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Tuesday
Feb142012

Explorers Club Controversy Part IV: Don Walsh Calls for President Karnath's Resignation

Don Walsh, Honorary President of The Explorers ClubWow.

Since my last post on the controversy within The Explorers Club, I've been trying to decide whether I needed to comment further.

To be honest, I've been very hesitant to write anything more, mainly because I believed the major points had already been addressed.

However, I received a letter today that contained some very important information that I believe needs to be mentioned:

Explorers Club Honorary President Don Walsh has publicly called for President Lorie Karnath's resignation.

For those of you who follow this blog and aren't Explorer Club members, you might not understand the gravity of this development, but I can assure you that this is stunning.

Honorary President Don Walsh has been a member of the Club for over five decades and has served in numerous leadership positions within the Club.  He has been a tireless advocate for the Club and its causes, and is one of the world's most decorated and renowned explorers.  He is famous for being one of only two individuals in the world to dive over seven miles beneath the surface of the ocean into the Marianas Trench, and his numerous awards include not only the The Explorers Medal (the highest award given by the Club) but also the Hubbard Medal, the highest award given by National Geographic

In his role of Honorary President, Don has been a loyal supporter of multiple past presidents of the Club--including current president Lorie Karnath-- until recent events pushed him to speak out against what he believes is an egregious failure of leadership.

I won't take up too much space reviewing the series of events that lead Don to speak out, but if you are just tuning in and want to catch up, you can read my prior blog posts Here, Here, and Here.

Also, for those who have been wanting more information about the outcome of the January 28th Explorers Club Board meeting, all I really know is that none of the issues raised by the Flag and Honors Committee were addressed in spite of the meeting lasting many hours.

Due to the inaction of the Board and the importance of the upcoming Board elections next month, Don Walsh has released a second open letter to the Explorers Club membership.  His first letter can be read Here, and although he asked that it be sent to the Club members, few received it.  

Today I received Don's second letter, a letter in which he spells out exactly why he believes the Club is in a leadership crisis, and ends with Don publicly asking for the immediate resignation of current Explorers Club President Lorie Karnath.  For those who would like to review the letter in its entirety, please click Here.  

For those who simply want an overview, I am quoting from Don's letter at length below:

As a half-century member of the Club and having been involved with two decades of Club governance, I have to tell you that I have never seen such a mess in its leadership:

  • In the three years of the current presidentʼs reign, seven elected directors have been accused of improper activities up to and including a single ʻethics trialʼ that resulted in an unsupported monetary fine (check the bylaws). Some of you are now asking four sitting directors be removed from the Board. No hard evidence of wrongdoing has been presented, just accusations. This is unprecedented in the history of our club. We can do better than this.
  • I was present by phone for the Board meeting/trial of Director Bernstein. Verbal assertions and charges were made (by President Karnath and the ruling clique), but no firm evidence was ever presented. To me, it was a public hanging. To his credit, Josh was much more calm and civil than some of his accusers and,frankly, I think a good case can be made for his exoneration, the reversal of all Board actions against him and the issuing of a public letter of apology. Instead of the Clubʼs leadership taking such steps, the particulars of Joshʼs ʻtrialʼ were leaked to the press and his reputation has been damaged. Frankly, he was libeled and the Clubʼs ruling clique has dragged its collective feet, stalling all efforts to rectify things while costing the Club tens of thousands of dollars in completely unnecessary legal fees.
  • There are financial questions relating to just how much new sponsorship and donation funds have been raised over the past three years. The president claims some pretty optimistic results - and she may be right. But when directors have asked to inspect the records, these requests have been met with resistance. I am not asserting that there have been improprieties. I just think that how things have been counted needs careful review - a review now being blocked by the leadership clique.
  • The threatened mass resignation of 10 of the 12 members of the Flags and Honors Committee is another ʻhistoric firstʼ in the history of the Club. Committee members were seriously concerned about disclosure of internal communications to parties outside the committee. In the most egregious case, a nominee for The Explorers Medal was given information from an internal memo on why he did not receive the highest score. Therefore the members decided they could no longer serve if this situation was not remedied promptly. The committee sent a signed letter to each Board member stating the problem and giving the Board approximately seven weeks to work out a remedy. If this were not done, the 10 members who had signed the message (the only two who did not sign were the president and her husband, Robert Roethenmund) would resign from the committee. In ignorance of the facts, some have labeled the F&H Committee as corrupt, but it is in fact the most ʻblue ribbonʼ committee I have known in my 20 yearsʼ experience with club operations. These 10 members represent over 80 years of club governance experience and include former presidents, Board members and chapter chairs as well as medalists. As you know, the president accepted the resignations almost immediately, claiming she was being“blackmailed.” This was an action she was not empowered to take, only the Board has the ultimate power to ʻhire and fireʼ. So once again we saw the “ruling clique” preempt Board authority.

 Please understand that all of you now ʻownʼ this crisis by virtue of its being widely reported and subjected to synchronized rumors and innuendo. The leadership clique says this is solely the work of the dissenting board members. My experience in watching all of this suggests exactly the opposite. Yes, they are speaking up, but they have chosen to direct their comments to the appropriate parties. They are not guilty of broadcasting public e-mails full of wild accusations that have no merit. There is, in fact, a genuine concern by them for the future of our 107-year institution that is having an unprecedented breakdown due to poor leadership and governance.

When I had command of a ship in the Navy, whatever happened on board was ultimately the captainʼs responsibility. If one of my watch officers ran us aground, it would cost me my job even if I were not on the bridge at the time.

It is clear to me that Lorie has run our Club aground. She has been in charge during the time all of this mess has occurred and continues to occur. She insists it is not her fault, but she is ʻthe captainʼ and, as such, all responsibility rests with her. Given all of the above, she needs to step down immediately and proper leadership should be put into place to govern our Club back to safer waters. 

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