Palm Beach (Fla.) Post  [Printer-friendly version]
March 26, 2008


By Robert P. King

The Sierra Club's national board voted Tuesday to remove the leaders
of its 35,000-member Florida chapter -- an unprecedented step that
supporters called necessary to end years of infighting.

The board voted 10 -- 2 to suspend the chapter for four years, the
first time the 116-year-old environmental group has ever taken such
harsh action against one of its state organizations.

The suspension means that an appointed committee will replace the
chapter's elected leaders, including a 27-member executive committee.
Some of those leaders had been elected as recently as October.

Press Secretary David Willett said he believes the suspension takes
effect immediately. He didn't know when the club will appoint a
committee of Florida members to take over the chapter's leadership.

Club representatives have said the suspension would not affect the
local Sierra groups that carry out the bulk of the organization's
conservation and advocacy work. The club's Loxahatchee group, which
covers Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, recently
voted to support suspending the chapter.

"I find it good news," said John Koch, chairman of the Loxahatchee
group. "We think that during the four years we'll be able to
straighten out a great many problems we've had."

But local Sierra Club member Panagioti Tsolkas said the news was
disappointing though "not unexpected."

"It's obvious people voted in their own business interests," he said.

Supporters of the suspension had called it necessary because of years
of squabbling. The vote followed recent actions by the club to limit
the chapter's ability to hire and to enter into contracts, as well as
the departure of the chapter's long-time lobbyist in Tallahassee.

Opponents called the claims of internal friction overblown,
originating largely from people unhappy about losing in chapter

Meanwhile, supporters of the Florida chapter's existing leadership
said the proposed suspension followed a disturbing trend in which the
club's paid staff has sought to supplant the power of its grass-roots
volunteers. Chapter leaders also have been vocal critics of some
Sierra Club national policies including an endorsement deal for "eco-
friendly" cleaning products from Clorox.

Many past and present chapter leaders have declined to speak publicly
about the dispute, with some saying they fear punishment from the
national organization. In a recent letter, the club instructed leaders
not to "seek public media coverage of this internal board decision."

Copyright 2008 The Palm Beach Post