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BTA finance director Roopal Patel resigns

Posted by on July 2nd, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Roopal Patel
(Photos: Elly Blue)

Roopal Patel, who was hired as the first ever Finance Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance back in April 2009, has decided to leave the organization. Patel becomes the fourth BTA director-level staffer to have either resigned or be fired in the past year.

Rob Sadowsky, the BTA’s new Executive Director, confirmed Patel’s resignation and said she’ll stay on through August to help with the hiring process. No reasons were cited for the resignation. Sadowsky says Patel was simply “ready to move on.”

“I don’t believe members should be concerned. We’re putting together a great team that’s going to move the BTA forward.”
— Rob Sadowsky, Executive Director

Patel moved to Portland — specifically to work for the BTA — from Montreal, Quebec where she worked as an auditor for accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. While at the BTA, Patel is widely credited for her role in improving their financial management practices. In October 2009, she aided the BTA in a clean up of over $92,000 in lost funds due to accounting errors.

Patel has been at the BTA during what is easily the most tumultuous period in the organization’s 16-year history. Two of the organization’s top staffers — former executive director Scott Bricker and former government affairs director Karl Rohde — were fired and numerous other employees have resigned. In February, longtime advocacy leader Michelle Poyourow resigned and just a few weeks ago, former volunteer organizer and human resources manager Michael O’Leary (who most recently led their charge on the Burnside-Couch issue) also decided to move on.

Patel’s two other director-level colleagues, former operations and communications director Angela Koch and former development director Eileen Trudeau, have also resigned.

The BTA’s former directors team as seen in October 2009. All three have since resigned.
L to R: Eileen Trudeau, Angela Koch, Roopal Patel.

Reached today in his new office at BTA headquarters in downtown Portland, executive director Rob Sadowsky said his members have no reason to worry. “I don’t believe members should be concerned. We’re putting together a great team that’s going to move the BTA forward.”

Sadowsky said he would have loved to have Patel be a member of that team and he noted that her tenure “was brief but it was incredibly productive.” “The new person will be benefit from that and she leaves the work in good hands.”

Asked whether Patel and all the other staff changes will make his job more difficult, Sadowsky replied, “I have to go with what I’ve got. In both cases [Patel and Trudeau] I would have loved for them to stay, but the best thing I can do right now is hold together a great team.”

Sadowsky’s presence will be key for the BTA. He comes from leading an advocacy organization in Chicago with three times their size and he’s known for his financial management and organizational acumen. At the recent National Bike Summit, Sadowsky won an award from the national non-profit Alliance for Biking and Walking for “Best Practices.”

With Sadowsky’s experience and Patel sticking around to help with the transition, he says, “We shouldn’t be missing a beat.”

[Disclosure: Patel’s partner is Jonathan “J.R.” Reed, who is the sole paid member of the BikePortland staff.]

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

25 Comments
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    q'Tzal July 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Is this a toxic work environment or is level of turn over normal?
    If the prior what does it say about the BTA’s ability to affect their goals?

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    bob July 2, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    says more about the board of directors

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    151 July 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Abandon ship!

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    Nat West July 2, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Do you write “Disclaimer” at the bottom (like you did) or would “Disclosure” be more accurate?

    oops. my mistake. changed it to disclosure. thanks — Jonathan

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  • tonyt
    tonyt July 2, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    I second q’Tzal #1.

    There sure seems to be something wrong at the BTA.

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    beth h July 2, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Where is the BTA Board on all this? Would be good to hear from them.

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    Rotten in Denmark July 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    When you fire or lose all of your top staff, when you have no executive director, the Board of Directors is to blame for their leadership.

    A strong organization requires experienced and tenured staff, and the Board has failed to foster leadership and a work environment to retain staff. Instead, they seem to believe that pushing more and more people out that somehow they’ll end up finding the magic people that might make them happy. It seems impossible, and has been going on for years.

    There’s an incredible amount of mismanagement going on, and the BTA’s name is clearly mud.

    While they have some new staff talent, there’s no doubt that the current Board leadership should resign. Until that time, the BTA will have to re-earn my support. Of course, they’ll also have to deal with their hemorraging membership numbers, and dramatically shrinking annual dinner, which seems to be half the size it used to be. A brilliant organization, pissed away by an incompetent board.

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    q'Tzal July 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    BTA board? I was starting to think everyone quit..
    Shades of Portland Jailblazers, Jeepers!

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    trail user July 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Any former BTA’ers wanna chime in? I know there’s a few that read comments. Hello? Are you out there?

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    Crash N. Burns July 2, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I just ordered my “Share the Road” license plates. Part of the fee supposedly goes to the BTA. Sure wish it didn’t.

    Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Pure insanity.

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    Jacob July 2, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    as I have said before, I will not support the BTA until they can get their isht together. It’s ridiculous how many top level employees they’ve gone through in the past couple of years. If I was CEO of a company with this much top level turn-over, I would be fired.

