Financial Scandal Erupts at USATF

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Yesterday, the following transcript of Lynn Cannon’s remarks was posted on the USATF Associations listserve on Yahoo Groups. For those on the ‘inside’ this isn’t new news, but it’s still shocking as more and more enters the public domain.

Following is the text of comments made at the USATF Association Workshop on August 23, 2008. Many attendees offered thanks for these comments and several asked for copies of the text.

Not surprisingly, the only negative input came from two members of the USATF Board of Directors, neither disputing the accuracy of the information. I believe that the general membership of USATF should be knowledgeable about the issues surrounding the current USATF Board in order to make informed decisions that may address these issues. There is nothing personal about these comments and the responsibility for allowing these issues to develop is shared by every member of the Board including myself. The first step in solving a problem is to face it honestly.

At the end of November of this year, just a few months from now, the general membership of this organization will be called upon to make two decisions that are crucial to the future of USATF. At this year’s annual meeting you will be asked to approve a dramatic restructuring of our Board of Directors and to elect a new president for the organization.

I call upon each of you to prepare your delegation to come to Reno and participate in an informed and orderly voting process that will significantly impact the future of this organization.

In June of this year, under pressure from the United Stated Olympic Committee, the USATF Board finally approved a set of guidelines to significantly reform itself. Although some have characterized these changes as mandated I suggest that any reasonable observer to the actions of the USATF Board over the last few years would concludethat reform is sorely needed.

For example:

In the spring of 2005, the CFO of USATF distributed to the Board, ledgers for three committees. Highlighted on these ledgers were expenditures which in the professional opinion of the CFO should be brought to the attention of the Board.

These included thousands of dollars for hotel suites, thousands of dollars for hospitality passes, thousands of dollars in travel and over a thousand dollars for a politically strategically timed reception ostensibly to honor the Olympic staff (some of which didn’t even know about it) – charged to a committee budget during the 2004 elections.

The expectation was that the Board would act to curtail these excesses; however, this did not happen. You see, all of the expenditures highlighted were by Board members themselves.

During the Track Trials in 2004, the USATF Board held a discussion about having children of meet management credentialed and accessing the warm-up area at the Olympic Trials — this issue was raised by local organizers and was a safety concern. Did the Board address the issue? NO – Again, the problem is that the folks whose children were on the warm-up track were members of the Board. Instead of addressing the issue, it was framed as an inadequacy on the part of National Office staff.

In 2006, the Board considered a motion to pay childcare for people attending meetings — seems some member of the Board had been charging child care to their committee budget.

The Board on several occasions discussed travel expense policies — including excessive prices for tickets because they were issued at the last minute and tickets issued for international travel and charged against committee budgets — expressly prohibited in written USATF policies. Problem again is that the very people who violated these longstanding written policies were members of the Board.

In January of this year, the Board passed a motion directing the National Office to hire a Director level position at the National Office. A member of the board who fully participated in the discussion of the motion and failed to disclose any interest in the position became a leading candidate within a few days of the passage of the motion and enlisted other board members to lobby for them. A different person was hired. The National Office stood up to the Board. On the very next Board call, the same board member who had been a candidate for the position fully participated in another discussion and vigorously supported a motion to undo the hiring.

It should be no surprise that the current board allocated $10,000 for a meeting just to address its poor relationship with the National Office staff. Was it the Board or the staff that had a problem? This board has spent untold hours and an incredible amount of money on issues surrounding its own members. Where is the vision? Where is the leadership?

The very first memo distributed to the Board by our new CEO addresses expenditures for tickets to events — it says basically if you want to buy tickets you have to pay with your own money (you can’t use USATF committee money) and you have to keep track of who uses the tickets. Standard business practice right?

Anyone with knowledge of our current Board would not be surprised that such an issue should arise as we begin the Beijing Olympics. The first memo in response FROM A BOARD MEMBER questioned his authority to implement these procedures. And so it goes on.

We need a change — We need to rein in the undisciplined spending by Board members. We need to create a board that will be a good partner for the staff — not drive them out of town. A Board that can bring vision and leadership to the organization (and) not micromanage the office. We need an environment of mutual respect where diverse points of view are welcome, discussions are civil, actions are based on facts rather than emotion. USATF needs to restructure its board not because it is mandated but because we can do better.

Some will argue that as long as we win a lot of medals in Beijing, USATF as an organization is fine — it is not. We can do better. Some members of the Board have suggested that we should show them the bubble gum — that is only make whatever minimal changes are necessary to get the USOC off our back — such an arrogant and insincere effort again implying that we have no need to change. We can do better.

As much as we hate to admit it, there are always a few bad apples that create the need to have rules or laws or policies that will protect the interests of the many — that will enable a committee, an organization or even a country to function effectively. Currently we have come to a point where we must incorporate safeguards by virtue of a reformed structure, that will allow the staff to do their job, that will allow the volunteers to contribute in a meaningful and productive manner and will more effectively serve the sport. Will this be perfect, what we come up with in Reno? NO — but please come prepared to make an informed decision on these two critical matters. Please educate your delegation, gather the facts, study the situation, discuss the issues and candidates.

Please support changes in the structure of the board that will address an environment that has crippled the organization for the past several years and support candidates that will work with staff, not undermine them. Support candidates that will operate with both hands above the table — with transparency and honesty.

I started in this sport as an age-grouper. I was much less talented than most, but with a lot of time and hard work managed to progress and participate on several international teams and win a few medals for the good ole US of A. Upon retirement I began a second volunteer career of committee work and, after twenty some odd years, was lucky enough to rise to the rank of an officer for USATF. I have enormous respect for the work done within the Associations of USATF — this is not the glory work — this is the hard work — this is the in the trenches work.

And it is fitting that your vote . . . will determine the future of the organization. In my experience, those who work at the Association level respect and value hard work, determination, and honesty. Money is scarce and elbow grease always needed. Rules should be followed and things such as appointments to teams and committees shouldbe based on merit and service not bartered as perks in exchange for political loyalty. Issues should be considered based on facts, not on political affiliation. Now is the time to be heard.

Please go home from this workshop and organize your delegation. Gather the facts, study the records of the candidates — ask for those ledgers — and come to Reno prepared to embrace changes that will make this organization better.

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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young

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