Four more board members resigned from Canada’s national queer lobby group on Nov 24, following the departure of Egale’s executive director Gilles Marchildon at the end of October, a committee cochair in November and two board and two staff resignations last summer.
Vice-president Enrique Lopez de Mesa, Jean-Bruno Villeneuve and Bruce Hicks resigned after several board members asked Hicks to leave for allegedly addressing them in an aggressive manner and harassing staff. Though Marchildon has yet to reveal the reasons for his resignation, he filed a harassment complaint against Hicks in September.
Hicks and his supporters say he may have been “heavy handed” at times but he was merely trying to fix the organization’s alleged financial, personnel and accountability problems.
In a Nov 24 e-mail Lopez de Mesa says he “lost all confidence” in achieving the tasks at hand.
“Therefore, effective immediately, I shall resign from all involvement and withdraw from all association.”
Villeneuve echoed Lopez de Mesa in his e-mail dated the same day. He apologized to new members for what he termed “this coup,” but said he “simply cannot work like this.”
Newly minted board member Lisa Voldeng, who had yet to take up her appointment as BC’s representative, decided to withdraw without attending a meeting.
“My concern over the divisiveness of the board, compounded by the recent spate of resignations, affects my ability to serve with full faith and good conscience,” she wrote in her own Nov 24 e-mail. “The issues you’re addressing appear to be long-entrenched legacy ones, that are, in my opinion, best addressed by the current leadership and board.”
Egale president Gemma Schlamp-Hickey says organizations always have personality conflicts, though she describes her term as “the most challenging in terms of board dynamics.” Still, she maintains that a good core group remains at Egale and that people have begun returning to the organization since Hicks’ departure.
“It’s too bad it did not work out,” she says, “but we recognize [Hicks’] contribution. He had a lot of energy, good ideas, many of which were incorporated by the board.”
Board members Stephen Lock and Hilary Cook also signalled their relief over Hicks’ departure.
“Despite repeated requests [to Hicks] to tone it down, to be less rude, he didn’t seem to be willing to do so,” Lock says. “He moved Egale on issues, internal policy issues, he streamlined things. On financial issues, he did some good work on that. There wasn’t any problem with that. The problem was with the way he tried to accomplish tasks, the way he would treat staff and deal with other board members — very authoritarian, very aggressive.”
Hicks distributed an e-mail on Nov 28 objecting to what he terms Schlamp-Hickey’s attempts to “explain away all the problems with Egale by laying them at my feet, even though I only joined the board eight months ago.”
Hicks says Egale’s personnel problems predate him. He points to a 2005 staff pay cut and the laying off of Egale’s then-only female employee as creating a demoralizing office atmosphere. That female employee’s dismissal is now before the courts as a wrongful dismissal suit, he alleges.
Cook won’t confirm or deny Hicks’ lawsuit allegation, but says staff cuts were necessary for budgetary reasons.
Hicks says Egale has been experiencing financial difficulties since 2004, which “have resulted in equipment being repossessed and in bills being turned over to several collection agencies. Rules set by the bylaws, the board, auditors and good accounting practices were being circumvented.”
Cook says Egale has one bill and one piece of equipment that need to be dealt with, but won’t discuss the matter further.
Hicks says much of the tension on the board ultimately comes down to a clash “between old and new.” Some directors prefer a more grassroots, community-based structure while others, like Hicks, would have liked to move Egale toward a more corporate fundraising model. In his time on the board, Hicks developed a plan to raise $25 million in five years. Egale’s current annual budget is approximately $350,000.
“That’s just not where we’re at as an organization. We need to think practically, and we need to think about where we’ve come from,” says Schlamp-Hickey.