In November the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club, the largest environmental defense group, held a closed section of a board meeting to defund the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite National Park. According to the by-laws the minutes of any closed section of a meeting have to reveal the outcome and numbers of any vote taken. This by-law was violated.
Exterior of the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite National Park, California.
The vote was taken to close the LML and terminate the employment of the curator without including or notifying the volunteer members of the SC who have maintained the interior of the building since it was declared a national historic site in 1987. After an uproar from the volunteers Robin Mann, a director, and Daniel Chu, a SC employee, held a one hour conference call with no announced agenda with 20 volunteers. The volunteers submitted four questions in advance, none of which were answered. Since then volunteers have waged email war with the BOD who have agreed to a follow-up call next Thursday, February 4.
All this started when the Board President, Aaron Mair, and the Executive Director, Michael Brune, sent a letter to the National Park Service requesting the name of LML be changed. The NPS refused. It was a good idea, poorly executed. The volunteers do not object to the name change but do find the SC’s secrecy disturbing. This has been made clear in many emails.
How can an environmental group collect dues and then operate in secrecy? Is this legal?
BTW the LML is the second oldest building in YNP built in 1903. It was the first visitors’ center; Ansel Adams was the curator in the early 1920s. It was named after Joseph LeConte (who had just died) because he along with many others founded the SC. Along with his brother John he was one of the founders of UC Berkeley. Both of them taught in Georgia and owned slaves. LML is NOT named after LeConte because he owned slaves.
It recently was revealed that LeConte wrote racist remarks. This is a surprise to the volunteers. Let me stress again that none of the volunteers object to changing the name. The objection is to the secrecy and the subsequent stonewalling by the board.
Below is an email from volunteers. Can you help us get the BOD’s attention?
Joseph LeConte (1823-1901), American geologist and co-founder of the Sierra Club.
ACTION ALERT: Please Request the Sierra Club Board of Directors to reconsider transfer of LeConte Lodge to the National Park Service 1-25-16
To: Friends ans Supporters of LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley
From: Vicky Hoover, Elaine Gorman, Cass Devlin, Michael Bryant, Frank (Dusty) Welsh, Harold Wood.
As long-time volunteers and supporters of LeConte Memorial Lodge, we hope you will join us in asking the Sierra Club Board of Directors to reconsider their proposed transfer of the Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge to the National Park Service. We have two main arguments for requesting the reconsideration:
First, we believe the decision was made in violation of the board’s own bylaws. Second, new relevant and substantive information has arisen since the BOD made its decision last November.
At LeConte Memorial Lodge, the Sierra Club has an ongoing opportunity unique in the National Park System (and among environmental organizations generally) to not merely tell about the past, but to explain and celebrate the Club’s future – most notably including not only its commitment to protecting national parks and wilderness areas, but also to its commitment to addressing global climate change, and in line with its Diversity and Inclusion goals, the environmental justice movement.
As an environmental education outreach and public relations program, the LeConte Lodge is an invaluable asset of the Sierra Club, which it has proudly maintained for 111 years. Once given up, this intangible, historic asset can never be recovered.
In a conference call on January 22, 2016, 28 of us volunteers and staff learned from Club Vice-President Robin Mann and the BOD had secretly decided back at its November 2015 board meeting to not merely request a name change for LeConte Lodge (which it had decided to do October), but to actually abandon the program entirely and to transfer the LeConte Lodge to the National Park Service. The decision the Board made in November was made in closed session, with limited information. No volunteers were notified about the proposal to abandon the program, or the actual decision to do so, then, and for two months afterward.
Our biggest concern is not merely with the substantive decision that was made, but HOW it was made. It was done in closed session, with no discussion among those involved with the program, which includes the curator, the long-time LeConte Lodge and Yosemite Committee leaders, and the hundreds of Sierra Club members who volunteer for a week every summer at the LeConte Lodge.
The Sierra Club Bylaws do authorize the board to meet in private session “for any reason,” but it must report final action in public session:
5.14. All meetings of the Board of Directors or of any executive committee or of any committee thereof shall be open to attendance by any member of the Club in good standing, but nothing herein shall prevent the Board or any committee from convening in private session for the consideration of any matter; provided, however, the vote or final action shall be taken in open session.
Reviewing the minutes for the November 21, 2015 Sierra Club Board of Directors meeting, we note that the Minutes say only: 12. Le Conte Lodge – closed session
MSC (Black, Chin) the Board moved to go into closed session at 10:49am PT.
The meeting reconvened in open session at 1:07pm PT after a closed lunch session.
We volunteers were told on January 22, 2016 that the BOD had made the decision at its November board meeting to close the Lodge program. But although LeConte Lodge was indeed on the board’s agenda as a closed session, the minutes failed to report that any action was taken at the meeting, much less a decision as momentous as the discontinuing of a program that has been in successful operation for 111 years.
Even if there was no bylaws violation, and even if the issue was perceived merely as a budget item, the issue is too important to the Club’s history, the future of its park advocacy, and the many dedicated volunteers who involved to leave to a closed session.
Vice-President Robin Mann stated that the reason for the delay in notifying volunteeers was to comply with “union” and HR rules. However, Bonnie Gisel, longtime LeConte staff curator, now tells us she was informed on December 7, 2015 of the decision, so there was no reason for delay informing volunteers to late January. And then when volunteers were finally informed, there was not even one word of thanks to those who have given literally decades of their “heart and soul” as volunteers to this unique Sierra Club outreach program in Yosemite.
