March 4, 2019; Arizona Daily Star
Citing his inability to manage a multimillion-dollar organization, El Tour de Tucson founder and president/board chair of the Perimeter Bicycling Association of America Richard DeBernardis announced he would leave at the end of the year. DeBernardis’s departure follows the revelation that Perimeter Bicycling had not paid Pima County, Arizona $180,000 for traffic control services at last year’s Tour.
Unpaid bills for 2018 are just the start of Perimeter’s uphill ride. A review of the cycling nonprofit’s Form 990s show that 2012 was the last year Perimeter made a profit. From 2013 to 2016, Perimeter cumulatively lost $467,671. According to an interview with Carol Ann Alaimo at the Arizona Daily Star, DeBernardis expects 2018’s losses could be up to $150,000.
The situation in which El Tour and Perimeter find themselves is not due to malfeasance but to a series of mistakes with significant impacts. Counter to most nonprofit good governance guidelines, DeBernardis served as both board chair and president of the organization. This arrangement keeps the board from being wholly independent, gives the president an inordinate amount of control, and may reduce the board’s ability to carry out its oversight mandate.
Perimeter failed to refine and adjust its events to address significant economic developments. “The charitable giving environment [for events] has changed dramatically away from big donors, but El Tour never really made that conversion, so they’re still relying on very large sponsors even though those days are over,” said Fletcher McCusker, of Rio Nuevo, the Tucson downtown development district.
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The event environment changed as well. The Daily Star analyzed rider registration from 2008 to 2018 and found a 30 percent decline over the last ten years. El Tour has been very successful at engaging local governments but was unable or unwilling to secure the data to verify the financial value of the program to the local community. The lack of data cost El Tour at least $10,000 from the town of Oro Valley.
According to Perimeter’s 990, the organization does not undergo an annual independent audit, which might have given the board better information to help it assess the organization’s financial health and perhaps get a better handle on forecasting potential challenges. Two further observations from the available 990s: First, Perimeter claims zero dollars for fundraising expenses, which is incongruous with an organization of its size. Also, under key personnel, the president is listed as working 80 hours a week, and other staff are listed at 50 hours. While committing to the cause is laudable, consistently excessive work hours are indicative of inadequate personnel or resources to accomplish the mission.
Transitioning a founder out of an organization is often fraught with peril, especially if the organization is in extremis. It is to his credit that DeBernadis recognizes the gravity of the situation, noting, “If I stay, El Tour will die.”
Doug Holland, a retired educator with extensive competitive cycling experience, will serve as the volunteer interim CEO. Holland will spend 10–15 hours a week managing Perimeter and overseeing the search for a permanent CEO. Holland and the board will need to work hard and fast to get El Tour, and Perimeter repaired and back on the road.—Skip Lockwood