Foreword: For those unfamiliar with the story, ABATE of Colorado (hereafter referred to as ABATE) has been experiencing financial difficulties, which resulted in terminating their State Coordinator. As a former member who no longer has enough faith in ABATE to renew my membership, I started digging for the whole story. The more I find, the harder it is to stomach. For past coverage, please see:
This is important to all riders in Colorado as ABATE of Colorado has, and if it survives, will continue to represent all of us legislatively whether they are members or not. Riders, as all citizens, should be involved with our governing body, directly or through a representation organization like ABATE, as it is our civic duty.
Please follow for continued coverage.
Interview with Deb Craig: ABATE’s “Insider” – This interview is a follow up of the previous post which exposed a lot of the internal working of ABATE.
Dandooligan: What convinced you to write this and why now?
Craig: I was getting messages on Facebook, phone calls and forwarding of various blogs and posts from people who wanted to know what was going on with ABATE. They slowed down for awhile but when the DA dropped the charges on Terry, the questions started back up again. There was a lot of missing information in the various blogs and posts. I’ve been thinking for some time we needed to get the story out there, but held off because of my position in ABATE. I am no longer an officer or employee of ABATE – I’m JAFM [Just another F’ing Member]. In my opinion, it’s time for the story to be told so I’m telling it – as a member who may have a little more information and insight than the average member. Some may put credence in this story, others are determined not to know the truth but at least the truth is out there.
Dandooligan: Why have others been so guarded about getting the information to the membership?
Craig: First, it was because the investigation was ongoing. Then (I think) there was so much confusion, given all the conflicting information, that some of those involved weren’t sure how to respond or how much information to make public. I’m also certain there are those that don’t want the story to come out because they might have to face some painful truths.
I will tell you now, Bruce is doing the best he can to glue the pieces of this organization back together. While he and I don’t see eye to eye 100% of the time, I respect his opinions and I believe he respects mine. Let’s face it, Bruce walked into a mess. No one else was willing – although we did have some ‘interest’ until the interested parties found out the State Coordinator was no longer a paid position.Anyway, given his legal background, I totally understand his reluctance to answer questions when often all he had was hearsay.
Dandooligan: What kind of repercussions or blowback are you expecting from this?
Craig: I think those that have something to hide (or recognize themselves in the article) may respond with accusations that it’s all lies and a cover-up. Others however, will be relieved to see some explanation. I expect we will lose a lot of members from this, but we may also get some of the old ones back — those who didn’t like/agree with the direction the organization has been going over the past several years. One thing I’ve learned during my many years of dealing with people is that, to some, truth is relative.
Dandooligan: Broad explanation and some examples of bad practices have been cited as the reason for ABATE’s current situation. Do you think the details will ever be discovered to know exactly who played a part, and to what extent that part affected ABATE’s current state?
Craig:That’s going to be difficult. There were some very bad practices and some that were honest mistakes. I readily admit my part in some of the bad practices. As I said, we can only learn from our mistakes and try to do better in the future.
Dandooligan: Does the membership have the passion to continue sustaining ABATE?
Craig: There is a faction that does. Whether or not that group will be enough remains to be seen. When I joined ABATE in 1990, it was a very small organization with only two districts — one in Denver and one in the Springs. The organization had gone through some major upheaval (1980s) resulting from some bad practices and major mistakes. There were maybe 100 members at the time statewide. The passion of those 100 members (along with efforts by state lawmakers to curtail some of our rights and freedoms) was able to bring the membership into the 2000s during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Unfortunately, the membership again began to decline and has continued in a downward spiral since. I think we’re at about 700 now? (I’d have to check). I don’t know that I’d call it just coincidence that our numbers started a serious decline soon after ABATE changed some of its practices (and bylaws) such as making the State Coordinator a paid position appointed by the Board rather than elected by the membership. (Not that that’s the only change I’ve heard people grumble about but we have only so much bandwidth.)
Dandooligan: You cite the start of ABATE’s decline as rider training starting to decline and therefor decreasing ABATE’s income. Will ABATE be able to become competitive in the market place again to regenerate that income stream?
Craig: Clarification: The rider training decline was a big part of the income decrease, but not the sole reason. We must also blame irresponsible spending — we were spending more than we were making. That said, we may be able to regenerate part of the income stream but I don’t (personally) see us getting back to where we were before. There are more companies competing for the market than there were during our training heyday. I hope I’m wrong but the pessimist in me holds little hope.
Dandooligan: You cite the Board of Directors becoming complacent as another reason for ABATE’s decline. Will the same people be on the board? If so, if they were complacent then, will they have the energy to keep putting into their responsibilities now?
Craig: Remember, the Board is made up of volunteers who all have other responsibilities (BTDT!)[Been There Done That]. IMO, several of them have realized the error of their ways and are working hard to prevent such future incidents. I’ve seen more action (from some of them) in the last few months than has been seen in years.
Dandooligan: You mention several cases where ABATE was the victim of services promised but never rendered in return for instructor training class donations. Could you elaborate on some of these cases?
Craig: Well, we had a few individuals we trained — at no or reduced cost — that never taught a class. I’ll not mention names (or go into further detail) here.
Dandooligan: What should have been done to keep this from happening?
Craig: Maybe a contract that in return for the training, x number of classes would be taught for ABATE and if the terms of the contract weren’t met, the individual who took the class would be called upon to recompense. I’m not sure what else except to maybe have been a little more circumspect in the selection process. As it was, the Rider Ed Manager was told certain people were to be trained. There was no real ‘review’ of the candidates compared to other candidates that had no ‘tie’ to the State Coordinator.
