Club President Robin Mann
November 3, 2010

TO: Atlantic Chapter & Group Leaders
FROM: Robin Mann, Sierra Club President, on behalf of the Board of Directors
RE: Please Address These Matters Promptly

Dear Chapter and Group Leaders,

We know that there has been a lot of great conservation and electoral work going on in New York. We thank you and congratulate you for that.

There are, however, also some red flags emerging including recent chapter committee resignations, group election conflicts, and reports of some interactions between leaders and public officials reflecting poorly on the Sierra Club - in our experience, all potential warning signs of escalating factionalism. We are sharing our concerns with you at this time in order to encourage you collectively take steps to proactively and constructively resolve your disputes and avoid further deterioration that may necessitate national Club intervention.

The Board of Directors expects all of the chapters to participate in building and maintaining a vibrant grassroots organization that advances the Club's mission. As Chapter & Group leaders, you all have an obligation to protect the Club's name and reputation, ensure a safe and productive working environment for members and staff, and foster a Club in which people want to participate.

The two recent resignations from the Chapter Political Committee and a NYC Group election that had to be rerun and still resulted in negative, disputed campaign mailings to local members call into question the ability of Chapter & Group leaders to work together effectively and provide the kind of leadership the Club expects of its chapters.

Due to these concerns, we have asked the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Committee and staff in the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services to offer support to the Atlantic Chapter to help address these concerns. Greg Casini will be the lead staff for this effort, which will continue until it is evident the following has occurred:

WHAT WE EXPECT TO SEE:

+ A welcoming and respectful environment for all volunteers and staff
- No basis for requests to suspend or remove leaders

+ Sincere efforts to involve new volunteers in meaningful ways
- No reports of factionalism or cliquishness

+ Positive public relationships with elected officials and other community leaders
- No reports of behavior that harms the Club's reputation and effectiveness with public officials

+ Chairs fostering productive and satisfying teamwork for their committee members
- No angry resignations

+ ExCom elections viewed by all as fair
- Complaint-free elections

Collectively, all chapter and group leaders are responsible for the vibrancy of the organization. All of you are responsible for the leaders you appoint, the ExCom officers you select, and the authorization of individuals to speak publically on behalf of the Club.

As we do with all chapters, we expect you to work together to build a strong, healthy chapter and vibrant groups. When this is accomplished, we have great confidence in your ability to achieve even more important conservation victories.

National issues pardon of SC NYC ExCom - Feb. 2011

To: Atlantic Chapter Volunteers and Leaders
From: Dan Miner
Re: Sierra Club National Pardons SC NYC ExCom Members
Date: Feb. 21, 2011

Some of you received emails from me about the disputed SC New York City Group ExCom elections of December 2009, and August 2010, which I copy below. To recap briefly, I explained that SC National applied a double standard, when it promptly and strictly enforced the letter of the law for procedural flaws in the 2009 election, but ignored the campaign of fraud and libel orchestrated by Ken Baer and Jim Lane in the 2010 election,
documented in a formal complaint. In this election the longtime governing faction of the virtually defunct NYC Group ExCom returned to full control. In sharp contrast to its earlier response, National ignored the complaint for months. They responded, perhaps coincidentally, soon after I sent out an unauthorized email, alerting a large number of members to the unresolved complaint.

Many recall that Sierra Club National tried to shut down the NYC Group about ten years ago, but was blocked by legal action from Mr. Lane. I suggested that National’s apparent unwillingness to act on flagrant violations of Club rules was because it feared being sued by Mr. Lane, and predicted “if you never hear of this matter from Sierra Club National, or the complaint is dismissed without explanation, you can assume my theory is accurate.” I did receive a letter from National with their final decision. I am sharing it with Atlantic Chapter leaders because I don’t know if National has shared its decision with anyone else, and because it’s clearly relevant to National’s heightened scrutiny of the Atlantic Chapter,
announced here. Here follows National’s letter to me. You can read the original PDF of the letter here.


