The president of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has been ousted and a new interim slate of directors will govern the organization until the end of the year, members decided at a special general meeting on March 11.
An overwhelming majority of the nearly 100 members present voted to nullify January’s election results due to “voting irregularities.”
Gone from the board is the narrowly reelected president, Ken Coolen. The new interim board members are Tim Richards, president; Chrissy Taylor, vice-president; Bernard Leclair, treasurer; Ray Lam, secretary; and directors-at-large Tim Kraumanis, Debbie Oon and Trevor Ashcroft. Rick Leonovich and Raigen D’Angelo, who denounced the dissolution motion, will remain on the board as well.
Prior to the March 11 special meeting, the VPS board had been reduced to four directors, below quorum, after Trevor Ashcroft resigned on Feb 9.
Lam, who ran unsuccessfully for president at January’s annual general meeting, drafted the requisition for a new election in the wake of alleged voting irregularities involving individuals casting multiple votes.
Coolen maintains he won his seat fairly in January.
“On the final vote there were 40 ballots cast, and, of those, 21 were for myself and 19 were for Chrissy Taylor,” he told the membership, noting that the 21 votes cast for him represented more than 50 percent and were therefore sufficient to win.
As for some members holding multiple votes, Coolen said notices were sent explaining the need for letters of authorization to represent an organization, but some voters were unaware of the documentation required for the new voting policy. “The chair made the call and leniency was given,” he said.
“There were allowances that were made and that certainly was uncorrected,” agreed former VPS vice-president Shawn Ewing, who chaired January’s AGM.
“I stand here today somewhat embarrassed,” she told the membership. “I tried my damnedest at the AGM to make sure that we followed all the policies and procedures and rules and bylaws and all those kinds of things. But the actual fact is that we didn’t. At the end of the day — when it was brought forward to me after the AGM that we had violated a bylaw in the Societies Act that states ‘one member, one vote’ — we had made a mistake.”
“We know that we’ve screwed up and we’re trying to fix that,” Lam added. “We’re owning up to that mistake today.”
“Did the voting irregularities that were stated in the requisition actually take place at the AGM?” Lam publicly asked VPS staff.
“Yes,” staff member Sharon Nelson replied.
Longstanding VPS member Laura McDiarmid supported the motion to overturn the election. “I’ve been a member of this community for almost 30 years now, and I’ve seen our Pride grow and I’ve seen our Pride go through a number of problems, changes and challenges, and I see us all coming together here because of challenges again,” she said. “We need to have a board that is for the community and that works for our Pride Society for the future, and not for the immediate here and now.”
“To me it makes sense that we focus on correcting the voting irregularities and that we make sure that we have strict rules that we adhere to going forward,” said VPS member Kelly Worral. “But I feel it’s a bit much to say, ‘We’ve always held the elections the wrong way and therefore this past one doesn’t count and we need to do it again.”
Raigen D’Angelo thought the meeting was merely a ruse.
“The main reason why this [SGM] is taking place is not about irregularities proposed at the AGM. The whole purpose of this exercise is to get rid of Ken Coolen,” she told the membership.
“If there is any concern about the AGM not taking place fairly, then the requisitionists should be taking the chair of the AGM to task and not the people who were elected fairly,” she added.
Despite opposition from a few members, the motion to nullify the January AGM election results passed. Ewing then proposed a second motion to accept a handpicked slate of interim board members.
Monika Whitney, who was appointed by Coolen as a director in February to make quorum on a dwindling VPS board, opposed the slate, requesting instead that each potential interim board member be individually considered.
But her motion was overturned and the interim slate passed, with the stipulation that a new VPS election be held no later than Dec 15, 2012.
Whitney later told Xtra that while she could back the majority of the people on the interim slate, she had concerns about some of them. “There are one or two people on the list that have made significant mistakes in the past, and I do think they are acting for personal reasons,” she said, though she refused to name the people to whom she referred.
The proposed slate was handpicked by the 39 requisitioners who supported Lam’s motion to remove the board elected in January.
“I think they’re all great people,” Whitney amends, but “it’s weird to say the other election wasn’t fair but then to put on a slate of people that were handpicked. I think it looks kind of shady.”
“I was questioning that myself,” McDiarmid says. “But this is an interim appointment. It is a trial run, and come the AGM we’ll see how that transpires.”
McDiarmid says she’s relieved that the VPS can get back to business.
Immediate VPS priorities include ensuring this year’s Pride celebration is a success, revitalizing the VPS and reviewing its bylaws, and searching for a new general manager to replace outgoing manager Scott Blythe, says interim president Tim Richards.
Richards says he has “mixed emotions” about occupying the temporary seat but will do what he can to help strengthen the organization. “I’m here because I’m here to serve,” he says. “I’m definitely focused on what we need to do next to move the society forward.
“Most importantly, we need to really embrace the values of our society and ensure that we’re living those values so that we can move the organization forward. It’s about having a group of people focused on getting our bylaws straight and getting prepared for an AGM so that we do a better job,” he says.
“We’re going to get better at it. We have to because I’m sure it won’t be long until members are totally disenfranchised,” he adds.
“I think Ken [Coolen] and the boards that have served have done a tremendous amount of work to get us to this point,” he continues. “And today, with the turnout, we saw that there are a lot of caring and committed people in the society, and that’s the exciting part — that so many people care. I am hopeful that with that level of engagement that we’re going to continue on this path of building a better society.”
Asked if he plans to run for president in the next election, Richards says it’s too early to make that decision.
Lam, who had shown earlier interest in the seat, would not confirm any plans to run for president in the next election, either.
Coolen left the SGM immediately upon adjournment and was unreachable for comment.
No date has yet been set for the first meeting of the VPS’s new board.