Dandooligan: Concerning the former State Coordinator debacle. There are two contradictory stories here. Is there any documentation to support either story, or is it one person’s word against the other?
Craig: There is documentation — for what it’s worth. Of course, the documentation is only valuable to those who want the real truth. Some don’t care.
Dandooligan: Were any other laws or Bylaws violated, as you say the whistleblower laws were?
Craig: Remember, I wasn’t present at the Board meetings so have only third party information to go on. I didn’t say the whistle blower laws were violated, but that it was a fine line before they were. Several members of the Board have made/are making a concerted effort to lay the blame, and/or find cause of action to terminate, on the individual who reported the problem. Laws of fiduciary duty were certainly breached.
Dandooligan: Are you aware of the former State Treasurer’s personal involvement with CDOT officials?
Craig: I know she’s friends with the MOST Program Administrator. I also know the former State Coordinator has been friends with the PA’s supervisor for years. I don’t know the extent of friendship for any of the parties other than that it was/is common knowledge that they talk on the phone and have the occasional drinks and/or attend the same events/parties. We always invited both the MOST Program Administrator and his supervisor to our annual Christmas party, as well as to other events, and both the PA and his supervisor are members of ABATE.
Dandooligan: Was is common knowledge that the accounting software was only on the State Coordinator’s computer and that the State Coordinator was the only person entering these records?
Craig: I don’t know how common that knowledge was. We in the office, and our accountant, knew it but I’m not sure who else, if anyone, did.
Dandooligan: Isn’t it the State Treasurer’s job to manage/enter the records into the accounting software?
Craig: Not exactly. The State Treasurer is responsible for overseeing districts, reporting to the board, etc. (see bylaws). The Operations Manager is the one who enters the daily financials into the accounting software. It just so happens that for the past few years these two individuals were one and the same. I admit that at first I thought it was a good idea since who has a better idea of the daily workings of the organization than the Operations Manager. Now I see that it resulted in the removal of one layer of checks and balances. That said, the Operations Manager was not responsible for the account in question. Why that decision was made, I’m not sure.
Dandooligan: You say there is plenty of blame to go around. The State Coordinator has been removed form her office. Other officers/employees, including yourself have resigned. Have others who have part in this blame also been removed or addressed?
Craig: You have to differentiate between paid/appointed and volunteer/elected. I only know of two resignations at this time. I resigned as an employee. The Operations Manager resigned as a board member but not as an employee (even though she is currently laid off). Among the others who can take on part of the blame are members of the Board, and I’d say, yes, this has been addressed more than once and several of them have publicly admitted to sharing in that blame. As far as removing any of them, that’s up to the membership that elected them. I’d also like to add that I believe that for some there was a misunderstanding concerning the extent of their fiduciary duty to the organization. I feel confident they have been made aware. Fiduciary duty of a non-profit organization’s board of directors is outlined in law. Just because it’s not written into a job description, doesn’t mean the member can’t be held accountable.
Dandooligan: This seems to be an extremely complex issue, so, if those other members have not be removed, and process/protocols weren’t followed while they were there, what trust or assurance can the membership have in ABATE if they are still there? Is the only option for all members to attend all Board Meetings to help the organization stay accountable and on the right track back to an organization that can be trusted?
Craig: As I said, many of the Board members are taking this seriously and are well aware of what needs to happen to right the wrongs. The budget and financials are being reviewed to an extent we haven’t seen in years. We have a Financial Oversight Committee so no one person has too much control. As for some of the other issues, attending your district meetings and staying informed is always a good idea. Hold your district reps and officers accountable — if you’re not getting the information at the meetings or via email (printing of the Spokesman is temporarily suspended so Reps are encouraged to frequently communicate via email to their members), you voted them in, you can vote them out.
Dandooligan: And as the last question, do you personally want to see ABATE continue, and why?
Craig: I do. I truly believe that, given the proper leadership and member participation, ABATE has been (and can be again) the premier watchdog for motorcyclists rights and the leader in safety/education. We have some good programs and I’d hate to see the riding community miss out on any of those.
As a follow up Mrs. Craig added:
1. No one I’ve personally talked to has said they wanted Ms. Howard to be personally liable for the loan. In fact, there were attempts to get other loans in order to pay that (ridiculously high interest) one off. There was a loan for non-profits if we had the collateral (the bank suggested a CD). You’ve posted about that so I don’t have to get into details, except we were asking for donations to get the CD started. We all know the outcome of that… all the negative publicity ABATE was/is getting had a profoundly adverse affect on that attempt. A similar result occurred with the credit cards — a bank error resulted in Ms. Howard being contacted when ABATE tried to open a new credit card account and transfer the balances from the ones Ms. Howard held. You can read more about that in the postings from her, her sisters and others who claimed ABATE was trying to get her further into debt. Long story short, Ms. Howard told the bank those (new) cards weren’t authorized and they were cancelled before the balance could be transferred. In case you question the “bank error”, ABATE had removed Ms.Howard from the bank accounts some time prior to that incident.
2. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the grant money. I’ve read in the various postings and articles that if ABATE had not fired Ms. Howard, it would be getting all kinds of grant money in. Now I can’t speak about all the grants, but I can tell your readers that most of them (if not all) were matching fund grants. This means, money has to be spent in order to get money back — and that reimbursement can take as long as 45 days to be received. Given ABATE’s current financial status, that wasn’t going to happen no matter who was in charge. The only way grant money would have been coming in during this time would be if documents (grant claims) were falsified — illegitimate claims using bogus info and receipts. I’m not sure who thinks that’s a good idea!