Busy Days in San Antonio—The 2018 USPA Board of Directors Winter Meeting
Features | May 01, 2018
Busy Days in San Antonio—The 2018 USPA Board of Directors Winter Meeting

USPA Staff

San Antonio, an anchor of the Texas Triangle (an area of the state containing five major cities and 70 percent of its population), attracted Texas-sized crowds for the USPA Board of Directors meeting March 2-4. The winter meeting, one of the most well-attended USPA meetings in history, contained three days of full agendas and an evening of camaraderie along the Riverwalk after Saturday’s annual USPA General Membership Meeting.

After dispensing with obligatory matters (adopting the minutes of the prior meeting and the agenda for the current meeting), the board turned first to filling a vacancy. Pacific Regional Director Jason Putnam Gordon submitted his resignation for personal reasons in March, and the board needed to elect a member from the region to serve through the end of 2018, his remaining term. Two members, Ron Bell and Brett Martin, waged campaigns by inviting supporters to submit testimonial letters and emails to the board. Both received a nomination and addressed the board regarding their qualifications and motivations to serve. Following a secret ballot, the board elected Bell, who immediately took his seat at the boardroom table.

Then the first day’s agenda turned to disciplinary matters. Section 1-6 of the Governance Manual guides USPA’s disciplinary process, which allows individuals a final right of appeal to the full board. Four individuals appealed disciplinary actions, and the board heard each one before voting to uphold all four actions. Coincidentally, at this meeting the board approved changes to Section 1-6 to better streamline the investigative process. Whether this reduces the time the board spends dealing with appeals remains to be seen.

Practical Matters

Meetings of the board’s nine standing committees—Competition, Constitution & Bylaws, Executive, Finance & Budget, Governance, Group Membership, Membership Services, Regional Directors and Safety & Training—took up the bulk of the weekend. During these meetings, the committees receive briefings on topics of concern and often (but not always) approve motions that they then bring to the full board over the weekend. Sometimes those motions involve substantive issues; sometimes they involve important but more perfunctory measures. This meeting involved more of the latter, such as:

  •  Approving the annual audit of USPA’s financials: USPA’s 2016 audit by an outside auditing firm was clean with no areas of concern.
  •  Approving the 2018 budget: The board provided interim approval of USPA’s calendar-year budget before January 1 and provided final approval at this meeting. For 2018, USPA is projecting revenues of $3,714,360 and expenses of $3,640,631 to end the year with a $73,729 operational excess and a $224,279 total excess after accounting for investment earnings.
  •  Team Trust Fund allocation: As trustees for the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund (now totaling $1,551,109), the board allocated its biennial funding to the U.S. Team to help pay for its registration, jumps, lodging and some meals at the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Championships. To send 77 U.S. Team members to this year’s four championships in Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic and Australia, the board approved an allocation of $100,000, the most ever from the Team Trust Fund. (By law, the board can allocate only the interest earned by the trust fund so that the fund will continue to grow and serve its purpose.)


Kirk Verner, the chair of the agenda-packed Competition Committee, efficiently balanced the time restraints and workload. His leadership allowed the resolution of multiple difficult topics. Notably, after three years of test events including a very successful event at Skydive Perris in California, the committee approved the adoption of speed skydiving as an official USPA National Championships event. The new event paves the way for the selection of U.S. Parachute Team members and secures their eligibility for relevant funding.
The committee, which has been keeping an eye on the USPA National Collegiate Parachuting Championships due to the declining number of entries over the last several years, made a few changes to improve the events, including:

  • Splitting 2-way formation skydiving into open and advanced classes and placing a restriction of no more than one hour of wind tunnel time on advanced-class competitors;
  • Significantly revising the 2-way vertical formation skydiving dive pool;
  • Retiring the Gavin Gavel award.

Oftentimes, the committee must address overall policy in addition to event-specific rules. This year, the committee officially adopted a longstanding policy of using the gender specified by the athlete’s government-issued identification for transgender athletes who compete or set records.

The recent death of longtime competitor, judge and record-setter Tom Jenkins, D-7707, occasioned the introduction of a new formation in the 10-way formation skydiving dive pool. The new formation, Tom’s Texas, replaces the Hand Prop.

Finally, the committee adopted a variety of changes necessary to keep USPA National Championships event rules consistent with international rules. However, the committee declined to adopt the international canopy piloting freestyle event as part of the USPA National Championships. The committee will review this decision in the future.

