Despite ongoing challenges to his leadership and another director’s resignation, Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president Ken Coolen says it’s business as usual for the organization.
Three days after a narrow majority reelected Coolen and the 12-person board dwindled to five as a result, the VPS’s new directors met Jan 24 and accepted their vice-president’s resignation as well.
Shawn Ewing told Xtra after the Jan 21 annual general meeting that she intended to leave the board because she doesn’t think Coolen is the right person to lead the VPS.
“This isn’t a personal thing. I love Ken, the person, dearly. He has done some wonderful things for the organization and the community,” Ewing said. “This is about the leadership of an organization I care very deeply about. He is not the right person to lead.”
Several other former directors echoed Ewing’s concerns on Saturday.
Coolen says he knew of Ewing’s intention to leave. “Like everybody else, she thought that there needed to be new leadership and I did listen to both sides of that, but I feel that I’ve brought this organization a long way in the last three years and I have had many things accomplished under me.”
Coolen acknowledged Ewing’s contributions to the board and says she will be missed. “She saved this organization,” he says. “She did a lot of great things, and I was the one who personally asked her to come back to the board last year.”
Ewing says resigning wasn’t easy. Her resignation would have incapacitated the board, leaving it with only four members when its bylaws require five to function. But Coolen persuaded former VPS director and volunteer coordinator Monika Whitney to return to fill Ewing’s seat. The five members of the VPS board are now Whitney, Coolen, Rick Leonovich, Raigen D’Angelo and Trevor Ashcroft.
Ewing says she’s glad Coolen was able to fill the seat. “But it doesn’t take away from the fact that I don’t think Ken is right for the position. In my heart of hearts, I hope he will prove me wrong.”
Coolen admits he asked Whitney to come back in an attempt to save the VPS from collapse.
“I didn’t want this organization to be crippled by the choices that other people made to leave,” he says.
“I find a way to bring people to the table,” he adds.
“For me it’s not about who the president is,” says Whitney, when asked if she has concerns about Coolen’s leadership.
“I don’t think that Pride is the president,” she says. “To me it’s really about the whole picture. Pride is really important to me. What matters at the end of the day is that we move forward and make sure Pride happens.”
Several outgoing VPS directors, who refused to run again after Coolen’s reelection, expressed concern about his leadership after the annual general meeting.
“A number of people have been questioning the leadership,” outgoing treasurer Bernard LeClair told Xtra. “I have been questioning the leadership.”
“If it wasn’t for Ken [Coolen], there would be a full executive and full board, but no one wants to run because no one wants to sit under him,” said former sponsorship coordinator Caryl Dolinko, whose contract the VPS terminated prematurely last July.
“There was a mass withdrawal of directors from the board due to Ken Coolen’s leadership and behaviour,” said former director Chris Ellis, who could not attend the meeting. “The VPS is in crisis — needlessly so.”
Among other things, Ellis says Coolen has not filed a written president’s report in years — though Coolen did present a verbal report at the Jan 24 board meeting acknowledging past mistakes and focusing on the future.
Ellis also thinks Coolen has become too involved in national and international queer outreach work at the expense of his responsibilities closer to home.
Outreach has been “one of the big keys to Pride’s success,” Coolen says, though he admits he may have focused too much on it.
But, he says, he is no longer chair of the outreach committee. He says he now plans to focus on rebuilding the board.
D’Angelo is the new outreach chair.
“We are not in a dire situation,” Coolen insists. “We have some work to do and we definitely have some rebuilding to do, but I am not afraid for the future of this organization. We are financially healthy. We have the infrastructure that has not been seen before in this organization and the staff is phenomenal. We are not in a scary place.”
“There have been times in the past when the board has been down to five or six people,” Coolen notes. “This isn’t new for this organization by any means.”