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BTA: No comment on Poyourow resignation rumor

Posted by on February 3rd, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Poyourow at Build It launch.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Portland Mercury News Editor Matt Davis reported last night that Michelle Poyourow of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is rumored to be leaving the organization soon.

Here’s the opening of that story:

“Rumors are swirling that the lead local advocate for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance will soon announce her resignation—possibly over the next week.”

When asked about the rumor, BTA Communications Coordinator Margaux Mennesson said, “We are really focusing on the [Build It] rally right now and so I have no comment on the Michelle Poyourow rumor… We’ll be happy to talk to you Friday about it.”

Poyourow echoed this sentiment. When I asked her via email for clarification on the Mercury story, she responded with, “No time for rumors – all hands on deck for tomorrow’s rally!”

This rumor surfaces just one day after the BTA announced Gerik Kransky would become their new Advocacy Campaign Manager. Poyourow’s title remains Advocacy Manager.

Poyourow has been the main face and voice behind the BTA’s big push for support of the 2030 bike plan. The BTA website lists Kransky’s role as being, “focused on building strong public support for the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030.”

I have a call into BTA Board Chair Mary Roberts for clarification about whether or not Kranksy’s hire impacts Poyourow’s work with the organization. If it does, perhaps she isn’t thrilled about being second fiddle?

The Mercury’s Matt Davis stands by his story. I spoke with him via phone a few minutes ago and he told me (without hesitation) that he is 100% convinced Poyourow will step down, but not because of the Kranksy hire. Here’s what Davis says:

“It’s my understanding that Poyourow and Bricker were both working constructively with city government and were getting what they wanted, but the Board of the BTA wanted to take a bit more of an activist approach and be a bit more confrontational. They fired bricker… and I think Poyourow knew she would get pushed [out] at some point.”

If true, the timing could not be worse. The BTA is still without an executive director and Poyourow is their most veteran staffer (she was hired in 2003 2006).

Read the full story (and interesting discussion in the comments that follow) on the Portland Mercury blog.

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  • FactCheck February 3, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Poyourow was hired in 2006.

    Oops. Thanks for catching that. I’ve edited the story. — Jonathan

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  • Jackattak February 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Reading Mr. Davis’ comments, I’m a bit worried! Why on Earth would the BTA “want to take a bit more of an activist approach and be a bit more confrontational”?

    That’s the exact opposite of what the movement needs!

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  • rixtir February 3, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    BTA is getting weirder by the minute. What, exactly, is going on over there?

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  • Nick V February 3, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    From what I remember reading right here about her comments after Bricker got fired, I’m thinking you won’t get much info out of Mary Roberts. But she’ll keep asking for donations.

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  • Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    How about making Michelle Poyourow the new BTA director?

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  • beth h February 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    “…I’m thinking you won’t get much info out of Mary Roberts. But she’ll keep asking for donations.”

    And will get fewer, IMO.

    This does NOT look good for the BTA just now.

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  • Babygorilla February 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Then, its in play. If it wasn’t, then a simple “no, she’s not stepping down or being fired” would address the issue.

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  • Paul Cone February 3, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Ditto what Anonymous said.

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  • KWW February 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    So how much money does the BTA get from public funding to act in this way?

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  • Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Losing Michelle will be bad for the BTA.

    That being said, her skills and talents are being wasted.

    Best of luck!

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  • Matt Picio February 3, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    KWW (#9) – None. The BTA gets public funding for Safe Routes to Schools, which is exactly what they spend it on, as required by law. What they do with their donations may be another story, but people have the option not to donate.

    There are legitimate criticisms about the BTA, but that’s not one of them – they have the financial reporting and transparency to the city to back that one up.

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  • are February 3, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    re comment 2, maybe not BTA but someone needs to be more confrontational or we will never get rid of the far to the right and mandatory sidepath laws and never get local control of speed limits.

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  • Kevin Wagoner February 3, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Bummer, I felt like Michelle was doing a great job.

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  • Jackattak February 3, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    are – Agree with you on the “maybe not the BTA” part (emphasis on without the “maybe”).

    The BTA should not be confrontational if they’re going to be the frontrunner to the public. All that will do is enhance the Oregonian’s influence on an “us vs. them” situation (which wouldn’t exist otherwise).

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  • cyclist February 3, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I can’t imagine what the folks at the BTA are thinking, but I imagine they’ll only realize they’ve made a mistake after the donations slow to a trickle. Why on Earth would you donate your money to an organization that is as disorganized and opaque as this one?

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  • rixtir February 3, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    That’s the problem– none of us knows wtf is going on over there. It does not bode well for an organization when its base is as baffled as the BTA has left us.

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  • Tall Mike February 3, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    She is one of the best advocates for biking I have met. She really changed my persepective on bikes and how the we are viewed by the public. I have made a conscious effort over the years to obey the laws of the road so cars would respect us more – and it works. If she does leave the BTA, it would be their loss. I also was hoping she might be the new director.

    But…it is still a rumor.

