USATF Board Reappoints 2 Board Members in Manner Violating Its Own Bylaws
by Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
June 24, 2018
DES MOINES, Iowa — At the start of this morning’s USATF Board of Directors meeting, Chester Wheeler, the director of marketing and sales of the United States Olympic Committee, addressed the Board and said there are three finalists to host the 2020 Olympic Track and Field Trials. Wheeler did not disclose the names of the finalists, but USATF CEO Max Siegel revealed they are Eugene, Austin, and Sacramento. Wheeler then had scathing remarks on Mt. SAC, which had been selected to host the Trials before USATF pulled out due to, among other things, litigation concerns in regards to their stadium which is under construction.
Wheeler indicated Mt. SAC did not keep USATF informed about the lawsuits and said, “it was a litigation nightmare.” He mentioned “stuff they were hiding from us.” His overall assessment was very harsh.
“The fact we got out of this when we did was fortuitous,” Wheeler said. “We would have had a mess and our Trials would have been at a risk going forward. Thank goodness that embarrassment is behind us.”
Wheeler’s remarks were very brief, but he also said the first time he met with the Mt. SAC people (presumably after they had been awarded the Trials by USATF) the tone was very different than when the USOC met with previous hosts says, saying the hosts at Mt. SAC were asking whether “we (the hosts) get free clothes. It was such a totally different experience that it raised a red flag.”
Wheeler said since the timetable for the 2020 Trials is now shorter, it would make sense to emulate what worked in the past. That would seem to favor Eugene and Sacramento, which have combined to host the last five Trials, but Eugene’s stadium is not complete, which was part of the problem with Mt. SAC.
“We did an internal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis on the three cities bidding on the Trials,” said USATF CEO Max Siegel, who added that the Board will conduct an internal call about them sometime during the next two weeks.
This was the first in-person board meeting without USATF president Vin Lananna, who was controversially placed on leave by the Board at the last physical meeting allegedly due to fact that the bid for Eugene to host the 2021 Worlds is under investigation by the Department of Justice. (In February, LetsRun.com discussed whether placing Lananna on leave rather than removing him from office was a “silent coup.” Placing him on leave only requires a majority vote from the Board, while removal takes a 2/3 Board vote, and also then lets the members appoint a new President.)
Board member Fred Finke tried to re-open discussion on Lananna’s suspension, but his measure was voted down, eight to five with two abstentions. Finke, who was in El Salvador with the NACAC XC team when the vote to suspend Lananna was taken, gave the impression he was purposely sent to El Salvador so he couldn’t vote on Lananna’s suspension. Lananna was temporarily removed from office under under Article 10F, which is meant for people “temporarily unable to serve.” (USATF still has not released the notes of the meeting that breaks down the vote to suspend Lananna, but sources tell us Finke’s vote would not have been material to the outcome).
Finke noted, “[Lananna] is able to serve (and is in town in Des Moines).” Board Chair Steve Miller responded, “[Just because] he is down the street, that doesn’t mean he is able to serve.”
Finke noted the investigation could take years and it wasn’t fair for the Board to act as “judge and jury” for Lananna, but Miller said, “There is nothing we can do. We are protecting the organization.”
Miller also said Lananna’s lawyer said he would produce a letter saying Lananna was not personally implicated in the investigation and “that letter has not been produced.”
A lot of change could be coming to the Board with Board Chair Steve Miller’s term expiring in December (more on Miller below). Unless the rules change, he will have to leave the Board as a result. To bring some continuity to the Board (which in LRC’s opinion is a bad thing as much of the questionable decisions made by USATF have been made by the Board), a motion was brought up to re-appoint two independent Board Members whose terms are up this year, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Mickey Carter (a law school classmate of Siegel). This passed 9 to 6.
As noted by activist Becca Gillespy Peter, the vote itself violates Article 11H of the USATF bylaws. 11H says the Nominating and Governance Panel has to select the independent Board Members even if they are existing Board Members extending their terms. In addition to the violation of 11H, both Board Members voted for themselves which is a conflict of interest, but the vote would have passed without their votes. (Vin Lananna was forced to remove himself from voting when the Board voted to place him on leave).
- Board Chair Steve Miller said, “Track and field is in the best shape it’s ever been.” He acknowledged that didn’t mean things couldn’t be better. On the negative he said, “the political structure of our organization is in trouble” and “I don’t think this board understands confidentiality.”
- Jeff Porter of the Athletes Advisory Committee said the athletes are concerned about the schedule for the 2019 World Champs and how it impacts the ability to do the 100/200 double, the 200/400 double, and the 5000/10000 double.
- Siegel said a new automotive sponsor may come on board soon with the discussions at the “term sheet” level and the discussions have been going on for more than a year and a half. He also spoke of a technology company possibly coming on as a sponsor and that they had meetings at “one of their headquarters” in Portland.
- Siegel said “we have to figure out an effective way to communicate with all of our stakeholders… and figure out what to do when everyone doesn’t agree.”
- The IAAF is trying to work to give athletes more logo space on jerseys, but a limiting factor is renegotiating its long-term contract with marketing company Dentsu, which has limitations on logos in place. Siegel is actively involved with this as he is the chair of the IAAF Marketing Commission.
- Becca Gillespy Peter addressed the Board and raised concerns about the level of sexual abuse in high school track and field and suggested a variety of ways USATF’s existing SafeSport efforts could be enhanced in hopes that they could begin to have an impact beyond the scope of the NGB. She also noted not all the volunteers in Des Moines are compliant with Safe Sport.
- Lauren Fleshman said many athletes are concerned it costs $350 yearly among three services (USATF/RunnerSpace+, NBC Sports Gold, and Flotrack) to watch track online. She asked if nothing can be done about the cost can the athletes have some input on the broadcasts and use split screen better. She said, “A lot of athletes and their parents [are the ones] paying that money.” Siegel said if the concerns were brought to him USATF could do something with the broadcasts it has under its control/influence on (USATF+, NBC Gold).
- Stephanie Hightower hopes to be “vying” for one of the IAAF Vice President spots as, due to a new rule, it is required that one go to a woman.
Quick Take: The fact that the Board in essence permanently suspended Lananna at its last meeting instead of removing him from office was suspect enough, but today’s actions which violate USATF Article 11H cannot be allowed to stand. Change will not come to USATF without a new Board and the Board should not be allowed to violate USATF rules to protect its own by illegally extending their terms.