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USA Cycling board attempts to preempt legal challenge

The USA Cycling board of directors last week adopted a proposal designed to "protect the mandate," of votes cast in support of a reorganization plan approved recently by voters in a membership-wide election. The board approved a measure as a means of establishing a second method of implementing the recently passed "Proposition A," a proposal offered by USA Cycling Development foundation board member Mick Hellman. The board took the action in anticipation of the possible success of pending legal action by USCF members Bret Wade and Les Earnest. Contacted on Wednesday, Earnest said he had

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The USA Cycling board of directors last week adopted a proposal designed to “protect the mandate,” of votes cast in support of a reorganization plan approved recently by voters in a membership-wide election.

The board approved a measure as a means of establishing a second method of implementing the recently passed “Proposition A,” a proposal offered by USA Cycling Development foundation board member Mick Hellman. The board took the action in anticipation of the possible success of pending legal action by USCF members Bret Wade and Les Earnest.

Contacted on Wednesday, Earnest said he had little doubt that the courts would overturn the board’s most recent action as well as the results of “an election that was conducted fraudulently from beginning to end.” It was success of a two-year-old lawsuit by Earnest that forced the issue on to the 2001 membership ballot. Earnest’s proposal – Proposition B – was defeated 6007 to 432, a margin of nearly 14 – 1.

But Earnest has charged that supporters of Proposition A illegally relied on USA Cycling staff to lobby members, present misleading summaries of competing proposals and seek members’ proxy votes using inappropriate methods. A Colorado court this week accepted Earnest’s amended complaint in a lawsuit he originally filed to challenge USA Cycling’s first attempt to implement the reorganization plan in February of 1999.

Success in the courts

After losing the first round of that suit, Earnest won on appeal. In its ruling, the court set aside a comprehensive reorganization of USA Cycling on the grounds that the governing body’s board of directors violated their own rules by rushing the proposal through under “emergency” provisions of its bylaws.

The appeals court ruled that the procedures used in enacting the 24-page “reform” of the organization’s bylaws and articles of incorporation were a violation of USA Cycling’s own rules, because the board failed to meet its own standards as to what constituted an “emergency,” a requirement when legislation is “fast-tracked” as the case in 1999.

The decision effectively negated the package of structural changes passed by the USA Cycling board and most major actions taken by the board since the adoption of its new by-laws, including a decision to add the USA Cycling Development Foundation as an affiliate organization of USA Cycling.

Competing plans

While Hellman’s proposal was similar in nature to the plan initially adopted in 1999, Earnest offered his own “democratic reform initiative,” seeking to democratize an organization he said had fallen into the hands of a small core of elites that never had been selected by the general membership.

Earnest, however, said that the entire election amounted to a “farce” because it was overseen by supporters Proposition A, violating the most basic standards of a fair election. Earnest said he remained confident that the courts would support that argument.

“Whereas Proposition B supporters ended up investing only their personal efforts, major financial expenditures were made on advertising and vote solicitation in support of Proposition A by the supposedly charitable nonprofit USA Cycling Development Foundation,” Earnest said earlier this month. “The resources of USA Cycling were also fully exploited in their campaign. We will seek to have the bogus legislative results set aside and have a substitute election conducted by a neutral third party.”

The presiding court has now accepted amended complaint from Earnest and Wade, signaling the beginning of a long legal battle. The USA Cycling board, however, is making an attempt to continue on the path the reorganization effort approved in the election.

At the October 23 meeting USA Cycling board secretary Nigel Blair-Johns said approval of a motion reconfirming a commitment to Proposition A was essential in efforts to “move this organization forward.”

“However, although we are also confident that the voting process will withstand the test of scrutiny from legal challenge in the courts, we need to provide a contingency plan in case the court should decide otherwise,” Blair Johns said. “We need to be mindful that there is now also a mandate from the membership to put Proposition A into effect.”

It is a point that Earnest strenuously disputes.

“It is pointless to analyze vote counts from an election that was conducted fraudulently from beginning to end,” Earnest told VeloNews. “Furthermore, we expect that actions by the USA Cycling board of directors will be set aside by the court because that board continues to be illegally constituted.”

USA Cycling chief operating officer Steve Johnson said that the ongoing legal challenge is simply indicative of someone unwilling to concede an election defeat.

“Despite the lopsided loss, Mr. Earnest continues to insist that Proposition B is the best choice for the organization,” Johnson said. “After failing to gain the popular support required to implement his legislative initiative, Mr. Earnest plans to pursue his personal agenda in the courts.”