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Rob Sadowsky let go by board of The Street Trust (formerly known as the BTA)

Posted by on January 10th, 2017 at 10:39 am

Sadowsky this past summer.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Board of Directors of The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) just announced that Executive Director Rob Sadowsky is stepping down has been relieved of his duties effective immediately.

The former deputy director of the organization, Stephanie Noll, will take his place as an interim leader until a new director is found. Noll left The Street Trust back in July.

Here’s the full statement from The Street Trust:

The Board of Directors of The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) announced today that Rob Sadowsky will be stepping down as Executive Director, effective immediately. The Board has asked Stephanie Noll, the former Deputy Executive Director of The Street Trust, to step in as interim head of the organization and has launched a national search for the organization’s next executive director.

The Board of Directors expects the search process to take several months; during that time, Noll will guide the organization through the transition and ensure that our critical work educating and advocating for walking, biking and riding transit. Rob provided excellent leadership at the BTA when we needed it most, providing five years of stability and guiding us through the mission expansion process to becoming the Street Trust. We know that he is ready for his next challenge and is ready to pass the reins of Street Trust to our next leader as we begin the next chapter of our work.

The Board and staff of The Street Trust remain deeply committed to the long-term vision of building a place that embraces biking, walking and transit for all those that call our region home. All of us want safe, healthy streets for our kids, our aging parents and our families, and as community leaders, we are well aware that we have much work to do if we’re going to get there. We look forward to working with community and philanthropic partners, local governments and most importantly, our members, to create safe and healthy streets for all.

Sadowsky was hired in 2010. This move comes just a few days after The Street Trust officially changed its name and started a new chapter with an expanded mission. At an event today the organization will ask members for input on a major update to their strategic plan. We’ve confirmed that the event will go on as planned and Noll will be in attendance.

The Director of The Street Trust Board Justin Yuen said today in a phone interview that this move is part of the “evolution of the organization.” Yuen credited Sadowsky with bringing The Street Trust to this point but couldn’t comment specifically on why he was stepping down. Yuen said the next executive director would be, “someone with existing lines of communicationm with the community and someone who has demonstrated success with taking things to the next level when it comes to addressing the urgency of Vision Zero.”

Yuen also stressed that this change in leadership is a major opportunity for The Street Trust to hear concerns and feedback from the community about the organization. “We recognize there is the urgency out there, but also scrutinty of the organization,” he said, “So we want to make sure, as the board, that we are a good steward of The Street Trust.”

UPDATE, 11:55 am: Sadowsky shared with me in a phone interview that this move came as a complete surprise. “I had not expected this,” he said. “It’s an odd moment to say the least.” He said the Board likely made the move because they want someone who is more adept at raising money and more willing to spend the time it takes to do it. “I’m not the greatest at that type of fundraising. I spent all my December making fundraising phone calls, when I’d rather have been doing advocacy… Now it’s time for The Street Trust to bring in someone who maybe has a little more love for the political game and someone who loves the fundraising.”

Sadowsky said he’s proud of the job he did building the organization over the past six years and he has “no hard feelings” about the board’s decision.

“If they can find the right person to come in and leverage our community partnerships, institutional partnerships, and political partnerships, it’s going to be fantastic,” Sadowsky added. He said he has put The Street Trust in a great position for success. “The stage is set to win meaningful regional transportation funding — not just a few million dollars — for biking, walking and transit.”

As for his proudest accomplishments, Sadowsky credits his personal advocacy for bringing bike share to Portland. “I walked into this town and there were people saying ‘We don’t need it.’ We [The Street Trust] went to the mat for that [bike share]. I had to convince our board to work on it and I had to convince our staff to work on it.” He also credited his behind-the-scenes conversations with Portland mayors Sam Adams and Charlie Hales for brining Vision Zero to town.

Because the decision came as a surprise, Sadowsky doesn’t have any work lined up just yet but he has a few balls already in the air (including a possible gig with a consulting company called SG Endeavors).

