Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Breaking news: Shakeup
with 2014 Gay Games organizers


Cleveland's governmental affairs chief Valarie McCall has resigned from the Cleveland Synergy Foundation, which was awarded the bid for the 2014 Gay Games.
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A city of Cleveland representative has resigned from the group organizing the 2014 Gay Games, and the city government has suspended its financial support of the event pending resolution of disagreements between the organizers and the sanctioning body.

The office of Valarie McCall, chief of government affairs for the city of Cleveland, confirmed to the Bay Area Reporter that McCall had resigned from the board of directors of Cleveland Synergy Foundation, the group which last year won the rights to host Gay Games IX. The timing of and reason for McCall's resignation were not immediately known. A report that attorney Jon J. Pinney, another one of the original nine CSF board members, had resigned has not been confirmed.

Although for the most part representatives of the Federation of Gay Games and CSF are not commenting on developments, enough information has emerged to suggest that CSF is being reorganized for its mission to be more narrowly focused on delivery of Gay Games IX, likely accompanied by a change in the personnel involved.

Copies of a July 7 letter from Tracey Nichols, director of economic development for Cleveland, to CSF founding directors Doug Anderson, Jeff Axberg, and Brian Tavolier, was e-mailed anonymously to numerous members of the media over the weekend. Nichols is on vacation and could not be reached to confirm the letter. According to the letter, on July 6 the FGG invoked "its right to terminate the license agreement with Synergy for the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland and agreeing to pursue voluntary mediation within fourteen days to attempt to resolve the outstanding issues."

[Updated: The letter was confirmed by Nichols's press secretary Monday afternoon.]

Nichols then informed CSF, "In light of the notice given to Synergy by the FGG, the city hereby notifies Synergy that it is suspending any further payments to Synergy until the outstanding issues between the FGG and Synergy are resolved and Synergy continues to hold the license for the 2014 Gay Games."

This far out from the event, the most likely grounds for terminating a license agreement would be failure by the host organization to produce timely deliverables such as project updates and updated budget figures. In mid-June, there was a testy exchange of e-mails between Anderson and the FGG steering committee, which acts as liaison with the hosts.

"Cleveland Synergy Foundation is the legal entity that will host the 2014 Gay Games," Anderson wrote FGG on June 24. "We are the organization that will produce and coordinate the largest event in Ohio's history. Make no mistake about this! The city of Cleveland, Positively Cleveland, and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission do not hold any responsibility to the licensing agreement, which is directly with the Federation of Gay Games and Cleveland Synergy Foundation. They are our partners in this historic endeavor, but do not have the authority by our articles of incorporation or our code of regulations to act on our behalf without our direct written consent."

In the same letter, Anderson charged that members of FGG had "involved themselves with the city of Cleveland's Department of Governmental Affairs and the Department of Economic Development which has created a blockade for CSF to access the grant to receive funds."

Speculation is that after the deadline for mediation passes Tuesday, July 20, either CSF's bylaws as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization would be reworked to focus it more specifically on Gay Games 2014 or the FGG would work with the city of Cleveland to set up a new nonprofit to fill the role. CSF's bylaws do not mention the Gay Games; according to CSF's official bid submission, "Cleveland Synergy Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation organized and operated to measurably enhance the economy, image and quality of life in the Greater Cleveland LGBT and straight community by attracting and creating athletic and cultural events and festivals."

CSF subsequently sent quarterly financial reports and performance plans to the FGG on July 15.

On Monday, July 19, CSF's Axberg issued a statement saying, "the Cleveland Synergy Foundation remains committed to bringing this important, civic, cultural, and economic event to the Cleveland+Akron region."

"The licensing agreement between Synergy and the Federation of Gay Games clearly articulates a process to resolve any questions or conflicts. As outlined in the mutually endorsed agreement, this process should begin with a meeting of the two groups' steering committees. If that meeting leaves questions unanswered, the groups' boards of directors are then required to meet.  Only if those first two meetings result in an impasse would mediation be an appropriate third step, according to the agreement. We have requested that the Federation join us in following this process of resolution in order to maintain the integrity of our organization, the FGG, and the future of the Gay Games movement.

"It is imperative that Gay Games remain an event created by the LGBT community, for the LGBT community, with the partnership and support of the host city. We are confident that once our steering committees and boards of directors meet, it will be clear to all involved that Synergy remains on schedule to deliver the world-class event the community envisioned and the federation endorsed."

Full disclosure: Roger Brigham, an Ohio native, is a past board member of the Federation of Gay Games and as a delegate from Wrestlers WithOut Borders was a site selection voter for the 2014 Gay Games.

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