Why Focus on Governance Now?

Nov. 11, 2008, 2:03 p.m. (ET)
Through open letters to our membership (click here to view the most recent letter on the homepage of our website) from our Board President Gina Sanchez, we have explained the series of decisions by our Board to undertake a sweeping review of how USA Canoe/Kayak is organized and governed. From some of the comments and questions I’ve heard we need to provide more information to all our members about what is being done and why.

One immediate question is why now and why did the Board feel delaying the elections and Annual Meeting was necessary. I’ll try to tackle that two-part question first.

Viewed from the position of a USACK member who is not involved in our Board it may well appear that the subject of governance reform sprung up overnight. Actually it is a subject that has been discussed often over at least the past three years. It started when the USOC went through its own very difficult governance review and restructuring process in 2003 and 2004.

USOC had a Board of Directors with 125 members. The Board had more than two dozen committees. The USOC experienced rapid turnover in its top management and was plagued by a number of highly publicized scandals. No less an interested party than the US Congress stepped in and essentially told USOC to reform itself or it would be done for (or to) them.   

Participating in this process was a very interesting initiation for me in the first few months of my tenure with USACK. The end result has been very rewarding. The parallel task forces created by Congress and the USOC gathered the best advice available on the governance for not-for-profit corporations. The USOC Board was shrunk to 11 members. The new Board has only essential committees, for nominations, audit, compensation, etc. This new USOC Board is highly independent, no longer composed of individuals representing its many constituent member organizations. The new Board governs and lets the staff manage the organization.

One conclusion of this review of how USOC is governed was that the overall reform could not ultimately succeed unless the governance of the National Governing Bodies that make up the Olympic Committee was improved as well. To this end the USOC compiled all the information it had collected on what constitutes the best practices for governing not-for profits and established a set of guidelines for its NGB’s.

Since 2005 USACK has agreed each year in its funding agreement with USOC to work toward improving its governance and bringing it in line with these guidelines.  The Board has discussed this at a number of its meetings and in 2007 started the process by engaging in an extensive review of our organization’s stated mission and vision. The Board felt this was a necessary prerequisite for addressing changes in its structure. The re-stated mission and vision statements are available under the Governance section of our website.

During 2008 it became apparent that we were not only facing increasing pressure form USOC to deal with needed changes in our governance structure, but it became obvious that our structure itself was not adequately serving our members and was in fact an obstacle to achieving the Board’s vision for USACK.

Having reached this conclusion the Board took the difficult, but courageous decision to immediately start a reform process rather than defer this to a subsequent Board. It was felt that the beginning of a new Olympic Quadrenium was the right time to implement such a change. The board created a “blue ribbon” task force of high-profile figures within our various sports to undertake this review on a fast track basis.  The group has access to all the knowledge and experience USOC has gained in the restructuring of the governance of more than 30 of its NGB’s so far.

The Task Force has been asked to make its preliminary report to the Board at its meeting in Charlotte on December 6. This will allow an opportunity for many interested parties to consider the direction of the proposed reform and give the Task Force adequate time to complete its proposed new by-laws and publicize them to all our members before the end of the year.

Our Board has carefully considered these moves and has taken each step in accordance with our existing By-laws. That is why the Annual Meeting required under our by-laws has been proponed until January 31. To allay any fears that these moves might in any way be seen to benefit any one or more of our existing elected Directors, the Board has agreed that none of its current members will serve on the next, newly constituted Board that will result from this process.

In the coming weeks I will use this blog to explain in more detail what the task force is doing and how it will strengthen USACK for all of its constituent parts, including not only our sprint and slalom Olympic sports, but our growing family of other paddling sports as well.