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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51 Comments
  • JeffS January 10, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Takeover of the organization by the board appears complete.

    Recommended Thumb up 22

    • Curt Dewees January 11, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      “Takeover?” Not sure what you mean by that. Boards don’t “take over” nonprofits; they are by definition legally responsible for being in charge of the organization and setting the organization’s goals and direction. The executive director serves as an employee of the board of directors and reports to the board.

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      • Mark Allyn January 12, 2017 at 9:51 am

        Thank you, Curt. I learned this the hard way when I was on the Board for KBOO radio. I learned that one of my duties was to take part in evaluating our station manager. I hated doing this as I was elected to the board to provide guidance in station Engineering issues. I am horrible on Personnel issues. This is why I am hesitant to run for a board of a group with paid employees in the future. I hate hiring/firing stuff!!!

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  • GlowBoy January 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Curious timing.

    Recommended Thumb up 16

  • Redhippie January 10, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Last year I let my BTA membership lapse for the first time in maybe 5 or ten years. I couldn’t put my finger on any one thing, but I just wasn’t sure what their core mission was anymore. It is fine to have a pedestrian advocacy group and focus on other areas, but there are other representatives who do that and I care about, and support, cycling. Maybe I’ll sign up again in the future but maybe I’ll put my energy and resources into NWTA this year instead.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 10, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Good luck Rob. (And good luck Stephanie.)

    Recommended Thumb up 19

  • Todd Boulanger January 10, 2017 at 11:37 am

    And just to remind ourselves, here is the board of the Street Trust, as currently listed:
    – Justin Yuen, Board Chair
    – Leslie Carlson, Board Member
    – David Forman, Board Member
    – Jude Gerace, Board Member
    – Diane Goodwin, Board Member
    – Hau Hagedorn, Board Member
    – Val Hoyle, Board Member
    – Dwayne King, Board Member
    – Peter Koonce, Board Member
    – Susan Marks, Board Member

    Recommended Thumb up 15

    • shannon January 10, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      And your point is?

      Recommended Thumb up 18

  • Bjorn January 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

    It is interesting to think back to when he was hired and it seemed obvious to anyone paying attention that he was brought in to transform the BTA from being a bicycle advocacy organization to being something else. Both the BTA and Rob denied it at the time but here we are with that accomplished and days later Rob either quitting or being pushed out…

    http://bikeportland.org/2010/03/17/interview-with-bta-board-chair-and-new-hire-rob-sadowsky-30870

    Recommended Thumb up 18

  • rick January 10, 2017 at 11:57 am

    More needs to be done with paper streets in Oregon. They are the cheapest way to build public trails. Some hold them hostage and use the property as if it is a private driveway.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Have updated the story with comments from Board Chair and Sadowsky. Sadowsky said he was completely surprised by their decision to let him go:

    The Director of The Street Trust Board Justin Yuen said today in a phone interview that this move is part of the “evolution of the organization.” Yuen credited Sadowsky with bringing The Street Trust to this point but couldn’t comment specifically on why he was stepping down. Yuen said the next executive director would be, “someone with existing lines of communicationm with the community and someone who has demonstrated success with taking things to the next level when it comes to addressing the urgency of Vision Zero.”

    Yuen also stressed that this change in leadership is a major opportunity for The Street Trust to hear concerns and feedback from the community about the organization. “We recognize there is the urgency out there, but also scrutinty of the organization,” he said, “So we want to make sure, as the board, that we are a good steward of The Street Trust.”

    UPDATE, 11:55 am: Sadowsky shared with me in a phone interview that this move came as a complete surprise. “I had not expected this,” he said. “It’s an odd moment to say the least.” He said the Board likely made the move because they want someone who is more adept at raising money and more willing to spend the time it takes to do it. “I’m not the greatest at that type of fundraising. I spent all my December making fundraising phone calls, when I’d rather have been doing advocacy… Now it’s time for The Street Trust to bring in someone who maybe has a little more love for the political game and someone who loves the fundraising.”

