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After a Difficult Year, Scandal-Plagued Iditarod Seeks ‘New Blood’

Aaron Burmeister at the Ceremonial Start, Iditarod 2014
Nome musher Aaron Burmeister at the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, mushing down 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage, Alaska; March 1, 2014. photo: David Dodman, KNOM.

Changes are coming to the Iditarod’s board of directors. According to a press release, the board of the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) approved expanding its numbers from nine to 12 last week. And several directors may step down.

The changes come after a December report by the nonprofit Foraker Group found major flaws within the ITC, which plans and oversees the thousand-mile sled dog race.

Board member John Handeland says the board’s restructuring is a balancing act.

“It’s always good to get new blood in an organization, with new ideas and new contacts, but the historical knowledge is also deemed to be important, and we want to ensure that this transition is as seamless as possible.”

According to Handeland, the Foraker report identified six board members who have potential conflicts of interest. Three have ties to race sponsors. That includes Handeland himself and Stan Foo, who was associated with Donlin Gold. Foo was recently named chief operating officer of Graphite One Alaska, which wants to build a graphite mine on the Seward Peninsula.

Two have family ties to mushers. And one is a musher himself: Wade Marrs, the official musher representative on the board. He’s president of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club (IOFC).

None of the six are being pushed out, Handeland says. The board didn’t feel those conflicts were significant. But they did take away the musher rep’s vote.

“We felt that it was very important to include the mushers and current mushers on the board so that we had their perspective of any changes or any current activities with the trail.”

Marrs could not be reached for comment before the airing of this story. In February, IOFC demanded the resignation of board president Andy Baker, the brother of musher John Baker.

As for who might be leaving now, Handeland only named Aaron Burmeister and Rick Swenson. If they do resign, there’ll be five vacant seats, and the board says it hopes to fill them by the end of June. Handeland says a three-member committee will seek candidates for the board to vote on.

“We’re looking for both diversity in it and also, then, folks that bring to the table sponsors and other organizations that would be a benefit to the organization and the Iditarod as a whole.”

New board members will be subject to a new limit of three three-year terms. But current board members won’t be required to leave immediately. The Foraker report specifically recommended that the board not dump everyone at the same time.

During its meeting last Friday, the board also approved using the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. kennel management standards as official Iditarod policy.

Image at top: file photo: Nome musher Aaron Burmeister at the Iditarod Ceremonial Start in downtown Anchorage, March 1, 2014 (photo: David Dodman, KNOM). Burmeister is one of the ITC board members who may be resigning soon.

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