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Revealing lack of diversity

New board president committed to change

By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / December 19, 2010

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Blood runs deep in the organization responsible for the Boston Marathon.

Diversity? Not so much.

More than 123 years since its founding, the Boston Athletic Association maintains a membership of 120 that largely resembles the gentry of an upper-crust suburban country club.

The 11-member board of governors is all-white and has never included a minority, despite the marathon’s international appeal. The remaining bloc of 109 members includes only two African-Americans, proportionally at odds with Boston’s racial composition and the rainbow of ethnicities represented in the marathon field. Nor is there a minority employee on the BAA’s 15-member administrative staff.

The general membership also lacks roots in the marathon’s namesake city: only 10 percent of the 120 members live in Boston. And relatively few are otherwise active in the Greater Boston running community.

The average age of the board is 63, the general membership nearly 60, and in many cases the characteristics that bind them are best illustrated by family trees.

At least eight BAA members are descended through ancestry or marriage from George V. Brown, the organization’s first athletic director, who in 1905 began a decades-long tradition of Browns firing the race’s starting pistol. At least 26 other BAA members have spouses or relatives on the board, a clannish tradition that Thomas S. Grilk recently extended as board president when his 20-year-old sons, Christopher and David, joined the membership.

Grilk, in a management shake-up amid the Globe’s review of the BAA, recently was chosen to replace Guy L. Morse III as the organization’s executive director. The board elected Joann E. Flaminio to succeed Grilk, making Flaminio the BAA’s first chairwoman when the changes take effect Jan. 1.

Flaminio, 54, of Providence, said in an interview she is committed to making the BAA membership more representative of Boston and the marathoning community.

“The more diverse the membership, the better,’’ she said.

Flaminio was nominated as chairwoman by Gloria G. Ratti, the only other female board member. In recent years, Flaminio has done her part to foster diversity by nominating Japanese and Korean members as well as Wayne Levy, a former community relations director for the Celtics who is African-American.

But efforts to diversify the membership and add new voices to the board have been thornier since 1993, when the governors amended the original bylaws to delete a requirement that barred board members from serving more than two three-year terms. Consequently, the board’s six most-senior members have served an average of more than 21 years.

The board also has been slow to adopt a formal policy on conflicts of interest. In a federal tax return in May, the BAA stated it would ratify a conflict-of-interest policy by June. Yet six months later, the board has yet to do so, Grilk said recently.

In Grilk’s case, the policy could have been relevant because he has long served as both a key leader of the BAA and an officer of a for-profit company, CC Associates, headed by former marathon great Bill Rodgers. The business sells merchandise as a commercial licensee of the BAA.

Grilk said he helped Rodgers incorporate the firm in the 1970s and was unaware Rodgers continued to list him as the company’s secretary. Both Grilk and Rodgers said neither has improperly benefited from the relationship.

Morse said another board member, Thomas W. Whelton, a former lobbyist for Cingular, once helped clear the way for the firm to do business with the BAA.

“Everybody knew what [Whelton’s] job was’’ with Cingular, Morse said. “He made the introductions, and as marketing people we took it.’’

Grilk described the move as part of the BAA’s culture in a period when the organization was struggling financially.

“At that time, anybody who was connected to anybody who could help us was encouraged to go get help,’’ Grilk said.

The BAA, a tax-exempt non-profit, has since shown little interest in tapping the cash surplus it has accrued — $8 million, according to its 2009 tax filing — to give back to the community. While the BAA’s charity program has enabled non-profit partners to raise $106 million since its inception in 1989, the BAA’s direct grants to community groups have been less charitable, averaging less than $42,000 a year over the last decade — and zero in 2009. By contrast, the organization spends more than $200,000 a year on its prerace pasta party for marathoners.

Flaminio said she will push for the BAA to increase its philanthropy in the community, which to date has largely involved supporting youth running programs.

The BAA, meanwhile, has not scrimped on executive pay. Morse’s total compensation has reached nearly $300,000, up from $184,000 in 2000.

Grilk, who is leaving his job as a corporate lawyer to replace Morse, said he will make considerably less than Morse. Morse, after 25 years with the BAA, also will take a pay cut in his new role as senior director of external affairs.