    Sadowsky said he’s proud of the job he did building the organization over the past six years and he has “no hard feelings” about the board’s decision.

    “If they can find the right person to come in and leverage our community partnerships, institutional partnerships, and political partnerships, it’s going to be fantastic,” Sadowsky added. He said he has put The Street Trust in a great position for success. “The stage is set to win meaningful regional transportation funding — not just a few million dollars — for biking, walking and transit.”

    As for his proudest accomplishments, Sadowsky credits his personal advocacy for bringing bike share to Portland. “I walked into this town and there were people saying ‘We don’t need it.’ We [The Street Trust] went to the mat for that [bike share]. I had to convince our board to work on it and I had to convince our staff to work on it.” He also credited his behind-the-scenes conversations with Portland mayors Sam Adams and Charlie Hales for brining Vision Zero to town.

    Because the decision came as a surprise, Sadowsky doesn’t have any work lined up just yet but he has a few balls already in the air (including a possible gig with a consulting company called SG Endeavors).

    Recommended Thumb up 10

    • JeffS January 10, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      I’m not surprised at all.

      I spent many years with a firm managing non-profits and the overwhelming theme across all of them was money. Their primary mission is always money.

      Recommended Thumb up 10

      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 10, 2017 at 1:29 pm

        I don’t think money is necessarily the root of the problem. We (business owners or organizational leaders) all need money. The question is how do you balance that need with your mission and duty to serve your customers? Get that balance wrong and you’re in trouble.

        Recommended Thumb up 20

      • Hopeful January 10, 2017 at 1:53 pm

        I’ve worked for nonprofits for 20 years. I’ve worked with passionate people focused on the mission, focused on making a difference. My coworkers are brilliant and hard working. They could unquestionably earn more elsewhere. I don’t share your experiences and I’m guessing that many readers of BP share my experiences.

        Recommended Thumb up 10

        • jeff January 12, 2017 at 1:22 pm

          and let me guess, they needed money, to, well, pay you. no one works for free.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • 9watts January 12, 2017 at 2:14 pm

            “no one works for free.”

            All the best things in the world were done by people working for free.

            Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Chris I January 10, 2017 at 3:11 pm

        I know so many people that went into the non-profit business so they could make fists full of money and retire at 35. It’s sickening.

        Recommended Thumb up 18

      • Ryan January 11, 2017 at 10:20 pm

        Well the guy has presided over a $200,000 loss over their past two fiscal years according to the reports on their website. You don’t have to be Scrooge McDuck to think that something was going wrong.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

        • Bjorn January 12, 2017 at 11:35 am

          The fiscal situation is probably not as bad as it appears, they changed the timing of the Alice awards last year which meant that their biggest fundraiser didn’t occur during their 2016 fiscal year. That said they clearly haven’t been doing a great job of growing revenue.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • X January 10, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    I think the BTA lost me when they used a truck to move three blocks

    Recommended Thumb up 14

    • William Henderson January 10, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      It’s going to be a pretty small tent if being a bike advocate means you can never use another mode of transportation.

      Recommended Thumb up 62

      • X January 10, 2017 at 4:12 pm

        I use other means of transportation all the time. My business has a motor vehicle on the road 250 days a year, but when I can do something with a hand truck the car stays put. When you call yourself the Bicycle something-or-other I’m a little surprised to see a motor vehicle as the default mode.

        Recommended Thumb up 6

    • Chris I January 10, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      Agreed. You are completely lost.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

    • OrganicBrian January 12, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      When SCRAP (School and Community Reuse Action Project) moved the first time, it was a bike/walking move. Their mission doesn’t even have anything to do with transportation. Maybe if the BTA/Street Trust inspired more enthusiasm in supporters, they might have had the support to move this way also.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • TST tsk tsk January 10, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Lame new name and now full meltdown.

