Explorers Club Follow-Up: More Details Emerge

After posting my previous story last night on the unusual happenings at the Explorers Club, I’ve now had a second source come forward to fill in more of the details and I’ve also spoken with an official from the Club itself. This is definitely an evolving story right now, with two very different perspectives of this situation. I’ll try to best relate the details as they have been conveyed to me from both sides.

First, I’ll tell you what I heard back from the Club itself after I placed a phone call yesterday looking for comment. This morning, I received a call back from Explorers Club Executive Director Matt Williams, who understandably couldn’t share a lot of details. He did say that the dispute came about when the Club’s Board of Directors requested specific information from the Flag and Honors Committee and that the committee refused to provide that information. When the Board pressed them for the requested documents, 10 of the 12 committee members threatened to resign, and when that happened, President Lorie Karnath chose to accept their resignations immediately.

Matt didn’t share exactly what information the Board was requesting, nor is the reasoning behind why the committee would refuse to provide it, simply stating that it wasn’t something for public knowledge. Williams also noted that this dispute is an internal one, and that the Club wished to resolve it privately and with respect to the history and stature of the organization.

Some of what the Executive Director told me runs a bit counter to what I’m hearing from my second source however. I’ve been told that the dispute began prior to an October Board meeting that was held in St. Louis, when a list of nominees for the Club’s prestigious awards was leaked to several of the people who had been nominated. Some of those nominees had been backed by Club Directors, and when the Flag and Honors Committee held their confidential vote, those nominees were ultimately left off the short list of final candidates. I’m told that this didn’t sit well with the Directors who nominated them and caused quite a stir at the Board meeting. The integrity of the F&H Committee was called into question, as were their policies and procedures they employed. Some even suggested that the final list of candidates for the awards be thrown out altogether.

As a result of these proceedings, 10 of the 12 F&H Committee members drafted a letter to the Board asking them to investigate the breach in confidentiality in the Committee’s process for selecting award winners and the use of the awards for political gain. Those members said that if such an investigation didn’t take place prior to a Board meeting scheduled for January 27, 2012 in San Francisco, that they would resign their positions.

This letter in question was sent to the Board approximately ten days ago and echos some of the same concerns that were part of a separate report from the Club’s Ombudsman that was the result of an independent  assessment of how the Club operates. The two documents were on the agenda for a special Board meeting that was held on Monday of this week, but despite their urgent nature, and the possibility of high ranking club members resigning, I’m told that neither of them were discussed.

On Wednesday, the President notified the 10 members of the F&H Committee that she was accepting their resignations immediately and without any discussion with the Board on the matter. They were, in effect, let go from their positions on the Committee, without receiving a proper response to the letter that expressed their concerns over how the Club is being run.

According to one of my sources, this is the first time in the Club’s 107 year history that there have been mass resignations from any committee. It is also unclear whether or not the President acted within her purview in accepting the resignations, as all committee members and chairs are approved by the Board of Directors.

In regards to the story that the Committee members were let go because they refused to provide information requested by the Board, my sources say that this is untrue. I’m told that the Board didn’t request anything from them, although the President and two Directors did ask to see documentation showing deliberations by the F&H committee on the nominees who failed to win the awards. This came after the Board of Directors accepted the Committee’s nominations. Apparently, members of the Committee didn’t feel comfortable handing those documents over to anyone other than the Board, citing prior issues with keeping the information confidential.

The Explorers Club is an organization with a long and storied history, and for more than a century its members have been some of the biggest names in exploration and adventure. It is clear that there is an internal dispute going on right now over how the organization is being run and where it is headed in the future. While the story clearly has two sides, I can tell you that the two sources that I have spoken to on this topic have a deep respect and admiration for the Club and its members, both past and present, and they fear a tainting of the organization’s reputation due to the use of some of the Club’s institutions for political gain.

How will all of this play out? For now, we’ll have to wait and see. The details to the story are still emerging at this time.

Kraig Becker