Update: Valerie Larabee has resigned as executive director of the Utah Pride Center.
Two letters damning Utah Pride Center Executive Director Valerie Larabee for her leadership style have been presented to the Center’s board of directors. We are expecting a formal response from the group’s executive committee later today.
Letter 1: Former board member
The first letter was presented at the August meeting when Allen Miller resigned as director and member of the finance committee. He chose to keep that letter private until today, as he feels he is being used as the scapegoat for the Center’s current issues.
The second letter, signed by former board members and staff as well as community leaders, was presented on Monday, after which the Center’s board of directors held an emergency meeting.
Titled “Why I am not proud of Utah Pride,” Millers letter charges that Larabee told him, “If you don’t support me as the leader of the LGBT community in this town, you don’t belong on Utah Pride’s board of directors.”
He chose to leave the organization because he, indeed, could not support Larabee as a leader.
He faults Larabee for five main issues: lack of focus, lack of financial knowledge and controls, discrimination and lack of diversity, lack of transparency and lack of leadership ability.
He said that the successes the Center has had in the past year were largely the work of others and that Larabee added little to the efforts, as she “wanders aimlessly from one project to another without clear direction.”
Miller also said that the board was not presented with a complete set of financials of the organization for over a year before he resigned, even though he was on the finance committee, and that a budget for the current year couldn’t be completed until May because the Center’s books were in disarray.
Transparency is the major issue that is being discussed with the Center and acting board president John Netto has made public promises to address that issue. Miller points to secrecy with all Center decisions, even to the point of disallowing staff members talking to board members, and vice-versa. QSaltLake was able to verify that as fact.
He said also that Larabee lacks the skills of being a “bridge builder” in the community, rarely going to other organizations’ events, nor even the events of the Center itself.
“Rather than create synergy between Utah’s major LGBT organizations, she generates contention and conflict,” he wrote.
He also points to an “80 percent” staff turnover in a single year prior to August.
“It is impossible for an organization to function effectively with that level of staff churn,” he wrote.
Miller said he expected that Larabee would try to avert attention away from these issues by making personal attacks against him.
“For the sake of Utah Pride, it is time for Valerie Larabee to go. Executive directors at other Salt Lake not-for-profits have been terminated for far less. It is time for the board of directors to do the right thing and look to fresh leadership to take the reins of the organization and guide it into the future,” he wrote.
Letter 2: Former board members, former staff and community members
The second letter, written directly to John Netto, said that the signors are “deeply concerned about the LGBTQ community and its needs, and the lack of ability of the Utah Pride Center under its current leadership to meet those needs.”
Several of the signors had come to QSaltLake in the past, but were unwilling to have their identities known by the public, fearing reprisal by Larabee and the board.
“The issues with the leadership of the Utah Pride Center are deep-seated, long standing, and have caused mistrust that must be addressed. It is time to break the silence of our collective negative experiences and let our voices be heard, so that the community can move forward,” the letter states.
The group called their letter a “collective vote of no confidence.”
The letter accuses Larabee of hand-picking board members and the president of the board, saying that all candidates are “vetted for the board based on their ability to say ‘yes’ to Valerie.” It says that has contributed to a climate where Larabee has “ultimate power” and her decisions, therefore, went unchecked.
“Additionally, she has prioritized self-interested organizational growth priorities above community needs,” the letter continues. “This has resulted in a lack of trustworthy collaborations with other community organizations and the alienation of other community leaders.”
The group also points blame for the current state of the Center on the board for its “failure to manage the executive director, and its failure in responsibility of fiscal oversight of the organization.”
The letter also mentions the lack of transparency at the Center and the inability for the community to have input on it.
“We want to recognize Valerie Larabee’s years of tireless service and for the many things she has accomplished in her tenure,” the letter states. “However, she long ago exhausted her skill set.
The group called on Larabee to resign and for the review of the current board of directors “to determine who among them is able to fulfill their board duties in a thorough and comprehensive manner, with the needs of the community at the forefront.”
They also called for “transparency, cultural competency, inclusivity, affirming leadership and proven experience building community.”
“Going forward there must be clear mechanisms for accountability of board and staff to the community, and for access to the decision making process by community members,” the letter states. “We all have a deep and profound appreciation for what a community center can be; and we will work to make that a reality.”
Larabee was unavailable for comment before press time. Netto and the executive board are in a meeting and we are expecting an announcement by the end of the day.