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Planet Main
In This Section
PDF January/February 2006
e-mail December 20, 2005
e-mail October 28, 2005


The Power of Many
How We Saved the Arctic Refuge (For Now)
Getting Somewhere on the Bridges to Nowhere
Cities Get Cool
Measuring Mercury
Fighting for the Valle Vidal
Building Trust
There's No Limit to Colorado's Power
Finding Common Ground
Trickle-Down Activism
‘Hey, I Can Do This’
I Can Smell for Miles and Miles
Building Environmental Community One Canyon at a Time
Paper to Pixels
Sierra Summit Soars
‘Why Live If You Don't Have Something to Struggle For?’
Expanding Excom
Club Charts Direction for Next Five Years
Big Easy to Beltway: ‘Where's the Beef?’
2005 Timeline
Faces of the Sierra Club


Hope Surfaces in Katrina's Wake
Snapshots from the Summit
Democracy Breaks Out
Rally for the Arctic
A Better Legacy
Thoroughbred Power Plant Blocked
John Swingle
Betsy Bennett
Larry Fahn
Is Your City a Cool City?
Endangered Species Act Endangered
Smithfield Shareholder Resolution
Owens Valley Victory
New Energy Bill Exploits Katrina
From the Editor: Wake of the Flood
Search for a Story
Back Issues

The Planet
‘Serving on the Excom Is an Honor, Not a Burden’

By broadening its search and seeking out community leaders with needed skills and connections, the North Star Chapter has created a leadership mix that has helped it thrive.

by John Byrne Barry

A couple years ago, tired of asking the same overcommitted activists to run for the excom, Clyde Hanson, Scott Elkins, and other North Star Chapter leaders decided to think bigger, and began asking community leaders and people with specific skill sets to be candidates—not just Club members, but people who would be willing to become members.

Testing 1, 2, 3... Clyde Hanson, North Star Chapter excom member, gets his hair cut live on public radio in Grand Marais, Minnesota, to encourage listeners to get their hair tested for mercury. Club volunteers Kent Jones (cutting the hair) and Nick Vavrichek do a weekly radio show on WTIP. Hanson has helped redefine the chapter excom as a more desirable and honorable position.

“We created a demand to be on the excom,” says Hanson, a longtime forestry leader and chair of the nominating committee. “The Sierra Club is a prominent organization in Minnesota, with stature in the community. It’s an honor to be on our excom.”

The nominating committee specifically sought out people under-represented on their board; in the past few years they’ve added to their board a union organizer, an African American soccer mom, and a Republican lawyer.
For this year’s election, they asked a former state senator and an engineer who used to work for Ford on toxics issues.

The chapter was trying to strengthen their coalition with labor, so they asked Tara Widner, an organizer for the United Steelworkers, who they had worked with through the Wellstone Coalition, to run for the excom. They wanted to establish an environmental justice program, but had no African Americans on their board, so they recruited Sheila Williams Ridge, a preschool director and Girl Scout leader who had already worked with the chapter’s Building Environmental Community Campaign. (She’s also a soccer mom with four daughters—remember how important soccer moms are come election time.)

“Another ‘minority’ we didn’t have,” says Hanson, “was Republicans,” so they asked Evan Rice, a lawyer and state coordinator for Republicans for Environmental Protection to run. “He’s recruited some good people with board experience.”

The nominating committee also made sure that candidates represented areas beyond the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. (Hanson is from the Lutsen on the Northwest shore of Lake Superior, closer to Canada than to the Twin Cities.)

Today Widner, Ridge, and Rice serve on an excom along with longtime volunteers like Chair Sharon Stephens and former Chapter Director Ginny Yingling, making for a potent leadership mix that has helped the chapter thrive. The chapter, says Elkins, has 350 volunteers that participate every month, and over the past four or five years, about 7,500 volunteers have contributed to the Club’s work.

Elkins says that all it took was planting the seed, “reminding ourselves that it’s an honor to guide this important organization we’re in.”

The nominating committee took six weeks to winnow down a list of 40 possible candidates to slate of nine for the four excom slots. But what about high-profile community members who run, but don’t win?

Hanson says that’s no problem. “We give them board member tasks even though they aren’t voting members. The organization can never have too many dynamic leaders.”

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