Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 10th, 2009 at 8:00 am
So far, we don’t have many specifics about the type of leader the BTA is looking for (they haven’t released a job description yet). However, it’s safe to assume they’re looking for someone who will take the organization to the next level. They’ve hinted at becoming a more “aggressive” advocacy organization, and, with an annual budget in excess of $1 million and a large staff, they’ll also need a sterling manager (of both people and pennies).
What follows, in no particular order, is a completely unscientific and unsubstantiated list of local, regional, and national bike superstars who might want to consider throwing their hat in to the ring (or not).
Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie
Mr. Kurmaskie is an interesting possibility. He’s a best-selling author and accomplished speaker who has honed his craft on stage all over the country. He’s also got roots in grassroots environmental activism. Kurmaskie put that experience to use when he sprung into action in November 2008 as a key leader in the We Are ALL Traffic coalition and as emcee of a rally calling for safer streets in the wake of two high-profile deaths in Portland.
We saw Kurmaskie’s charisma at work again at the waterfront rally against the Columbia River Crossing project. You might also remember his starring role in a series of YouTube videos that skewered the CRC.
Kurmaskie is the classic activist: Creative, bold, and focused on his message. He’s already made a name for himself as an author and he might be looking for a new challenge. We also know he cares deeply about bike and transportation safety in Portland (he’s got four kids, so he’s got a big motivation to keep our streets safe).
Mr. Neufeld, a legend in the bike advocacy world, is the former Executive Director and Chief Strategy Officer of Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance (formerly called the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation). Neufeld was the ED of Chicago’s largest bike advocacy organization for nearly 20 years (from 1987 to 2005). Last summer, he was hired away by bike industry behemoth SRAM to become the director of the SRAM Cycling Fund. In his current capacity, Neufeld is in charge of giving away millions of dollars to advocacy programs around the country.
Neufeld has the advocacy chops and his experience with SRAM has given him a unique national perspective. If he’s missing a connection to the grassroots and wants to get back into activism a job with the BTA might look appealing.
*Update: Mr. Neufeld wrote in with a few of his own suggestions excellent candidates from the national advocacy scene: Paul Steely-White from Transportation Alternatives in NYC; Leah Shahum from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition; Rob Sadowsky from the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago; Eric Gilliland from the Washington (DC) Area Bicycle Association, and Dan Grunndig from Bicycle Colorado.
Mr. Ping is a former BTA staffer and veteran advocate who’s made his living promoting bicycles since the 1980s in the California Bay Area. He used to run the BTA’s Safe Routes to School program, but left that gig for a major step up as the Statewide Network Manager at the Safe Routes National Partnership, an organization funded by Bikes Belong.
Ping recently got a major promotion within the Partnership and has considerable autonomy and clout in the Safe Routes scene. It’s a dream job for someone who has devoted his life to helping kids get on bikes. However, his job demands a lot of travel away from Portland. If he’s looking for something closer to home, and a chance to make a difference in his own backyard, perhaps the BTA job will catch his attention.
Mr. Middaugh was Chief of Staff for former Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten. After trying his own run at City Council, Middaugh become a member of the BTA’s Board of Directors and eventually ended up in his current position as Communications Director at Metro.
Middaugh understands how change happens. As a political insider for Housing Commissioner Sten, he worked closely with homeless activists, a group some say is the most influential in City Hall (with bikes being a close second of course). Middaugh would bring a potent mix of activist spirit and political insight to the BTA. He’s likely making more at Metro than he would as the BTA’s leader, but the payment for leading Portland to the bike promised-land might be enough to lure him away from his desk job.
Mr. Bragdon is serving out his final months as President of Metro. In that position he has spearheaded their Active Transportation Partnership and launched The Intertwine — an effort to coordinate trails and parks promotion efforts throughout the region.
Some have whispered Bragdon’s name for Oregon Governor, but so far he has not shown interest. Bragdon is a big picture thinker with major bike and active transportation credentials. He’s also got extensive experience at the local, regional and national levels of bureaucratic and political maneuvering. He might be a bit overqualified, but if he wants to put his active transportation visions into practice, he might feel more empowered to do so as the leader of an advocacy group than as an elected.
Ms. Poyourow is the BTA’s current #1 advocacy staffer. Without a leader currently, Poyourow has emerged as the BTA’s strongest voice — whether she’s talking tough on the Columbia River Crossing project or taking PBOT bicycle coordinator Roger Geller to task on the Bicycle Plan. Her style is professional, confident, and collaborative.
Conventional wisdom is that the BTA isn’t looking to hire from within. They’ve made it clear they’re doing a “national search”, however, that’s the same thing they said before they hired Scott Bricker. Poyourow, through her current work, has an established network of advocacy contacts across Oregon and with the BTA’s renewed statewide focus she could really hit the ground running.
Ms. Birk has done just about everything in the bike movement but lead a non-profit. After cutting her teeth at an enviro/transportation think tank in Washington D.C., she took over the City of Portland’s bike program in its heyday. Working with then Commissioner of Transportation Earl Blumenauer, Birk masterfully pushed biking in Portland and laid the groundwork for much of what we all enjoy today. She went on to build Alta Planning and Design into a large and successful company and is due to launch a memoir of her life (Joyride, which she’s writing with Joe Kurmaskie).
Birk has the energy, vision, and spirit to lead two BTAs. She’s been an inside player for years and has had an incalculable impact on Portland’s bike-friendliness. Would she leave her current successes for the daily grind of running an advocacy group? Not sure, but she definitely has the heart, qualifications, and energy to do it.
Do you have ideas about who should lead the BTA? Or, perhaps you can add some thoughts about what traits they should look for in a new leader? We need a flourishing BTA to take big steps for bicycling in this town, and the right leader could make all the difference.