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  • Marcus Griffith February 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    If there was no truth to the rumors there would be no need to talk about it Friday.

    Will Michelle need an organized bike move group to move her-soon-to-be-empty desk?

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  • gregg woodlawn February 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Damn. Michelle is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Hopefully, if she is leaving- it is to take a job with the city. I sure hope that Portland doesn’t lose her.

    Unrelated to Michelle- But related to the article: If the BTA is going to become less mainstream (and instead stand up more to the city and demand more equitable treatment for cyclists and pedestrian) then I’m thrilled.

    No more “Let’s tax Cyclists.”
    No more “Let’s support a 12 lane bridge.”
    Hopefully we’ll get more “We make up 6.4% of the transportation, but only get 1% of the funding and we won’t stand for it!”

    BUILD IT (The Bicycle Master Plan- not the 12 lane bridge)

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  • Patty February 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Nice discourse on bad news. I’ll repeat what I said to Michelle – I hope if the rumor is true that the move is all about her and not caused by nasty internal politics, which is what I think all us usually supportive members are concerned about. She would do a great job anywhere – wouldn’t that be great if she went to the City?

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  • KWW February 3, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for the info Matt (#11). On their site is a list of donors.

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  • Jeff February 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    I call for an immediate dissolution of the BTA summarily and without further consideration. Fire the board, shutter the doors. Let a new organization come forth organically.

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  • Flora February 3, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Let’s assume this rumor is true for purposes of the comments that follow here.

    A little reality check:

    It’s important to distinguish between the characteristics of any given person and the effectiveness of that person in any given situation.

    By any measure Michelle is a bright and thoughtful person with a passion for creating more sustainable communities through increased bicycling. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into effectiveness.

    You’d be hard pressed to find any City employee in the know who would effuse praise on the work of the BTA over the last few years. The accomplishments around more/safer/better bicycling in Portland have come as a result of advocacy internal to the city.

    It’s easy to elaborate on this observation with all kinds of examples, but for relative brevity let’s move on.

    Let’s analogize the evolution of expectations for bicycling in Portland to professional bike racing. If your definition of success is to place reasonably well in the North Park Block criterium you have one set of expectations for evaluating your performance. If your name is Lance Armstrong anything less than a Tour d’ France victory is a disappointing result.

    Portland has decided 6% bike mode split doesn’t meet expectations. It doesn’t want to be judged by where it places in the North Park Block criterium. Portland, by virtue of its Bike Plan, aspires to placing well in the Tour d’ France, i.e. to be taken seriously as a peer city of the great Northern European bike cities.

    The BTA board, to its credit, recognized that Bricker wasn’t their Lance Armstrong. A capably smart and perfectly likeable guy – absolutely – but not a Tour d’ France quality organizational leader. Their botched handling of his departure sowed seeds of doubt about their ability to define success for that leadership position and find the personality/skillset to fill it, but that’s another story.

    Poyourow had a lot in common with Bricker, for obvious reasons.

    At the risk of belaboring the point, what people need to understand is that as the stakes get higher the skill set needs to expand. Yesterday’s leadership wasn’t going to position BTA for success meeting tomorrow’s expectations. The Lance Armstrong of bicycle advocacy is hard to come by, no doubt. But Portland and BTA’s board have said they’re aiming to be among the world’s best. They need truly world-class talent to get that.

    Personally, I think the board should be cut some slack. Yes, be very concerned because the Bricker situation was handled with grave ineptitude. But let’s see who they bring in before casting stones.

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  • Matt Picio February 4, 2010 at 1:18 am

    KWW (#21) – Do you intend to harass the donors? If they’re individuals, leave ’em alone – people have a right to give to whoever they want. If they’re businesses, you certainly have a right to tell them you won’t do business with them because they support the BTA, but again, that’s the choice of the business. If you really want to change the BTA, join and either lobby the board or rally the membership to elect a new board.

    Then again, it’s your life, do whatever you feel is right.

    Jeff (#22) – It’s a membership organization, get enough support for your cause and the members can elect a new board. If you feel that strongly, act.

    The BTA is not going to be one-size-fits-all for the bike community. Half their activity is Safe Routes to Schools. Someone needs to do that, it’s an important program. Against the current CRC? Check. Support the Bike Plan? Check. Lobby the legislature? Check. I don’t think they were effective last session, but they were active, and they got some laws passed – hopefully said laws will become more effective over time, and hopefully someone will hold state and local feet to the fire to prosecute under those laws – but that’s not the BTA’s job, because as a 501(c)(3) they are specifically prohibited from endorsing specific candidates like District Attorneys. I think the biggest problem is that many in the bike community expect the BTA to do everything, and they can’t. We need another 1-3 groups in Portland to tackle the wide variety of issues we are dealing with here as users of human-powered transportation.