***

Mr. Miner:

We understand your recent decision as communicated to Robin Mann, to continue your activist efforts outside the Sierra Club. We sincerely wish you the all the best and hope that you find those other venues less frustrating. In light of your decision, we also trust that you will delete and make no further use of Sierra Club’s lists. Given all that has happened, we will not be taking further action on your request to remove Ken Baer, Jim Lane, Diane Buxbaum, Antuan Cannon, Edgar Freud Irene Van Slyke, Annie Wilson and Robert Adamski from leadership in the Club under Standing Rule 5.10.2 Termination of Membership or Suspension of Member Privileges.

The Standing Rule specifically gives us discretion not to act on requests that we believe should be dealt with more appropriately by other means. We are committed to work closely with the leadership of the Atlantic Chapter to address ongoing leader conflicts in New York City that have led to a circumstance of poor leadership behavior on the part of many, regrettably including yourself. We believe that working with chapter leadership will be a more effective alternative than acting serially on multiple leadership removal requests. We will keep the materials on file that you forwarded us about the situation and actions of leaders in New York City and appreciate your effort to compile it. This background is an important context and will inform our ongoing efforts with the Atlantic Chapter and the New York City Group.

Sincerely, Robin Mann, President
Michael Brune, Executive Director
Lane Boldman, Chair, Volunteer Leadership Committee

***

Let’s be clear that this is effectively a letter of pardon, issued from the highest level of Sierra Club. National implicitly admits that the current leaders of the NYC Group committed serious misconduct. National pointedly ignored the option of enforcing 5.10.2 only against Mr. Baer and Mr. Lane, who committed the violations, as opposed to their supporters, who were not directly involved, using that as a thin excuse to dismiss all charges. What can we learn from this? The handful of cronies who run the NYC Group ExCom are a national embarrassment to the Club. Besides having to resort to fraud and libel to retain their offices, they are still virtually inactive. A glance at their nearly empty website will show that I am
still listed as the Group Chair. [Note: Gary Nickerson, who is singlehandedly maintaining the Group's newsletter and website, has updated it since then.]

From National’s perspective, this is okay. Sierra Club volunteer groups are often competent and effective. In the earlier email I included for comparison links to the LA and Chicago Groups. Many other Groups in the Chapter, even from smaller communities, are more active. But I think that what National wants from Groups and Chapters boils down to just two things. One is to provide compliant foot soldiers for National campaigns. The other is to support the narrative of a vast volunteer network in fundraising pitches to major donors. National is entirely comfortable with defunct, ineptly led volunteer groups that don’t cause complete disasters, and can be safely contained and ignored while National goes about its real business.

This pardon is an embarrassing course of action for National as well.When National says they will work closely with Atlantic Chapter leadership, I think it really means they are desperately hoping to avoid further embarrassment from that New York State volunteer leaders, and will monitor and contain them as much as necessary. As long as Chapter leaders don’t burn down the asylum, they will have a free rein. However, don’t expect increased National funding or staff – and do try to keep the obsession with rules and procedures in perspective.

Dan Miner
www.beyondoilnyc.org

Waiting for National's program of supervision for Atlantic Chapter - 4/2011

This email was sent to the ExCom of the Atlantic Chapter, and to the public email contacts for all Atlantic Chapter groups, on April 30, 2011

Sierra Club National offered free consulting to Atlantic Chapter & Group leaders. Has anyone taken advantage of it?Often when a particular model of car has technical problems, the manufacturer offers replacement parts and services to all owners of that car. If the manufacturer of your car promised to give you a free 50,000 mile tune up – wouldn’t you sign up for it?

I’m writing to remind Atlantic Chapter and Group leaders that Sierra Club National made just such an offer last fall. In these times of budget cuts, you may want to take advantage of it.

As you may recall, in November 2010, Sierra Club National President Robin Mann wrote a letter to Atlantic (New York State) Chapter leaders, essentially putting the Chapter on probation. One cause was the NYC ExCom August 2010 election, won by a campaign of fraud and libel, in flagrant violation of the Club’s internal code of conduct. Although thoroughly documented, the complaints against Ken Baer and Jim Lane (with potential penalty of removal from leadership positions) were dismissed through a February 2011 letter of pardon from Robin Mann. Another cause were problems on the Chapter’s Political Committee.

