Pride CEO departs
amid board election
by James Patterson
Just days after the abrupt resignation of San Francisco Pride CEO Earl Plante, several candidates hoping to win seats on the board that oversees the annual parade and festival met in the Castro to discuss their visions for the organization.
Nearly 50 people attended the Monday, September 9 candidate forum at Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco. The six candidates who participated pledged change and better governance for the beleaguered San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board, which has come under sharp criticism over the way it rescinded a grand marshal honor for convicted WikiLeaks leaker Army private Chelsea Manning.
Pride members who are eligible to vote will elect board members at the committee's annual general meeting Sunday, September 15.
As reported on the Bay Area Reporter 's blog Friday, September 6, Plante was forced out by the board last week.
A letter from the directors said that the board and Plante "reached a mutual agreement" for Plante to resign. His resignation was effective immediately.
Pride board President Lisa Williams has taken a leave from the board and is serving as interim CEO. Davace Chin is now board chair.
Plante's departure came after news broke last week that he had sent a threatening email to a Castro man seeking a position on the board.
In his own 900-word September 6 letter to the "SF Pride Community," which the B.A.R. received Sunday, September 8, Plante said his decision to resign was based largely on the "racist politics of personal destruction" and "unrelenting public vilification" "over the past four months" due to "the erroneous nomination and selection of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning as a Pride parade grand marshal."
While he acknowledged in the email the Manning matter "could have been handled better," he did not take responsibility for the continuing controversy.
"Sadly, attempts by SF Pride to hear the complaints of dissatisfied community members [over the Manning issue] were and continue to be met with alarmingly violent behavior, including physical and verbal assault visited upon staff and Board members," Plante wrote.
No one has been cited, arrested, or charged with any wrongdoing in relation to what Plante claims was a physical assault on him during a chaotic May board meeting.
Monday's forum was sponsored by San Francisco Pride Members for Democracy, Accountability, and Transparency. According to former Pride board president Joey Cain, who is a current candidate for the board, the group formed in July to "work to assure the board of directors will be accountable to the members" and that "the board will govern in accordance with its bylaws, policies, and procedures."
The six candidates who attended were Cain, John Caldera, Kevin Bard, Jose Cital, Jesse Oliver Sanford, and Gary Virginia. Five incumbents seeking to return to the board: Pam Grey, Kirk Linn-Degrassi, Shaun Haines, Justin Taylor and Javarre Cordero Wilson did not attend the two-hour forum, which was moderated by radio personality Michelle Sinhbandith, better known as Michelle Meow.
Most of the candidates – with the exception of Cital, who at 21 is the youngest – said they had long experience with San Francisco Pride and were motivated to seek board positions due to what they saw as management, operational, and governance problems of the current board and leadership over the past year. The candidates agreed board members needed training to understand their responsibilities and obligations to members.
Bard, 35 and the only African American among the candidates present, said one of his top priorities would be to "clean up the bylaws." He said he would work to "rebuild member trust lost over the past year."
Bard, who has a master's degree in political science, said SF Pride needed a "crisp, clear set of bylaws accessible to all members to avoid another Chelsea Manning fiasco."
Bard argued for a "conscientious objector grand marshal" and said there is "a distinct possibility" with him on the board that Manning, now serving a 35-year prison sentence, would be named grand marshal for Pride 2014.
Web and mobile app developer Sanford, 35, the candidate who received the threatening email from Plante, bemoaned the corporatization of Pride and said the organization needed "alternatives to corporate sponsors." He suggested Silicon Valley fundraising as a way SF Pride could pay its bills.
Longtime activist and organizer Virginia, 53, said Pride had become "monotonous" and suggested new activities including fireworks, an LGBTQ arts and crafts area at the festival, and high school bands and Burning Man cars could bring more excitement to the annual parade.
Gay Navy veteran Caldera, 49, suggested monthly tea parties as a way for SF Pride to have open communication with members. He argued for an end to the "gag order" so board members could speak more openly with members.
Cain, who for months has lambasted the Pride board for failing to follow its procedures, reiterated that when Sinhbandith asked him how SF Pride could avoid another Manning controversy.
"Follow the goddamn policies and procedures," he said.
Cital, a gay student activist at City College of San Francisco, said "space for the differently-abled" and LGBTQ elders fearful of hostile drunks could improve safety at Pride and increase community participation.
During time allotted for member questions, SF Pride member and contractor Audrey Joseph asked the candidates to define governance. Each of the candidates responded, but afterwards Joseph said that in her mind, "only three answered, Cain, Virginia, and Sanford."
Sanford said governance required implementing best practices, openness, and accessibility of policies and procedures and communication with members.
Cain, echoing an earlier response, said governance was applying best practices, abiding by bylaws, policies, and procedures, and listening to the concerns of community members. He stressed SF Pride governing documents should be accessible online.
Virginia said good governance required compliance with federal, state, and city laws and SF Pride's bylaws, policies and procedures. He added SF Pride was a service organization and it should be cognizant of that in all of its decisions.
After the forum, Sanford, who, according to his candidate statement, has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, said Plante had not apologized for sending the threatening email.
"I don't expect an apology from him," Sanford said.
Of the CEO's resignation, Sanford said he "wasn't happy about it, but it was a necessary first step for reform at SF Pride."
Supervisors David Campos and Scott Wiener will hold a hearing on SF Pride today (Thursday, September 12) at 2 p.m. during the board's Neighborood Services and Safety Committee meeting at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place. San Francisco Pride's annual general meeting will be held Sunday, September 15 at 2 p.m. at the W hotel. For links to the candidate forum, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsSlA_eDy80 and https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10201054712342429