Turmoil roils SF Pride
by Matthew S. Bajko and Seth Hemmelgarn
With just over six months left before San Francisco's 41st LGBT Pride Parade, the organization that runs the mammoth event appears to be in turmoil.
As reported last week, one of the board's co-chairs has resigned, and the board has furloughed administrative staff, including the sponsorship director, in order to save money.
In addition, the remaining board chair, Nikki Calma, doesn't know how much money is in the bank. However, she said an anonymous donor has stepped in to help.
Despite the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee's internal problems – its executive director resigned last month amid budget deficits – several people expressed confidence the event will occur in June 2011.
When asked about the state of planning for next year's Pride by the Bay Area Reporter last week, outgoing District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty said that the LGBT celebration will go on but that he is concerned with its current leadership.
"Yes there will be a Pride in 2001, that is an agenda item I am carrying forward with me," said Dufty, who will leave office in January.
Shortly after Pride revealed its financial troubles, Dufty offered to assist with fundraising and asked the city controller's office to audit the organization. But his relationship with Pride board members has been fraught; he heard about the worker furloughs from an employee and learned that Shawn Parker had resigned as co-chair by reading last week's story in the B.A.R.
Parker, who didn't respond to an interview request for this week's story, had said that he resigned because of his workload outside Pride.
"I have had a difficult time with the Pride board," Dufty said. "They delayed me meeting with their sponsorship person for more than six weeks. For reasons ... I think some people on the board I think aren't happy with our involvement."
He later added that, "Honestly, I didn't step into this thing because I thought I was going to get a bouquet of roses."
When he did arrange his first meeting with Eddie Valtierra, Pride's director of sponsorship, two Pride board members and two other staffers also attended the meeting, which surprised Dufty.
"It was kind of strange," said Dufty. "I will continue to be involved in raising money but it is frustrating to me why do I have to wait six weeks to start working? I told them why don't you just have Eddie here with me 10 hours a week?"
Valtierra declined an interview request from the B.A.R., citing Pride's policy of prohibiting staff from speaking to the media.
Immediately following the initial meeting, Dufty met with Mayor Gavin Newsom's liaison with Silicon Valley companies and contacted Google and other high-tech firms about sponsoring Pride. He also has been talking with other companies that have reduced their sponsorship of the event in recent years.
"I have actually been doing forensics and going to some of the companies who have dramatically reduced financial contributions to Pride. I think I have a better handle on what some of their concerns are and what we need to do to win them back," said Dufty. "Definitely, among the sponsors that have reduced their support was a feeling they were not seeing the return or value from their investment."
At this point, with six months left before next year's Pride weekend, Dufty said that he remains "concerned but hopeful" that the Pride board can pull off the event, mostly because he continues to have faith in the independent contractors, such as Joe Wagenhofer and Marsha Levine, who manage the parade and other aspects of the festival.
"There are some very seasoned people ...who can make this event happen," said Dufty.
For now he is waiting to see the controller's report on Pride, which Dufty said he has been told should be released soon and will not reveal any "serious problems" with the organization. The city's Grants for the Arts office awarded $58,400 to Pride this year.
"In the scope of nonprofits they have reviewed, the difficulties at Pride are less serious than at others they have reviewed," said Dufty.
District 8 Supervisor-elect Scott Wiener told the B.A.R. last week, "I am very concerned about where Pride is right now" but said, "Bevan has been updating me. Certainly, it will be a priority."
Calma said in a phone interview Monday, December 13, that she thinks Pride officials have been responsive to Dufty.
"We try our best," she said.
She also said she's been meeting with sponsors to assure them that the 2011 celebration "is going to happen," and to talk about bringing money in earlier so that when Valtierra returns in January, "all he has to do is basically implement the paperwork."
No sponsors have made firm commitments, Calma said Monday. Calma said Pride's projecting that it will have at least $500,000 from sponsorships for 2011, which she said is similar to what the organization brought in for 2010.
