By Ken Stone
Five months after the USA Track & Field board of directors put elected President Vin Lananna on “temporary administrative leave,” the former Oregon and Olympic track coach was given a chance to have his volunteer job back.
But according to a grievance with track’s governing body filed Feb. 14, the offer from then-board Chairman Steven Miller in July 2018 had several catches.
“Tellingly, the offer of reinstatement … came with preconditions, including a demand for Mr. Lananna’s pledge of loyalty to Mr. Miller as board chair and to incumbent USATF leadership, including a promise to actively support bylaws changes,” says the grievance demanding his reinstatement and payment of his legal fees.
Such bylaw changes would have:
- Extended the term of Miller as board chair through 2021.
- Elevated Mike Conley to permanent vice chair and extended his term as a director through 2021.
- And lengthened Lananna’s own term as president into 2021, “beyond the [four-year] term for which he was elected by the membership.”
“The proposal would essentially vitiate the 2020 election for these key leadership positions,” says the 33-page grievance signed by attorneys Mark Lambert of Palo Alto and David Greifinger of Pacific Palisades.
But the lawyers say Lananna, 66, rejected the offer “as an affront” to the membership that elected him at the 2016 annual meeting in Orlando.
Miller then responded with a “tirade of ad hominem attacks,” the grievance alleges. “In short, the former chair [Miller] and the board were happy to have Mr. Lananna serve as president if he would kowtow to them instead of representing the membership that elected him, and advance their self-interested motives to retain control over USATF.”
The grievance was obtained Monday night by the Oregonian newspaper in Portland and Times of San Diego.
On Tuesday, USATF spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in response to questions: “USATF feels that it is prudent to follow the dispute resolution process prescribed by USATF Bylaws. To protect the integrity of process and the parties involved, we refrain from commenting on specifics.“
Exhibits in the grievance also shed new light on Lananna’s contacts with the U.S. Department of Justice in its probe of how Eugene, Oregon, was awarded the 2021 IAAF world outdoor track and field championships.
Two weeks ago, in a letter to acting USATF president and board chair Conley, Lananna lawyer Martin J. Weinstein wrote that an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York first came to Lananna’s attention in July 2017 when he was served a grand jury subpoena for testimony and documents.“This is a routine mechanism by which witnesses are asked for testimony or documents or both,” Weinstein wrote. “Immediately upon service of the subpoena, we contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of Vin and pledged his and our full cooperation with the investigation.”
Lananna’s obligations under the subpoena were suspended, however, “and Vin was never called to testify” before a grand jury, the lawyer wrote.
But on Oct. 10, 2017, Lananna was interviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn — where he answered every question posed to him, said the letter.
“Following the interview, in February 2018, we produced on Vin’s behalf a small number of documents to further aid the U.S. Attorney’s Office in its investigation. Since that time, Vin has had no substantive contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and nothing further has been requested of him,” said Weinstein — a Washington-based attorney who once worked for the commissioner of Major League Baseball in its case against betting-on-baseball player and manager Pete Rose.
Weinstein closed his note to Conley by calling Lananna’s conduct in pursuit of the 2021 IAAF World Championship for Eugene “entirely appropriate, totally above board, and with no hint of any wrongdoing whatsoever.”
Moreover, the grievance notes that the February 2018 board resolution removing him from office falsely characterizes “the award of the 2021 World Championships to TrackTown USA,” which Lananna then led as president.
“In fact, USATF CEO Max Siegel and then USATF President Stephanie Hightower (USATF’s then representative to the IAAF) signed the application documents” seeking the IAAF world meet, the grievance says. “USATF actively and publicly promoted the bid, and after the controversial award to Doha for 2019, USATF continued its advocacy for bringing the 2021 World Championships to Eugene.”
Thus, it argued, the investigation and Lananna’s cooperation with it didn’t harm his ability to fulfill his duties and complete his term as USATF president. (Lananna, still an associate athletic director at the Unversity of Oregon, resigned from TrackTown USA in mid-July 2018.)
The track community began to react late Monday night.
On letsrun.com, site co-founder Weldon Johnson noted that the grievance shows Lananna entered into a secret agreement with Miller, board member Jeff Porter and Conley that was “never disclosed to membership (and maybe even the rest of the Board). Lananna agreed as long as he held a role with TrackTown USA he would agrees ‘to never act as immediate supervisor of the CEO,'” Max Siegel.
Johnson added: “So the agreement hints at the board wanting to protect Max Siegel from some oversight from Lananna. … [I] would love to see what people think of Miller’s alleged offer to Lananna and the secret agreement Lananna signed. Shouldn’t the agreement have been made public if the USATF president is giving up some of his duties? My first take on that is all parties are at fault on that one.”Besides being reinstated and recovering his lawyer costs, Lananna demands that every member of the USATF board sign a published statement “acknowledging the invalidity of the February 2018 resolution [and] apologizing to Mr. Lananna and the membership for the board’s unjustified action against Mr. Lananna in his capacity as USATF president.”
The grievance alleges the board broke USATF bylaws, operation regulations and even Virginia law (since USATF is incorporated in that state).
Such USATF rules explicitly lay out how a president can be removed — only for “good cause” by a two-thirds vote of membership, the grievance says.
“On its face, and in light of the history of antagonism between certain board members, the chairman and the CEO on the one hand, and Mr. Lananna in his role as president on the other hand, the February 2018 resolution constitutes an unauthorized and unlawful attempt by the 2018 board to discipline and punish Mr. Lananna and to ostracize him from his legitimate presidency,” the filing says. “The board has no such power.”
The grievance also reveals that the USATF board, in a July 2018 meeting, considered restoring Lananna to the presidency.
In a vote on whether to keep Lananna’s “temporary administrative leave” in place, eight board members voted yes, four voted to rescind it and two abstained, said the grievance.
It didn’t say who cast what vote.
Updated at 11:55 a.m. Feb. 26, 2019.
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