Friday, September 8, 2017


AN OPINION                                                            COOP KOHLI, LAKES ZONE DIRECTOR


So you think you might want to be the ED someday? The position of Executive Director (ED) of the American Racing Pigeon Union is no place for introverts,contemptibly obnoxious people, or pompous fellows, and while you are at it, you had better bone up on your street-smarts.

Of course, it would be helpful to be elegant socially, to look like a celebrity and to have the humility of the Pope, but you must also have the moxie of a full bird Colonel. Metaphorically speaking, you will sit at 40,000 feet, as if in an AWAC plane, looking down on the moving parts of the sport across the country, developing a sense of what is taking place, fine-tuning your gut feel as to what needs to be done, identifying your strategy to bring diverse people together, then pushing the buttons, making the calls, and greasing the relationships that bring the competing factions back together to make the whole thing tick perfectly.

Behind every decision will loom sometimes painful, unintended consequences.  While lots of people will love and admire you, those that don't get their way, will whine, distort, ridicule or threaten you, and Facebook gives everyone a public platform to present themselves as a truthsayer. Through it all you have to smile, be graceful and poised, maintain the official vision of who we are, know what direction we are headed, know what we want to accomplish; and do it all without ceding influence to those determined to derail the mother ship.  (You also have be strong enough to push down those recurring feelings of wanting to castrate some people.)


For Clifton, coming into the AU on the heels of the well established Executive Director (ED),   Rick Phalen, it was no surprise that for a time she would be working under the great pigeon man’s shadow.  Hired as Sports Development Manager in 1999, Clifton worked for 8 months in both positions, running ads to fill the ED position and the Sport Development position at the same time, not sure herself, which one she was to end up with. After securing Deone Roberts for the Sport Development position, Clifton was given the nod by the board to step into the role of Executive Director.

After education at Oklahoma City Community
College, the University of Central Oklahoma, and
Oklahoma City University, majoring in Business
Administration, Clifton worked for national retailer, TG&Y in Loss Prevention, as Manager of Community Relations for national retailer, CR
Anthony, as Special Event Manager for Feed the
Children, and as Marketing Director for Republic
Casualty Insurance Company. Much of her work in these companies involved outreach between
retailers and customers, or as a liaison between
corporate management and vendors. Her work with Feed the Children involved developing giving opportunities, which frequently led to special events and press conferences, and included making presentations to national conventions for educators of at-risk children. After the Oklahoma City bombing, Clifton was a volunteer co-ordinator, working disaster relief, directing and managing volunteer groups to deliver stock supplies and assist clients. For Republic Casualty Insurance, Clifton traveled the state of Oklahoma, recruiting independent insurance agents to write auto
insurance. In a year and a half, she succeeded in signing up 90 new agents for the company, substantially impacting the company’s top-line revenue.


For starters, there will be no mention here of the 2010 Centennial Convention in Oklahoma City, when our flagship event was waylaid by a multitude of sneaky pigeon racing adversaries devouring a boatload of naive, unsuspecting racing pigeon enthusiasts, followed by a contemptuous legal proceeding that confirmed for all of us that the AU should officially distance itself from pigeon racing gambling; an event that saw a humiliated, unsuspecting Clifton hauled before a county court for illegal gambling for merely lining up the hotel room from which convention-race pigeons were shipped. No, I won't go there, but that’s the ultimate definition of a “hot seat”, and an awful position for a former “Feed the Children” executive to suddenly, innocently, be pressed into because a pooling sheet was found in a room she had reserved for others. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it? My understanding is that after all the details were hammered out, the judge considered pooling on one’s own pigeons in Oklahoma to be no more a crime than the judge’s pooling on his own golf game in a Saturday afternoon Bar Association golf tournament. Everyone was relieved, but it did not lessen the embarrassment for Clifton in her own community. She suffered through the dreadful event in silence like the good soldier she is. Most employees I have ever had, would have walked immediately for the unfairness of it all, then filed a workers’ comp claim against me for stress.

An article was written last month about the USPS decision to stop
handling pigeon shipments across the country around the time of 9/11.  Situations like that test the focus and fortitude of an ED because the need to fix it is immediate, the pain is felt by everyone, and frankly everyone is raising hell.  This was Clifton’s first big test. After meeting over a period of several months with USPS officials and Senators to pressure and persuade USPS to find a way to facilitate shipping, she succeeded in getting USPS to arrange an alternative shipping method through Fed Ex. In the process she also helped established a network of AU members to receive and forward birds for those members that were in areas where shipping was hindered. She also aligned the AU with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council in DC, to gain support to protect the right to ship. Their attorneys went to bat for the AU as a result of our membership with them. Clifton had passed her first big test. “I believe all of these actions saved our ability to ship”, said a relieved Clifton at the time.

