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Bloomsday leadership shaken up with departure of director, 2 board members

Oct. 13, 2022 Updated Fri., Oct. 14, 2022 at 6:22 p.m.

Bloomsday race director Jon Neill shows off the Bloomsdog bandana at a news conference at the Podium earlier this year. The bandana was available for the dogs of virtual runners.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Bloomsday race director Jon Neill shows off the Bloomsdog bandana at a news conference at the Podium earlier this year. The bandana was available for the dogs of virtual runners. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Bloomsday Race Director Jon Neill resigned this week from his role leading one of Spokane’s most iconic events. He cited a “toxic” work environment after the nonprofit’s board of directors stripped him of his title.

“It has been a dream come true to serve as Bloomsday Race Director and I am saddened that it has been taken away,” Neill wrote in a letter, dated Tuesday, to Bloomsday founder and longtime race director Don Kardong and the Bloomsday board.

Two board members, Tom Fuchs and Steven Jones, resigned last month. Fuchs supported Neill, who served as director since 2020, and said he stepped away after seven years on the board because he disagreed with the board reducing Neill’s role and assigning him another title.

“Given the successes of the past three years that we have had, it just seemed unjustified,” Fuchs said.

Dori Whitford, Lilac Bloomsday Association president, said in a statement that Neill chose to step away from leading the organization that puts on Bloomsday, the 7.46-mile race that draws tens of thousands of runners and walkers each May.

“Bloomsday and its affiliated events have become a big job,” Whitford wrote. “Because of this opportunity we will now also be looking at ways to possibly restructure some of our jobs. More details will follow.”

Whitford, Neill, Jones and Kardong could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Neill wrote in his letter that he was informed Sept. 23 the board decided to strip him of his director duties.

“The news came abruptly with little explanation,” Neill wrote. “I was told the race would have no Race Director and I would be assigned another title.”

Neill wrote that he worked “tirelessly” to navigate Bloomsday and Junior Bloomsday through the pandemic, “three of the most challenging years in race history.”

“But during those three economically prosperous years for Bloomsday, I have endured ongoing criticism, insult, and demeaning comments from select members of this Board,” Neill wrote. “Those members have created a toxic, negative, pessimistic, and distracting workplace that remains both corrosive and demoralizing.

“This hostility is not the Bloomsday way, nor should it ever be. This same group appears to have a near-constant obsession with belittling me instead of promoting the goodness of our beloved race. That culture obliterates one’s spirit – mine included.”

This year’s Bloomsday, the 46th edition, was held live for the first time since 2019. The event was held virtually the previous two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bloomsday featured 24,119 in-person registrants and more than 5,000 virtual runners in 2022, according to the Bloomsday website. Neill said earlier this year 35,000 to 42,000 runners typically turn out for the event.

Sylvia Quinn, race director from 1983 to 1991, said Neill never had a chance to direct a race outside the pandemic, and he cannot be judged for those three years because it was more difficult to attract runners.

“I think he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life,” Quinn said of Neill. “And I thought he would be, really, a good race director.”

She said she was shocked when she heard he resigned.

“I was in tears when I heard about it,” Quinn said.

Fuchs said some board members “overly magnified” minor issues and “overly minimized” achievements by Neill and the board.

“It culminated in them making this decision,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs said he has been involved in Bloomsday as a volunteer or board member since 2004. Besides being on the board, Jones served as Bloomsday president in 1987-88, 2000-01 and 2013-16, the Bloomsday website said.

“Bloomsday is more than Jon or this board,” Fuchs said. “Bloomsday is Spokane and Bloomsday is going to be just fine.”

He said Neill gave his heart to the event.

“Jon bled Bloomsday,” Fuchs said. “He was an avid supporter and he was prepared to do this for the rest of his life, so I know it’s hit him hard.”

Fuchs said he intends to help with Bloomsday in the future.

“I will say, despite all of these things about the board, as a group, there is a singular commitment to deliver a product that the community enjoys,” he said.

Neill wrote that “the continual resignation of Board members,” including Jones and Fuchs Sept. 22, “should serve as one more painful reminder that this culture is just wrong.”

“Bloomsday is about lifting people up and positivity, and what I am experiencing from the current Board majority is the furthest thing from it,” wrote Neill, who said he has volunteered since 1995.

“I cannot accept an office space where negativity and gloom thrive,” Neill continued. “Nor will I tolerate for another minute individuals who tell me that ‘toxic positivity’ is to blame for our organizational dysfunction. I am heartbroken that I must leave but the weight of the hostility directed at me, including an indifference to ideas I propose, has become personally crushing.”

Neill wrote he would be happy to return when the board embraces positivity and encouragement.

“This was the job of my dreams, and representing Bloomsday was what I was excited about each and every day,” Neill wrote. “My passion for the race is unwavering, but the ability to do the job for which I was hired has been shackled – and now recently eliminated.”

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