S.D. Pride faces no-confidence vote, falls silentAround the City, Online Only, Top Highlights Friday, October 21st, 2016
Community takeover at hand?
Thom Senzee, author of this article, is a West Coast-based freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to San Diego LGBT Weekly.
SAN DIEGO — Supporters and detractors will face off at the Joyce Beers Community Center Nov. 13 for an up or down vote of confidence aimed at the current board of directors of San Diego LGBT Pride as outrage continues to smolder throughout much of the local community following the sudden ouster in late August of former Pride executive director, Stephen Whitburn by the organization’s board.
As anger grows, what could easily be described as an attempt at a hostile takeover by a group of prominent community leaders is gaining traction. But Pride’s board seems neither able to find its footing nor even its voice in the post-Whitburn era it created during the warm, waning weeks of summer 2016.
Pride’s board of directors issued a statement after it terminated the executive director hired in early 2013 by a board comprised largely of members who have since moved on. The statement praised Whitburn’s work in words so counterintuitively glowing as to border on the poetic. Even more mystifying to those who are now calling for the installation of a new set of directors to take over is why the current board got rid of a leader who just weeks earlier had delivered San Diego’s most financially lucrative, and arguably its most widely praised, LGBT Pride festival ever.
“I can’t speak to the rationality of the board, but I can speak to their actions,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, cofounder of an ad hoc group calling itself the Pride Community Accountability Committee. “Mistakes have been made…[t]here must be fundamental change of the board’s membership.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy, a U.S. Marine veteran who previously served as Pride’s board secretary and is now president of the politically powerful, San Diego Democrats for Equality (which Rodriguez-Kennedy emphatically indicated has no position regarding the current controversy surrounding Pride), has alleged publicly and repeated to San Diego LGBT Weekly during an interview for this report that “some of Pride’s directors have committed egregious acts for which they should resign.”
Another cofounder of the committee Rodriguez-Kennedy organized to oppose Pride’s sudden firing of Whitburn as well as other actions and alleged mistakes made by the board is City Commissioner and “Mayor of Hillcrest” Nicole Murray Ramirez, who is a columnist for this publication and one of Pride’s original founders.
“If they would have had the (disbanded) Advisory Board and talked to them about Stephen (Whitburn) they would have gotten a widespread reaction of how Steve Whitburn has done an outstanding job and has great standing and a lot of support in the community,” Ramirez told LGBT Weekly.
San Diego LGBT Pride’s Wall of Silence
LGBT Weekly postponed publication of this report no fewer than three times during the past two weeks in order to give officials and board members from the organization time and multiple opportunities to respond to the allegations made by Rodriguez-Kennedy and his so-called Pride Community Accountability Committee.
Our attempts to obtain a response included several phone calls, emails, text messages, as well as voicemails, handwritten messages and in-person visits to Pride’s offices in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood.
We reached out to board members, both active and emeriti, and to interim executive director Christiana Tasto, who came to Pride by way of a temporary-employment agency specializing in non-profit executive talent, to no avail.
We were also told by a staff member that Director of Operations Fernando Lopez and Board Secretary Jaime Carrillo would be reachable via email despite their being in Europe on business for the organization at Pride’s expense. That was more than a week ago. As of press time, there had been no reply to our requests for comment from anyone at San Diego LGBT Pride.
“Their lack of connection to the community, the conduct of some of their members, their failure to keep corporate records and their shocking decisions have created a palpable feeling of distrust in the community – because of these factors I would say they are not, in their current construction, a representation of our community,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.
The accusations against Pride are manifold. They include violating basic standards of practice for non-profit organizations that accept federal funding and enjoy 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, not least among them failing to post minutes of board meetings. As of this morning, minutes for several board meetings held this year had not been posted, despite multiple requests having been made in person, via the media, online and in writing by individual community members and by the Pride Community Accountability Committee in recent weeks.
Another, perhaps more troubling accusation centers on one board member who has been accused of engaging in physically and verbally inappropriate behavior against a volunteer during the kickoff to this year’s Pride festival at Balboa Park.
In a dramatic and very public mea culpa, board secretary Jaime Carrillo responded to the person who was allegedly the target of the alleged behavior as she made her complaint to the board by loudly proclaiming “It’s me! I’m the one!” It’s worth noting that the person making the complaint had not named the person about whom she was complaining.
Read next week’s print edition of LGBT Weekly for a full expose about the incident as well as an exclusive interview with the woman who brought forward the accusation.
For a full list of the Pride Community Accountability Committee’s 14 grievances and nine demands for “corrective actions,” which include recomposition of the board in a manner that would look remarkably like the one that hired Whitburn back in 2013, and the re-hiring of Stephen Whitburn as executive director, click here.
Although LGBT Weekly was unable to obtain direct comment from San Diego LGBT Pride, previously the organization issued a statement to the media which read, “Stephen Whitburn was a beloved member of the Pride family, but we have parted ways at this time.”
Visit sdpride.org for more information about San Diego LGBT Pride and savesdpride.org for further details about the Nov. 13 vote of confidence or no-confidence regarding the organization’s board of directors.
A previous version of this story referred to the Pride Community Accountability Committee by its former name, the Community Negotiating Committee.
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