Have you been hearing things about the local group of the Sierra Club here in Howard County? I have…and not necessarily all good things for the local group. For me, it all kind of started back during the Primary when Alan Schnieder released a mailer against Courtney Watson. Since then there has been some talk, some actions and recently a decent number of changes to the Executive Committee. I am not on the inside, but I have received some information from someone that was (Joanne Heckman – past Chair of the Executive Committee of the local group). She sent me the following information outlining the things that have happened recently (and her concerns for the club):
This is my summary of events:
During early voting in June, the Executive Committee of the Howard County Sierra Club discovered that an Ex Com member, Alan Schneider, had sent 4000 negative campaign mailers to voters. This violates our policy against negative campaign ads, as well as repeated requests to Schneider to refrain from taking unauthorized actions while representing the Club. As Chair, I made the decision to remove Schneider’s name from our website. He claimed he was acting as an individual, and I felt that his name on our list of Ex Com members implicated us in his actions. I explained that to him in person, and he told me that he resigned from the Ex Com.
The Director of the Maryland Chapter, Josh Tulkin, over-ruled this decision. Tulkin is an employee of the Chapter and has no authority over the elected volunteer leaders. However, he gave his opinion: we are obliged to list all Ex Com members on our website, we are not allowed to accept a verbal resignation, and we are not allowed to take a vote to remove anyone from the Executive Committee. We are not allowed to follow our By-laws, which in his opinion are not valid. We are obliged to follow a process for handling a complaint, though he didn’t know what that process was. In any case, the process doesn’t apply to Tulkin’s complaints about me: he locked me out of the website and issued a public statement, forwarded to our members, saying that Schneider is on our Executive Committee and we might have more to say about the campaign mailer in the future.
Weeks later, I was asked to submit documentation of all of Schneider’s behavior over the last two and a half years, and ask the Maryland Chapter to remove him from the Ex Com. The Chapter interviewed Schneider and myself. They have yet to issue a report on Schneider, but in early August, Schneider resigned.
This was the situation I had before Josh intervened, but in the weeks since then, our endorsed candidate lost the primary, two other Ex Com members resigned in protest, I’m still locked out of the website, and the Ex Com has done no work.
To sum up: our paid administrator, who has no authority over the volunteers and can’t cite any rules of the organization, nevertheless has the power to enforce his opinion that any complaints about Alan Schneider must be handled by a lengthy internal review process which immobilizes the entire group, but nevertheless doesn’t apply to Tulkin’s complaints about my actions as Chair.
I have served on the Howard County and the Maryland Chapter Executive Committees at different times for the last 5 years. I’m a volunteer, not an employee of Josh Tulkin. I can’t be part of a volunteer organization that doesn’t follow any consistent operating procedures and allows the paid staff to bully the volunteer leaders. I had to stay on the Ex Com to remove Alan. But when Alan quit, I quit.
Since then, while no judgment on Alan’s behavior has been made, I have been asked to step down as Chair for showing disrespect for Josh Tulkin’s opinions.
The Sierra Club is being managed with a complete lack of accountability and professionalism. This is a disservice to all the members who pay to belong to the organization and all the volunteers who gave their time to it.
The state chapter got involved in a local group matter (which I find very interesting and noteworthy)…and three members of the local group Executive Committee have recently resigned for a variety of reasons (Joanne Heckman, Meagan Braganca and Alan Schnieder). That is 1/3 of the 9 member committee.
I did a search for the local group by-laws (because it was mentioned) and I could not find anything listed on the website (https://www.sierraclub.org/maryland/index-webpages?scv=1515255056560). If anyone has those…feel free to send them along to me.
I did speak to Meagan Braganca on the phone and she confirmed that she has resigned from the Executive Committee of the group. She also sent me the following information via email:
To clarify, I resigned from the executive committee in June but stayed on to help with the local political committee. I’ve just recently reduced my role there as well.
and this as well…
Volunteers with the Maryland Sierra Club have worked hard for many years to help bring stronger environmental standards on both the state and local levels. The endorsement process is very thorough, and I believe the Sierra Club endorsed great candidates. It’s just unfortunate that one rogue individual connected to the Club made the decision to disparage one of the candidates running for the state legislature. That’s not what campaigns and elections should be about. They should always, always be about the issues.