    Recommended Thumb up 19

  • Momo January 10, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I want the Street Trust to be successful and achieve their vision. I was dismayed when they came out in support of the CRC highway expansion project. I’ve been even more upset by their lack of willingness to push harder to build out the Bicycle Master Plan (unwilling to ‘Ruffle feathers’.)

    As a former member, and former employee of the BTA, however, I’ve got to say that I have full trust in Steph Noll at the helm. As I’m surprised that Rob was let go, I’m very pleased that Steph is holding it down during the transition. I’m looking forward to see how the Street Trust develops.

    Recommended Thumb up 23

  • Toren Orzeck January 10, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Weird news and I’m sure Rob will find something great. My only complaint is Street Trust is a terrible name for this group. My two cents is they should take another swing at the name. Something like” Active Transportation Alliance” would be better

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • Adam H.
      Adam H. January 10, 2017 at 2:34 pm

      “Active Transportation Alliance” is the Chicago advocacy group that coincidentally Sadowsky also was in charge of.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Toren Orzeck January 10, 2017 at 2:49 pm

        Well, there you go. I’m still sure we can do better than “Street Trust”. Names are important.

        Recommended Thumb up 7

        • Adam H.
          Adam H. January 10, 2017 at 2:52 pm

          My guess is that “The Street Trust” is purposely vague in order to attract more fundraising that might otherwise be turned off by an organization with “bikes”, “walk”, or “active” in the name as being too niche.

          Recommended Thumb up 4

          • Jimmy January 10, 2017 at 3:26 pm

            It’s an even bigger turn off to water down your identity in an attempt to please everyone.

            Recommended Thumb up 23

          • Brian January 11, 2017 at 8:15 am

            It sounds like a large financial institution of sorts.

            Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Steph Routh January 10, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    I remember that when Rob moved from Chicago and came to the BTA, it was after a difficult and long transition period for the organization. My conversations with Rob are ones I have always enjoyed, and he has definitely helped me grow as an advocate. So I’d really like to thank Rob for his work. His passion for creating a strong advocacy organization is undeniable, and I’m grateful for his dedication.

    And Momo+1 about love for Steph Noll.

    Recommended Thumb up 34

  • Adam January 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Yet again?!

    The BTA has been a s***show for as long as I can remember now. They’ve had more staff quit, or be fired in the time I’ve lived in Portland than any other organization I can think of.

    What are they thinking? They are so hyper-focused on rebranding, I don’t even think they know what they are there for any longer.

    Recommended Thumb up 20

    • shannon January 10, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      Can you substantiate this? I’ve been following them for awhile as a member and don’t get this impression at all. I actually think there are a lot of longer-term staff there. Is this your perception or is it actual fact? Im very interested to know.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Adam January 10, 2017 at 7:33 pm

        Well, they’ve fired BOTH their most two recent Executive Directors, Rob Sadowsky and Scott Bricker. Before that, ED Evan Manvel left after only two years, don’t know whether he was pushed or it was voluntary. They fired Carl Larson last year. Their own Deputy ED Steph Noll quit this past summer. And their cohort of day to day staff that work on fundraising, Safer Routes to Schools etc, changes so frequently, it’s like a revolving door.

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        • Bjorn January 10, 2017 at 11:47 pm

          Don’t forget the self sabotaging firing of karl Rhode either. I was actively lobbying in Salem with Karl as a member of the legislative committee, and had taken days off work to go work on the bta’s behalf. I found out karl was fired on bikeportland. His firing totally undercut ongoing lobbying efforts and the lack of communication to volunteers was telling.

          Recommended Thumb up 9

  • Bjorn January 10, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    ED’s shouldn’t be blindsided by firings. No employee should be blindsided by being fired. Conversations about corrective measures should be happening before it gets to that point and people should have the opportunity to improve.

    They seem to have a real issue with the way they manage their human resources in that they fire people who don’t see it coming far too often. I often didn’t agree with the direction or methods that Rob used, but it is totally inappropriate for him to be fired out of the blue if that is what happened. At a certain point maybe the board should be a bit more introspective on why they keep having to remove people who think they are doing the job at least adequately if not well.