    Flora (#23) – The BTA’s board should not be cut any slack. They have a number of professional, talented, high-profile people who have the capacity to set strategy, hire the best talent, and leverage donations from a wide array of sources. Their board includes a co-founder of a large local Internet Service Provider and a former VP of Nike among their capable ranks. They should be challenged, and the membership should hold them accountable for their actions. Federal and State law requires them to do the best they can to ensure the organization serves the public in accordance with its exempt purpose.

    That said, they should also be praised and acknowledged for what they do right – for their successes, their influence, and their ability to set the tone of discussion and ensure that cycling has a place at the table in transportation discussions. It’s very easy to criticize and then forget to credit – we as BTA members, members of the public, and cyclists should be doing both.

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  • kernel February 4, 2010 at 1:54 am

    At this point, should we be surprised if the BTA starts supporting the taxation of cyclists, the registration of bikes, and required liability ins.?

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  • naomi February 4, 2010 at 2:12 am

    Look at all this reactionary boycotting of the BTA, ignoring all the good they have done, because someone MAY or MAY NOT be resigning, the circumstances of which are completely unknown. So touchy, some of you 🙂

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  • Flora February 4, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Matt #24 Thanks for making my point for me. While the board fumbled Bricker’s firing, there is indeed a lot of talent on the board. We should give them a chance to perform.

    As to the membership challenging the board, sure, that’s the way it should work. In practice the membership is all over the place. Just look at this thread. You’ll get no useful direction from the membership.

    Fact is, membership needs to see the organization actively engaged in some victories. Then – and only then – will the membership coalesce around a board-driven strategy executed by a world class staff.

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  • Bob_M February 4, 2010 at 8:09 am

    “…the Board of the BTA wanted to take a bit more of an activist approach and be a bit more confrontational.”

    The company I work for is a strong supporter of bicycle use and its advancement, but I doubt that they want to have their name associated with a confrontational organization.

    Michelle’s persona and tone helps shape a BTA that financial supporters could rally around.

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  • eggtooth February 4, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Conspiracy, conjecture, political intrigue, rumors, blame, secret agendas, professional failure! Or perhaps she’s just leaving for personal reasons, with absolutely nothing related to conspiracy, conjecture, political intrigue, rumors, blame, secret agendas, professional failure. We all have personal goals, dreams, ideas, and choose the time that works for us personally to follow them. Many of us have left jobs simply because, “This is what’s right for me at this stage in my life.” Relax, friends.

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  • are February 4, 2010 at 8:54 am

    re comment 23, is there some specific deficiency in michelle’s performance you would like to point to? and who is this superstar and what might s/he have done differently?

    if not the BTA then some grassroots advocate for bicyclists needs to be out there every day making the simple, eloquent statement that we have a right to share the common space. does not require “lance armstrong.”

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  • Anonymous February 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Naomi and all-
    This “reactionary boycotting” is just that, nut not “because someone MAY or MAY NOT be resigning”.

    I would argue that it is a reaction to many recent (last 18 months) fumbles made by the BTA. The organization, while financially stronger than ever, seems less effective than ever. I do not know that they have a clear direction other than a vague goal of making cycling better in PDX. Their actions and motives are not transparent. There seems to be a disconnect between the BTA and their members, and their members only make up a small percentage of bike riders in PDX.

    As with any relationship that is not working, at some point you need to stop looking at the past (the good they have done) and start looking at the future.

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  • beth h February 4, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Right now the BTA feels confused, and therefore confusing. I think what’s needed here is a whole lot of CLARITY, and very quickly, before there’s any significant hemmoraghing of more money and talent.

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  • Realist February 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Wow, Naomi,
    You need a reality check, an organization that relies on funding from the public yet operates under a level of secrecy is doomed. As we all know as of lately, transparency is critical. They are acting mysteriously and shifty. it should be obvious here public, you’re watching a sinking ship and they’re taking your donations with them. I guarantee this Roberts character will jump ship and claim to not get any monkey poo on her. How’s that for the captain of any ship? Who wants to guess who will be the next group and they’re supporters.

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  • rixtir February 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I don’t think it’s reactionary to state the obvious, and ask what’s happening.

    Karl Rohde, Scott Bricker, Michelle Poyourow….

    We could perhaps even add Evan Manvel’s name to that list. We’ve had no explanation for some very strange behavior, and with very strange timing. If the Board is world-class, they sure aren’t showing it.

    If your membership is confused by your actions, the easiest way to clear up the confusion is to just clear up the confusion.

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  • Anonymouse February 4, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    If you look at it from the perspective of career path this is a good time to leave the BTA for Michelle.

    – she will have achieved a goal, and will be seeking new goals
    – a new director will have a new direction
    – she can practically write her own ticket
    – ending on a high note is always a good thing

    It would be smart thing from a smart person to move on at this moment.

    She’ll be missed but Margaux, Carl, Michael, Gerik and the rest will do just fine.

    Say what you want about the BTA but the politics are on their side. They don’t have to be much beyond competent.

    “How” has been written. Now we can move onto “when”.

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  • shrilly February 5, 2010 at 11:33 am

    It’s Friday, the day the BTA would be “happy” to talk about it. What’s the word?

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