I also spoke to Ken Clark (was the Vice-Chair of the Executive Committee) on the phone on August 20th. He confirmed that the three members had resigned from the Executive Committee. I asked him if he was now the Acting Chair of the committee and he told me about a meeting happening on Monday evening (the 20th) and that decision would be made at that meeting. That decision apparently was made as he is now listed as the Acting Chair of the Executive Committee.
A also spoke to Josh Tulkin (Director – Sierra Club Maryland State Chapter) on the phone this morning. We had a nice discussion and he provided me some background over the phone. He also agreed to send me some information via email for this article…and here it is:
I am writing in response to a request for comment. There are some aspects I cannot comment on such as the endorsement process, as well as personnel matters, which are confidential.
To your question about the impact of the resignations on the Group, it’s a fair question. The resignation of several members of the Executive Committee is certainly a loss, and I want to thank Joanne, Meagan, and Alan for everything they contributed to the Sierra Club.
However, I have full confidence in the Howard County Sierra Club. I recently met with the current leadership of the Howard County Sierra Club and was inspired by the passion and focus and resolve. They are reviewing and setting priorities, making plans to fill the vacancies in the coming months, and get back to the work of helping people enjoy, explore, and protect the planet. In the interim, the Maryland Chapter will help fill any gaps to continue our conservation work and support for our elected candidates.
An email will be sent to Sierra Club members shortly with an update on the resignations and to solicit nominations for new members of the Executive Committee.
Personnel matters and endorsements are confidential, so I cannot comment on those specifically, but I can shed some light on Sierra Club policy pertaining to election or and removal of volunteer leaders. The highest authority in the Sierra Club is the national Board of Directors, which is democratically elected by all Sierra club members. The relevant policy in this situation, called “Handling Disruptive Volunteer Behavior,” approved by the Board of Directors in 2016, was shared with the Howard County Chair and Executive Committee. The policy states that “While a Chapter or Group ExCom may remove a leader from an appointed position, only the national Sierra Club may remove a leader from a position elected by the membership”.
The Sierra Club is strongly committed to its democratic membership-based process, and no one, regardless of position, has a right to violate these rules. The Maryland Chapter acted to uphold and implement national Sierra Club policy.
I have reached out to Alan Schnieder (Ex Howard County Sierra Club Executive Committee Member) and a few others for additional comments, confirmations and follow ups. If I hear back from them, I may be writing a follow up or two to this story.
Last night the local group website pages were finally updated removing the names of the members that have resigned and updating positions of the remaining members of the committee: https://www.sierraclub.org/maryland/howard-county-group-contact-list. There is currently no Vice Chair listed on the website. I am guessing that the committee will look to fill those other 3 seats sometime in the near future (or ASAP) and name a Chair and a Vice Chair at that point.
This is an election year and you have to wonder if all of these changes will change how the club (or at least that committee) operates going forward through this election cycle. The local club does have a Political Committee, so there may not be any changes going forward….but they do have some endorsements to review going into the general election. Here is a listing of those endorsed in the primary:
An endorsement from the Sierra Club is important during an election cycle. I have been told that “There are about 1,500 paid-up members in Howard County, and about 7,000 “supporters” (people who are in the database but haven’t paid their membership fees this year)”. That is a pretty significant local outreach system…plus I regularly see members at the polls during early voting handing out the “Green Ballot” to voters.
My job in this article is not to choose sides or even make specific assumptions…but provide information on a local group that plays a role (endorsement and advocacy) in local political elections. This has been a pretty significant shake up in the local group and I thought worth documenting here on the blog….and specifically using statements from the individuals involved.
Stay tuned folks…more may be coming in the near future.
(note – I wrote this article over the past couple of days….and much of it is organized by when I received the information from the source.)
As a potential future blog post teaser…there is also another aspect of this story….that may include candidates running for office here in Howard County and an elected official in Annapolis (or their staff) and their involvement in some aspects of this story….that may be the focus of a future post once I have time to reach out to those candidates / elected officials / staffers for comments and confirmations.