Then in 2003 and 2004, another emergency jolted the sport. Exotic
Newcastle broke in California. With the help of AU members, Jim VanderHeide, Warren Shetrone and Tommy Erskine, Clifton coordinated conference calls with the USDA and California Department of Agriculture to discuss the imposed surveillance and restriction of bird movement. Ultimately, the AU paid for testing to disprove pigeons were susceptible. As a result, movement within the quarantine zone was permitted, which allowed most training and racing to continue. That episode kick-started the process of building relationships with many of the State Veterinarians across the country to introduce the AU, so that during times of other outbreaks, like the bomb that was the outbreak of Avian Influenza in 2015, members could continue to fly. As this writer knows better than anybody, the AU was not successful in Ohio, but because of Clifton’s earlier groundwork, most states (Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois) were amenable, and most AU members started racing pigeons again. “It took communicating with them, and educating them”; worked performed over a long period of time by Clifton, herself.


Clifton is usually the one that fields ordinance calls, which take 20-30 
minute conversations to get to the emotionally charged story behind each situation, and once the cause is determined, she decides how to address the matter. Clifton explained. “In some areas, it is a crabby neighbor. In other situations, it is a matter of the city enforcing a “no poultry or fowl” ordinance which requires getting the right official on the phone, appealing to their sympathy, as we get them to listen to why we feel they should allow a spot on their meeting agenda for a resident to propose an amendment to an existing ordinance, or to request a variance. Calls from members faced with having to remove birds from their property are tough ones.”

Clifton also fields the emotional calls from club members that feel they are not being treated fairly in a club, or were voted out of a club, or report allegations that someone is cheating. The calls from members complaining about rules or wanting to file infractions typically start with Clifton. “I receive and log the infractions and then forward them to the committee chairman. One side is always unhappy when a decision is made on an infraction, so I get those calls as well. When disgruntled members call, I find myself trying to calm them down, and trying to get them to turn negative energy into positive. Encouraging the use of a Board Action Request goes a long way with that. I receive, and number those, as well”, she said. “Working with infractions is some of the most difficult and time consuming work we do for the members of this organization, and it is not unusual for no one to be happy with a final outcome,” lamented Clifton.


Many, seemingly little projects fill out the rest of the Executive Director’s schedule. Travel is right in there, of course, and last year, Clifton spent 14 days on the road, visiting umpteen events in 5 states, representing the board at events that were very important to the membership. Clifton also coordinates the Certified Loft Registration program, processes all the band ordersnegotiates with vendors (printing, etc.), and monitors the budget. She also works with the CPA and auditor for bookkeeping, and the year-end budget review.

Then there is the work with the webmaster to keep the website current, the processing of credit card transactions, the schlep mail, the opening and distributing of mail, the deliver of bulk mail, the retrieval of left over newsletters and yearbooks, the coordinating of mailing of publications, the coordinating with the graphic layout designer on publications like the AU Year book, the UpDate, and other communication forms of media. She prepares award certificates and plaques. She coordinates with the post office for
large commercial shipping when preparing bands for distribution.

Clifton also works with the convention host to coordinate the youth race for junior members each year. She prepares the applications for the race, receiving approximately 100 each year, logs them, and then provides monthly updates to each junior member once training begins. After the race she prepares award plaques and certificates for the junior race.

She also receives inquiries and applications for the Help-A-Beginner program, then determines which coordinator (east or west) to send the applications to in order to get the applicants into the program, and assigned a mentor. And then there are the alien band lists, which after being received, are registered into the office database, when rosters are received. Of course, let’s not forget the calls she takes from AU organizations that want to utilize the AU Speakers' Bureau, or Judges' Panel, to coordinate reimbursement.  Clifton added, “I gather, compile and distribute board meeting materials, provide recap of actions taking during the meetings and communicate with those that submit BAR's after the meetings. I also maintain the Directors' manual. I take direction from 12 board members, and attempt to bring the pulse of the membership to the board. I keep thinking, though, that these things seem little, but yet, the days are completely full; and then, I take the trash out, vacuum, and scrub the bathroom.


Now, as incredible as it may sound to those of us that know how
hard this work is, some pontificating pigeon racing Facebook
prodigies would like to see Karen Clifton replaced, along with the board. On this Clifton gets introspective, “My advice to my replacement would be to have tough skin, to be calm, because as much as you may want to tell someone off, you simply can't do it. I would, however, tell them not to allow a member to yell at them, as some of our members are prone to do. There is absolutely no reason in the world for people not to be civil with one another.  This is a sport. Ninety-nine percent of us race pigeons because it is fun. I would say, don’t let them forget that. Don’t let them ever forget that.”  

“I would also encourage my replacement to create a network of members for feedback. I think this helps ensure that the office knows what the needs, or desires, of the members are, and obviously that leads to moving the organization forward, and feeds one confidence in decision-making.”  

We think Karen Clifton is absolutely exceptional in her role as Executive Director, and we want to thank her for her dedicated service. She has paid her dues. She has our support. We have her back. We want her to feel your support. We would like to hear from you, the great silent majority, that rarely expresses an opinion on anything. For me, loyal employees that are great at their jobs are diamonds, especially employees that will take one for the team, as Clifton did in 2010, in Oklahoma City. You don't replace people like that in successful organizations.