BikePortland.org

Doug Parrow, 13-year veteran of BTA Board, resigns

Doug Parrow speaking for the BTA at
the 2010 Oregon Bike Summit.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Doug Parrow has resigned from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) Board of Directors after 13 years. Parrow was the longest serving board member in the organization’s history and also served as Chair of the BTA’s Legislative Committee.

Reached by phone this morning at his home in Keizer (near Salem), Parrow said he decided to leave the BTA because of what he sees as their increasingly Portland-centric perspective. “I realized that the organization, at least in my mind, wasn’t going to achieve the kind of statewide goals I had anticipated and worked toward. As a person from Keizer, I asked myself, why am I burning energy and time participating in discussions of bicycling in Portland?”

“I realized that the organization… wasn’t going to achieve the kind of statewide goals I had anticipated and worked toward.”
— Doug Parrow

Parrow said he appreciates what Portland has done for bicycling, but it’s just not his priority. When he first got involved with the board in 1997, he perceived a “real commitment” to becoming a statewide organization, but feels like “for whatever reason, that just hasn’t happened.” Parrow now says he’s talking among Salem-area advocates about how best to work on bicycling issues. Those advocates, he says, “Have expressed disappointment that they see themselves somewhat cut loose by the organization.”

“In my mind, what’s changed is that the BTA won’t be soliciting members from outside the metro area and members from outside the area ought not really expect an organizational commitment to support and encourage their advocacy efforts… Rather than seeing ourselves as BTA members trying to advocate locally, I think we probably are going to see ourselves as affiliated with some other organization for local advocacy.”

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky said he suspected Parrow was at the end of his service as a board member, but his resignation letter was still a bit unexpected. Sadowsky said during recent conversations about the BTA’s future (as part of their strategic planning process), “It seemed like we [Parrow and the BTA] were diverging a bit… And from my conversations with other people on the Board it’s been happening slowly over time.”

Parrow at a news conference on
the Vehicular Homicide Bill in June 2008.

Is the BTA headed toward a more Portland-centric future like Parrow envisions? Sadowsky says changes are definitely coming, but he maintains that the organization is not planning to officially give up their statewide role.

From Sadowsky’s perspective, the BTA is in the midst of “some exciting conversations” about their future and the question of how to best play a statewide role is part of them. “The things we’re talking about are being very strategic about where we do our work and being clear about what we do and don’t do statewide.”

According to Parrow, recent board discussions have made it clear to him that, “There has been at best a lack of interest in moving the statewide focus forward.” He also feels that the idea of the BTA becoming a metro and regional organization, “Have really been on the table and seriously discussed.”

Both Sadowsky and Parrow acknowledge that being effective as a statewide bicycle advocacy group is a challenging proposition. While Parrow wants a stronger statewide focus, he also admits that it might not be possible. “It may be a model that isn’t viable. My inability and the inability of the board over the course of the last 13 years to really make the statewide vision a reality hints at the difficulty of doing so.”

“One thing we have a problem with is that we are perceived outside of Portland as being too Portland-centric, but inside Portland, we’re seen as being not Portland enough. We can never do right by everyone.”
— Rob Sadowsky

Parrow’s vision was to have BTA members in all corners of Oregon so that ground troops could be called upon whenever an issue or legislation heated up. While it sounds great, most of the country’s top advocacy groups have a metro-area or regional focus and it’s hard to find highly effective statewide organizations.

Sadowsky says when it comes to the statewide versus Portland question, the BTA just can’t win. “The problem with that [Parrow’s vision] is we really don’t have the resources to be everywhere, so we get weak by trying to be strong everywhere. One thing we have a problem with is that we are perceived outside of Portland as being too Portland-centric, but inside Portland, we’re seen as being not Portland enough. We can never do right by everyone.”

Parrow has been a fixture for BTA’s in Salem, where he’s guided their legislative efforts for years. He says his opinion and the conventional wisdom of the Legislative Committee has always been that a statewide membership base was needed to pass important bills. “I continue to believe that’s the case, but at the same time, I don’t know; we’ll see how that plays out.”

Parrow, a retiree who formerly worked for the Oregon Water Resources Department, had much more experience than anyone else at the organization. Of the 19 remaining board members, only two five have been there longer than three years (Susan Otcenas, Jeff Knapp, and Nancy Pautsch (2007), Mary Roberts (2006), Mary Fetsch (2003)) .

“It’s going to be hard to replace someone like Doug,” noted Sadowsky, “We don’t have a large history base at the BTA and that’s the thing we’ll miss the most.”

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