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    • Inclusive coalitions January 10, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      I have a hard time believing he didn’t know that was coming. At all? If that’s the case, he clearly hasn’t had his ear to the community, which has been grumbling about him for quite some time.

      Seems more like retrospective trying to make the board look like the boogeyman, and him to look the victim.

      Recommended Thumb up 17

      • Bjorn January 10, 2017 at 6:04 pm

        This isn’t exactly the first BTA staff member that has reported they were fired out of the blue.

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  • Sam January 10, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I’m pretty sure Grand Moff Tarkin is really in control. He’ll march into the next meeting and crush this rebellion once and for all.

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  • Jim Lee January 10, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    I’d rather see Leia Organa or Sarah Conner in charge.

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  • 9watts January 10, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    BikeloudPDX – great name, and my hunch is they aren’t particularly wrapped up in fundraising.

    I find the reflexive talk about money such a turnoff, frankly. I hate money. Most of the important stuff in this world came about because people were passionate, worked late into the night, did it on their own nickel, not because they raised money better than someone else, or came up with a bland name that a committee decided would sound appealing to funders. Gag.

    Recommended Thumb up 9

    • Chris I January 10, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      A traffic cone on every corner!

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    • Adam January 10, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      I hate to admit it, but BikeLoud have accomplished more in what, two years, than the BTA have in five here in Portland.

      I don’t think it’s a coincidence that BikeLoud have thrived or been taken as seriously as they have.

      After all, they clearly stepped in and filled a vacuum left by the places the BTA simply chose not to go.

      Recommended Thumb up 15

      • Alex Reedin January 11, 2017 at 6:33 am

        Hey, I love BikeLoudPDX (and you’d be surprised by how fragile a volunteer-only organization is, sign up at bikeloudpdx.org and https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/bikeloudpdx to help keep us pushing Portland to be the best Portland it can be!)

        But that doesn’t mean the BTA/Street Trust is bad. My guess is that they were stretched extremely thin trying to be all things bike to all people. It might actually be a diminishing of scope for them to become multimodal, but clearly state / metro-area level.

        I’m cautiously optimistic about The Street Trust’s transformation into a multimodal organization. I think that’s the branding that they need in order to be effective at the state/metro-area level. BikeLoudPDX can hopefully pick up the slack at the city level.

        I do think that activating the engaged community we have around biking to advocate for more multimodal issues is an important piece. The BTA really didn’t do all that great a job at activating its membership to be a political force. Hopefully the change to include a 501c(4) will be accompanied by a willingness to use all the tools at their disposal. With some coaching, we don’t sound like insane bike nerds, just earnest and engaged constituents.

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  • Branden January 10, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    So will they stop throwing away donations with helmet advocacy for adults who are capable of making their own decisions now?

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • SaferStreetsPlease January 11, 2017 at 8:14 am

    I’m going to drop my membership. Not at all pleased with how they fired the ED and their lack of focus lately. They are not remotely as aggressive as I think they should be.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • buildwithjoe January 11, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Rob is a nice guy but he took the BTA in a direction of being passive. Cycling needs an agressive and unyielding leader to take on the car culture in Salem and city Hall. I put about $1,000 cash into the BTA in 2004-2010. The BTA could double their staff and mission if they found a spine. Cyclists would pay for a team with a vision and plan that was agressive. I would.

    Recommended Thumb up 10

  • K'Tesh January 11, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Sorry to hear the news about Rob.

    Best of luck in your future endeavours.

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  • OrganicBrian January 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    I haven’t been a member for many years. I’ve been waiting for them to get around to promoting the idea of criminalizing willfully unsafe driving, and harsher penalties/more consistent enforcement for distracted driving and other violations. They continually advocate for spending more money on traffic improvements, but you can’t spend your way out of a culture that accepts hazardous driving as normal.

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