On October 28, 2013, citing a financial crisis, the Utah Pride Center laid off two of its directors and cut salary and benefits for other staff members. In response to public outcry, Pride hosted several “talking circle” meetings with the community, ostensibly to gain input from concerned community members and to communicate their plan to rectify the problems and put Pride back on firm financial ground.
During those meetings several promises were made to the community. However, as time has elapsed and the initial anger subsided, many of those promises remain unfulfilled.
Then acting board president John Netto, who has since been elected by the board to that position, indicated several times that the meetings would continue at least monthly, but it is now mid-January 2014 and there hasn’t been a meeting with the public since early November. None are currently scheduled. In a telephone conversation with QSaltLake, Utah Pride board member Jesse Nix indicated that he felt the community meetings were unnecessary as board meetings are open to the public.
In the meeting on October 30, 2013, Netto promised both the community and QSaltLake that financial statements for Utah Pride would be available within 30 days. At a board meeting on Dec. 3, Netto indicated that the statements would not be released until sometime “early next year,” after an audit had been performed on the statements.
In a phone conversation with QSaltLake on Dec. 30, Netto indicated that the auditors were finishing their work and statements would be available “within a few days.” In a follow-up email on this topic QSaltLake asked if the financials were available, to which Netto replied “NO!!!” He also denied making the statement and characterized QSaltLake‘s follow-up on the financial statements as “harassment.”
In an email of Jan. 12, Netto indicated that they had “just completed the detail review of all capital campaign donations and reported the results to the Capital Campaign Committee.” QSaltLake‘s request for a copy of this report was answered with “YES. We will make a few adjustments with input from the Capital Campaign and you can review the internal report.” As of press time on Jan. 17, this adjusted internal report has yet to be made available to QSaltLake.
One of the primary complaints aired during the public meetings was a lack of transparency about Pride Center operations, as well as financials. Board member Jesse Nix was tasked with preparing a “transparency plan,” which has since been posted on the Utah Pride website. The UPC board’s actions, however, belie this announced commitment to transparency.
Utah Pride’s staff members have all been required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, ostensibly to protect confidential matters. Many organizations require staff to sign such documents in order to protect business secrets or confidential information, especially in regard to clients and volunteers. This document, however, seemingly goes well beyond that usual scope and, according to Netto, includes a provision prohibiting disclosure of what is actually contained in the document and policy. Netto refused to release a copy of the agreement on the grounds that Pride’s violation of that clause could invalidate any claim against an employee who may violate the terms of the agreement.
Netto further indicated that the document was under review for appropriateness and/or legality, but rushed to have employees sign what they had available because no such non-disclosure was in place for staff. He clarified that UPC policy prohibits staff from discussing “confidential Center matters” with the press, but did not elaborate on what constitutes a “confidential” matter. Based upon his statements regarding the non-disclosure agreement, it seems that Center policy falls into the the Board of Directors’ definition of a confidential matter.
The final promise made centers around the SAGE Utah program. SAGE is a program for the aging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population and provides both community and service support for LGBT seniors. The SAGE community was the most vocal following the layoffs, as one of the terminated employees was Charles Lynn Frost, the SAGE director at Utah Pride.
At the very first public meeting the Pride board committed to working with the SAGE Advisory Board to draft a Memorandum of Understanding between Utah Pride and SAGE Board. Over the course of the past few months there have been several meetings and drafts and redrafts of this MOU, but a final version has yet to be approved.
The SAGE Advisory Board has requested more autonomy from Utah Pride, while working within the structure to increase community building. The key elements of discussion center around promises made to them during the public meetings and the follow-up meetings between the SAGE Board and representatives of the Utah Pride board: access to their email list, a separate bank account exclusively for SAGE programming and events, SAGE representation on the Utah Pride board, “seed money” from Pride to help rebuild the SAGE program, and a designated employee with a set number of hours dedicated to SAGE each week.
It seemed, as recently as last week, that the relationship between the SAGE Advisory Board and Utah Pride would crumble. An internal communication at Utah Pride, sent by Director of Community Support & Wellness Services Danielle Watters to all staff referenced the “former SAGE Advisory Board” and indicated that an MOU would not be forthcoming.
When questioned about this email, Netto responded with, “I think someone on the staff concluded inaccurately that because some folks from the Sage Advisory Board stated they would not participate if they did not have full control, that we would have no choice but to disband the leadership under that threat. Jerry [Buie]’s email to me states that position. This is very destructive commentary from there [sic] board members and serves to undermine the negotiation process. I have made it clear that we will not give up ownership of the brand or program. I also believe there is lots of room for the Sage leadership to exercise control without ownership.”
Buie, referenced in Netto’s reply, denies sending any such “destructive” email. When further questioned, Netto refused to release a copy of this alleged email, citing his desire to not proceed with these negotiations in a public forum.
That tone, however, seems to have changed. In an email to Jerry Buie on Jan. 15, Netto indicated that he believes all of the SAGE requests can be accommodated. A meeting between the Utah Pride Executive Committee and members of the SAGE Advisory Board has been scheduled and the SAGE Board has been given a spot on the agenda of the next Utah Pride board meeting, scheduled for Jan. 27.