Valtierra will be the only staffer returning in January. Parker had said that furloughed staff would return to work in January, but Calma said Monday that except for Valtierra, they wouldn't come back until February.
One thing Parker hadn't mentioned to the B.A.R. was that the director of external relations position, which had been held by Troy Coalman, was cut this month. Calma said this week that cut would save a "significant amount" of money but she declined to say how much. In response to an e-mail asking about his departure, Coalman declined to state his salary.
Help comes after a rough year
Overall, it's been a rough year for Pride.
Former Executive Director Amy Andre and ex-Board President Mikayla Connell both announced their resignations in October.
Andre, whose resignation was effective November 19, has refused to tell the B.A.R. exactly why she resigned. Connell had previously expressed a desire to quit, and her term as president expired in October. She had decided not to run again, and her resignation was effective immediately.
The two left the agency, which organizes one of the world's largest Pride events, with a deficit estimated at up to $90,000, plus almost $50,000 more owed to beverage partners, who were out thousands of dollars from what they were expecting due to what has been described as a "misunderstanding." Parker said earlier this month that the board has put its search for a new executive director on hold. Pride's budget for this year was $1.5 million.
Calma didn't know this week what the size of the deficit is. She said additional payments haven't been made to beverage partners, but "that's the top priority right now."
She said there are "necessary" operating expenses such as rent and an anonymous donor "came to rescue us" with "a substantial amount of money."
"We're still in talks with them," said Calma of the donor. She said the plan is for the person to give Pride a grant and offer a "long range, low interest loan." She said she didn't know the details of the grant or loan.
Others weigh in
Andy Copperhall, who angrily resigned as Pride's beverage manager in September, said Tuesday that nobody has approached him about returning. He also said he'd want to wait to see how the changes at Pride shake out before committing.
Copperhall said the current five board members should resign. He noted Pride is just six months away.
"The whole organization's completely in disarray," he said.
Calma noted vendor sales have begun and referred to the anonymous assistance, which she said is supposed to get the organization through March.
Copperhall said he's "really surprised" that nobody's contacted him about returning, explaining that the entire contracting team should be assembled if Pride officials are "serious about pulling off an event next year."
He also said an interim board should be brought in consisting of "stalwarts" such as former board President Joey Cain and former Executive Director Teddy Witherington, so they can "restart the whole process and get this thing back on its feet."
Calma said she wouldn't resign. She said she'd like to "start conversing" with Copperhall, though, and that offering him a contract is "on my list to do."
Witherington said no one's asked him officially to join the Pride board. He also said he has "a lot of admiration for [Pride's] remaining board members."
Cain offered his help to the board in October. He said Tuesday that he hadn't heard from them since then, but he'd been invited to that night's general membership meeting. He said he'd be willing to return to the board "even if only for a year," but in an e-mail Wednesday, December 15, he said there was "still no word" on what's happening with his participation.
Asked about Cain possibly returning, at least on a proposed community advisory board, Calma said this week, "I am talking to him, but we haven't touched base on it."
Audrey Joseph, Pride's longtime main stage producer, resigned after the 2009 event, then returned this year after the Pride Committee apparently couldn't find anyone to replace her.
Joseph said this week that there haven't been any contract discussions or negotiations, but given Pride's "tenuous" financial status, she said that "kind of makes sense." She said Pride would still happen "with or without you or me or anybody, because it's Pride." Joseph said that she would not produce the main stage without a contract.
She told the B.A.R. on Tuesday that after the paper had talked to her and Calma, Calma sent her an e-mail saying she'd like to meet with her next week.
Levine, who's worked on Pride since 1985 and is now the parade coordinator, said in an interview last week, "I don't have a signed contract yet, but I'm just doing whatever I'm normally doing at this time of year."
She also said, "Pride isn't just going to fold up and disappear because of issues with finances or issues with leadership. It's not that weak of an organization that a temporary issue is going to crumble it."
Wagenhofer, Pride's event director, said this week that he does have a contract.
"I'm looking forward to a successful 2011 event," he said. "... I think the board is doing a good job now in guiding us through our difficult time."