Safety & Training

Across the hall from the competition committee, the Safety & Training Committee also tackled a long agenda with limited time. Chairman Mike Wadkins handled the added pressure with ease and kept the committee focused and moving forward, prioritizing agenda items as necessary.

Much of the discussion during the committee meetings focused on instructor examiner requirements, and a few motions moved forward to the full board for approval in Sunday’s plenary session. The board approved a motion meant to ensure that those who hold the highest instructional rating truly understand the USPA course materials by requiring all USPA Instructor Examiners to speak, read and understand English. In addition, the board approved a motion requiring any examiner candidate to complete at least 25 ground evaluations to receive the rating. And finally, the board approved a motion to require all new examiners to complete three full rating courses before starting to train examiner candidates themselves. (More information on these changes is available in “Rating Corner” in the Safety and Training section of this issue of Parachutist.)

After the time-consuming task of tightening up examiner requirements, the committee tabled some non-time-sensitive agenda items. At its next meeting, the committee will look at possibly adding more landing skill requirements to the PRO rating for those who apply to use small, fast canopies. It will also look at requiring instructors to report the details of each solo student or tandem jump that results in activation of an automatic activation device.

The weekend also included the annual USPA General Membership Meeting, which attracted 101 USPA members from around Texas and across the U.S. The packed conference room was filled with enthusiasm as members received a USPA State of the Association report from staff members discussing exciting projects planned for 2018. Afterward, members engaged board and staff through open dialogue to give their thanks and share their concerns.

The evening wrapped up with a Texas-sized gathering on the Riverwalk.

The USPA Board next meets July 13-15 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Board Says Farewell to Departing Member Jason Putnam Gordon

The board bids an appreciative farewell to Jason Putnam Gordon, who served on the board of directors for five years after being elected Pacific Regional Director in 2012 and reelected in 2015. A corporate attorney, Gordon had a thriving legal practice when he joined the board and had already served on a variety of corporate and non-profit boards. Always reminding the board that he was not USPA’s attorney, Gordon nevertheless brought priceless experience and thoughtful advice to the board’s decision-making process.

An increasingly busy work schedule and a growing family persuaded him that he would not have the time demanded of a regional director, resulting in his decision to resign his seat on the board in early March. He once estimated that the position requires about 200 hours of dedicated time per year, not counting time spent at board meetings. In a letter to the board, he wrote, “Last year was an eventful year for me as I moved my legal practice to a larger law firm.  As I start this year, it is clear to me that the demands of my new position (coupled with my wife and I expecting our first child in April) will leave me with insufficient discretionary time to continue to serve as the Pacific Regional Director. The sport of skydiving has changed my life for the better, and so it has been a privilege to serve the board and the members of the USPA for the last five years.”

An active skydiver and amateur (his word) vertical formation skydiving competitor, Gordon served on the board’s Competition Committee and Finance & Budget Committee in his first term. He spent his second term on the Group Membership Committee and the Constitution & Bylaws Committee, where he drove to revise USPA’s Governance Manual to provide greater transparency and improved decision-making by the board.

"USPA would like to thank Jason, who has a legal background and has generously donated a lot of his time to some thorny legal issues involving USPA," commented USPA President Jay Stokes. "His time and dedication will be missed."

USPA’s Newest Board Member: Ron Bell

With the departure of Jason Putnam Gordon, the board elected Ron Bell, D-26863, to serve as the Pacific Regional Director for the remainder of the 2016-2018 term. Prior to the election, Bell secured the endorsements of 119 members who sent testimonial letters and emails to the board on his behalf.

Bell began skydiving as a paratrooper in a long-range surveillance unit in the 1st Battalion (Airborne) 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Army National Guard. After an honorable discharge and a career as the founder of a construction firm, he turned back to skydiving and began his full-time skydiving career in 2007 as an instructor and videographer.

Over the years, Bell has fully immersed himself in the sport by owning and managing an onsite deli and staff house; working as a videographer and a tandem and AFF instructor; and then becoming chief instructor and DZ manager. Bell eventually turned his focus to education and training by becoming a Safety and Training Advisor and instructor examiner, positions he has held since 2011. Having conducted over 60 USPA Instructor Rating Courses, Bell brings a seasoned skydiving career built on a foundation of military leadership to the board.

Bell desires to serve the membership by promoting a productive and positive image of USPA and what it has to offer its members. He says he is committed to using his passion for teaching and his enthusiasm for the sport to serve the members in his region and to be their voice to USPA.

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Tags: May 2018
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