National set a higher standard for Atlantic Chapter leaders, and offered support to make it happen
As Robin wrote: “The Board of Directors expects all of the chapters to participate in building and maintaining a vibrant grassroots organization that advances the Club's mission. As Chapter & Group leaders, you all have an obligation to protect the Club's name and reputation, ensure a safe and productive working environment for members and staff, and foster a Club in which people want to participate…Due to these concerns, we have asked the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Committee and staff in the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services to offer support to the Atlantic Chapter to help address these concerns. Greg Casini will be the lead staff for this effort, which will continue until it is evident the following has occurred:

WHAT WE EXPECT TO SEE:
+ A welcoming and respectful environment for all volunteers and staff
- No basis for requests to suspend or remove leaders

+ Sincere efforts to involve new volunteers in meaningful ways
- No reports of factionalism or cliquishness
+ Positive public relationships with elected officials and other community leaders
- No reports of behavior that harms the Club's reputation and effectiveness with public officials

+ Chairs fostering productive and satisfying teamwork for their committee members
- No angry resignations

+ ExCom elections viewed by all as fair- Complaint-free elections…”

The potential benefits for the Chapter and your Group
Those are all excellent goals that every Chapter leader should support. While some leaders might have been embarrassed or offended by this communication, it represents an opportunity that the Chapter and Groups should embrace wholeheartedly. Remember that Robin’s goals go beyond simply avoiding scandal and wrongdoing, but enhancing volunteer and committee activities and increasing people’s interest in being involved with the Club – and with your Group. Greg Casini is a master facilitator and trainer, and he’s been assigned by National to help Chapter leaders. Just imagine how Greg’s direct consultation with your Group ExCom could make your activities more successful! Why not reach out and use the support National has generously offered?

Okay, who wants a free 50,000 mile tune up?
First in line could be the NYC Group. With the volunteers who have run the NYC Group for decades firmly back in control, there’s no internal conflict - but they have fallen back into old habits. Instead of developing their own activities, the Group maintains the appearance of activity by co-sponsoring events organized by others, and promoting a slew of committees which exist in name only. Despite the efforts of one dedicated volunteer, who singlehandedly publishes the newsletter and maintains the Group’s online activity, the NYC Group is nearly defunct – just as it’s been for years. Why not make lemonade out of lemons and request Greg’s ongoing participation?

Remember, Robin assigned Greg to work with the Chapter “to protect the Club's name and reputation, ensure a safe and productive working environment for members and staff, and foster a Club in which people want to participate.” Even if your Group has its own programs and active committees, and no history of violating Club rules and procedures, Greg can surely help get you to the next level.

Maybe this is already taking place...
Maybe Greg is already working with Chapter and Group leaders. Since I’m no longer on NYC Group or Chapter leader lists, I wouldn’t know. I hope this is the case and it’s working well for everyone. Perhaps this message is months late and very out of date. If that’s the case, sorry, never mind!

What if Greg has already been working with the Atlantic Chapter ExCom or Group ExComs, and you don’t know about it?In that case, all Chapter and Group leaders should be kept informed of this important project, which was after all, directly ordered by the Club’s National President. This way everyone can learn together and step up to National’s higher standard of performance.

Could it be that neither the Atlantic Chapter nor individual Group ExComs have been working with Greg and taking advantage of National assistance?

If not, both National and Chapter leaders should learn what happened, and reactivate this effort to build the effectiveness of the Atlantic Chapter and its Groups.

I can’t believe that Robin’s offer of National support was always intended as an empty promise – or a hollow threat – to prod the Atlantic Chapter to stop scandalizing and embarrassing National Sierra Club.

If this was so, it would indicate that National does not take the Atlantic Chapter seriously, and thinks a sternly worded threat of future supervision will discourage misbehavior. This would also indicate that National is not really concerned about Atlantic Chapter functioning, and wishes only to avoid embarrassment and maintain minimum membership donation levels while National pursues its own program goals. Could this very cynical analysis be accurate? Perhaps, but it is also likely that Atlantic Chapter and Group leaders have already disproved it with their actions.

I’m curious to know what happened. But as Chapter and Group leaders, you have a right to know the answers to these questions. Thanks for your time!

Dan Miner
Past Chair, Sierra Club NYC
volunteer, www.beyondoilnyc.org