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    wallis July 2, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Hell or high water, I like the BTA.

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    BURR July 2, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    When is AROW going to become a membership organization? I’m looking for someone to give my money to instead of the BTA.

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    Jason July 2, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Good non-profits in horrible economies don’t have anywhere near the turnover that the BTA has been experienced the last year. Sorry Rob, but I AM concerned. Majorly concerned.

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    Donna July 2, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    When you fire or lose all of your top staff, when you have no executive director, the Board of Directors is to blame for their leadership.

    Ding, ding, we have a winner.

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    are July 3, 2010 at 11:05 am

    re comment 13, for the moment at least (speaking only for myself), i think one of the virtues of AROW is that it is a completely open, project-driven group, in which anyone can participate. if something needed funding, we could submit a proposal to umbrella or just put out a coffee can for contributions. we need not be concerned about exempt status, tax deductions, hierarchies, infighting, or whatever. just put the ideas forward, and form fluid groupings of activists around them. BTA has its place. i am a dues-paying member, and i work on its legislative committee. if there is to be (and i agree there should be) a smaller, hungrier, maybe angrier, certainly more engaged advocacy group to counter or supplement BTA, it does not have to be seen as a replacement.

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    Jerry_W July 3, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Agree, Board needs to look at itself and make major changes. I know of one member who is totally worthless, he may be worse that that actually.

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    steve July 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    follow the money…wasted monies on staff that gets oriented and then leaves. what a shame.

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    velo July 4, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    I’m wondering what is up with the board as well. The board is the keeper of the mission and is bottom line responsible for the organizations health. Not really my place to second guess, but it seems like there has been a failure of leadership in the organization.

    That said, in practical situations the board can’t be entirely blamed when there are issues internal to an organization. The staff are the ones who run the day to day operation and are the core of the organizations structure.

    Advocacy work is incredibly stressful and it is important the NPOs do what it takes to hire and retain good people. You have to build to last and turn over makes that more difficult. Unless people have good working conditions, decent pay and all that it is very hard to concentration on doing good advocacy work.

    I hope the BTA can get back on track. Portland, and Oregon, are great places to cycle but that doesn’t mean that the work is done. There are continued opportunities to move forward on a number of pressing projects. Hopefully Rob will be able to come in, assemble a great leadership team and get things back on the right track for the BTA to be a major and growing player.

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    robert July 5, 2010 at 2:21 am

    sounds like staff is distancing themselves from certain resume death.

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    beth h July 5, 2010 at 11:22 am

    In light of what certainly looks like, at worst, near-complete failure at the suit-and-tie level — or at best, an extreme case of reticence — maybe we need to go back to less suit-and-tie action and more self-empowered, Critical Mass action.

    Riding your bike ANYWAY is still the most political way to advocate for riding your bike.

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    J.Chong July 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Previous poster said:
    “In light of what certainly looks like, at worst, near-complete failure at the suit-and-tie level — or at best, an extreme case of reticence — maybe we need to go back to less suit-and-tie action and more self-empowered, Critical Mass action.”

    I agree that one needs to bike often and well, as the lst major step in “walking” the talk to advocate for cycling infrastucture improvements.

    However I disagree with beth h just by merely rejecting suit-and-tie action and more Critical Mass action, will be a permanent long-term solution for improving cycling infrastructure planning and partnerships amongst municipalities, cycling advocacy group(s) and other related organiations.

    The hard reality for any type of non-profit organization whose primary mandate includes visionary leadership organization, and execution of its programs, human resources, services and finances, does require different types of paid staff workers and a board that doesn’t merely just climb on the soap box to speak publicly on cycling initiatives, but actually understands and implements in a daily business processes which prevent problems of financial management, missed marketing opportunities, lack of accountability for service progrm results and whatever other weaknesses.

    It’s not exciting stuff to manage finances, train staff/volunteers nor keep program user/service statistics, but critical to organizational survival, credibility, funding and community support.

    My comments in no way reflect any understanding of BTA since I’m up here in Canada. It’s just a general observation on problems in non-profit organizations that have a volunteer board (who themselves have mixed credentials to aid in board guidance to paid staff) and operate usually on tight budgets with enthusiastic paid staff …who are driven by their passion.

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    J.Chong July 5, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Just to add: It boggles the mind that Patel (or anyone) tackling and resolving financial problems for any sizable organization. That is a serious, mammoth achievement.

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    KWW July 6, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Or perhaps the BTA is just the ‘village tramp’ of non-profits, for wonks seeking to stuff their resume…

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    Joe Rowe August 7, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Why is the BTA falling apart? Let’s look at another city doing it properly.

    The SF Bike Coalition is a 501c4, it has 11,000 members, and it has the guts to take on elections and politicians.

    These are all things that the BTA avoids. It has made the BTA nearly toothless 501c3.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/08/06/BA151EQJ07.DTL

    “Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials have been eager to move ahead with the cycling improvements, which have been demanded by the politically powerful biking community.”

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