Thus, we must appeal to the Board of Directors to re-consider their decision, and to do so in an open meeting of the BOD to which volunteers would be invited to participate in the discussion. This decision is too important to be based on limited information in a closed forum. Given the longevity of the program, and its importance as an outreach for the Sierra Club in one of America’s most popular national parks, the LeConte Lodge program is not something to be abandoned lightly.
The board’s decision appeared to be founded originally on concerns about the name “LeConte” for the Lodge, as “Professor Joseph LeConte” shared the very common (now repudiated) 19th century views about race held by many scientists of the day that we now call “scientific racism.”
It is understandable that the Club wishes to distance itself from that name and those views, although we feel exposing past racism and telling the story about how the Club is now committed to environmental justice for all people regardless of race, could actually help, rather than hinder, the Sierra Club’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals.
It is the fact that Sierra Club enjoys this remarkable and unique foothold within this spot of tremendous pubic visitation that gives us the opportunity to use the LeConte Lodge as a teaching point against racism as well as in favor of environmental protection.
In any case, the Sierra Club has already requested the NPS to change the name of LeConte Memorial Lodge to something less controversial. The new information relevant to this matter is that it now appears that the NPS is indeed wiling to change the name. So that concern is now addressed. This was something not known when the BOD made its decision in November, so it is only proper that the BOD reconsider its decision.
The only issue now is whether the Sierra Club should continue sponsoring the educational program in Yosemite that it has done since 1904, using a new name for the Lodge.
The value of the (soon-to-be-renamed) LeConte Lodge program is huge. Based upon a few minutes discussion made virtually in a vacuum, the Club BOD decided that it could no longer operate the program when it considers its other priorities. But the LeConte Lodge has been managed by many different Sierra Club entities over the years – by chapters in California, by the California RCC, etc.
We believe the BOD should consider other important options to operating LeConte Lodge other than turning it over to the National Park Service. Some of the possibilities include:
- Obtaining sponsorship by another Sierra Club entity outside of National so the Club’s presence can continue, such as Sierra Club California or a chapter. Or consider operating it under a separate 501 (c)(3) under Sierra Club auspices, much like the Club does with the Foundation or other specialized programs. Or set up a Club volunteer team to work with the National Park Service to operate the program, perhaps through the existing Yosemite Committee or as a team under the Our Wild America program.
- Setting up a fundraising program to fund the program, which could be small donations by a few hundred people and by chapters and groups within the Club. A mere hundred donors at $1,000 each would easily fund the operating expenses for a year. We note that the Club’s smallest California chapter, the Kern-Kaweah Chapter, pledged $10,000 to the LeConte Lodge; larger chapters could easily afford even more.
We believe the Sierra Club must retain its unique and irreplaceable presence at a (renamed) LeConte Lodge, continuing the educational program it has undertaken since 1904. Moreover, this retraction must be made immediately before the NPS is notified of the board’s decision.
What You Can Do: Please contact the BOD members requesting that they reconsider their decision about LeConte Lodge, and to do so in an open session. The contact list is attached. Note that Susana Reyes, Steve Ma, and Dean Wallraff live in California, and perhaps would have more of a stake in LeConte Lodge.
We also suggest you send copies to, and give a telephone call the following persons to request the Board re-consider its decision based on its bylaws violation and changed circumstances:
Michael Brune, Executive Director 415-977-5662, email@example.com
Dan Chu, Director, Wild America, 202-650-6066, firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaron Mair 518-209-1492. President email@example.com
Board of Directors
85 2nd St Fl 2
San Francisco, CA 94105-3456
This Listserv is open to all, but subject to transmission filters [verification message] that screen out junk email. We suggest you send individual emails to each of the board members, especially the Executive Committee (the first five listed below).
Aaron Mair, President
PO Box 2562
Albany, NY 12220-0562
Ms Robin Mann, Vice President
266 Beechwood Dr
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-1203
Ms Susana Reyes, Secretary
2700 E Chevy Chase Dr
Glendale, CA 91206-1818
Ms Loren Blackford, Treasurer
53 W 68th St
New York, NY 10023-5301
Dr Liz Walsh, Fifth Officer
4903 Love Rd
El Paso, TX 79922-1723
Mr Spencer Black, Board Director
5742 Elder Pl
Madison, WI 53705-2516
Donna Buell, Board Director
2608 Manhattan Blvd
Spirit Lake, IA 51360-7546
Ms Allison Chin, Board Director
38474 Goose Creek Ln
Leesburg, VA 20175-6637
Michael K Dorsey, Board Director
18675 Muirland St
Detroit, MI 48221-2202
Mr Jim Dougherty, Board Director
709 3rd St SW
Washington, DC 20024-3103
Mr Charles E Frank, Board Director
25 Lakeview Ter
Highland Park, IL 60035-5041
Jessica Helm, Board Director
32 Humboldt St
Waltham, MA 02452-6414
Mr Steve Ma, Board Director
439 Colusa Ave
El Cerrito, CA 94530-3326
Margrete Rangnes, Board Director
1319 E St NE
Washington, DC 20002-5429
Mr Dean Wallraff, Board Director
10211 Sunland Blvd
Shadow Hills, CA 91040-1739