3 min

Plan for Pride

Members shown business plan for recovery

HELD OVER. President Shawn Ewing and vice-president Randy Atkinson are the only members of last year's board of directors to return to the board of the Vancouver Pride Society this year. They prefer being known as co-chairs, though the position does not exist under the Society's bylaws. Credit: David Ellingsen

They’re trimming cloth to fit the budget. The Vancouver Pride Society let members have a peek at their new business plan at a special public meeting Apr 24.

Gone are the expensive trimmings like Gay Day at Playland, viewing platforms and commentators at the Pride Parade, and big-name stage performers at the festival.

In their place is a pared down parade, a local talentfest on stage, and an emphasis on volunteers rather than paid help.

The VPS is in the red for approximately $101,000, down from $106,000 after the Langara Student Union donated $5,000 to the Society. The VPS puts on the only surviving parade in Vancouver, and the largest celebration in the city after the annual fireworks.

If the detailed plan holds true, “then last year’s debt will be retired sometime in the month of June as well as pay the Pride Society’s bills through August and September and leave some operating amount to take us to December,” treasurer Barry Piersdorff, told members.

The plan relies on cutting costs, selling memberships in the Society and holding a lot of successful fundraising events, such as every Sunday night at Numbers. The Society is contracting with event producers to manage parties, with a guaranteed return to VPS.

In the meantime, the Society is negotiating with creditors. City councillor Tim Stevenson was credited by VPS President Shawn Ewing with buying the organization time to pay off its debt to city hall for last year’s parade. Revenue Canada will cash a post-dated cheque for $3,400 at the end of May. The Society is also negotiating with at least three suppliers who are threatening lawsuits for unpaid bills.

Piersdorff drew a picture of an organization in chaos for the past two years. Upon becoming treasurer he discovered that cheques had bounced, former president Michael Cowan had been paid $2,000 monthly but paperwork was not properly done for Revenue Canada, almost every single fundraising event of the past 18 months had lost money and deposits had not been made following some events. A Pride credit card had been used for personal transactions.

For 15 months, between Aug 2001 and Feb 2003, no financial statement was presented to the VPS board of directors-who are legally responsible for the finances of the not-for-profit society.

“For most of the events and planning, the Society was flying blind,” Piersorff said. He read a list of 17 “bad management practices” that led to the crisis.

Furthermore, for three years, the Society had failed to file the legally required documents with the provincial corporate registry.

Some 30 people turned out for the special meeting-the largest turnout in recent memory for a VPS meeting. Members were assured the society is moving in a new direction and that austerity was the buzzword. President Ewing added that she hopes to reconnect VPS to the community it serves and draws volunteers from. A large number of volunteers are needed this year to reduce costs, including replacing some police officers.

But Ewing later told Xtra West that a Apr 26 volunteer meeting saw only seven people show up of approximately 40 potential volunteers expected.

“I don’t know how to get under people’s skin to motivate them or for them to accept a sense of responsibility,” said a frustrated Ewing. She’s wondering if the Society’s reputation as a “clandestine” organization is continuing to hurt them. “It’s not that way with this board,” she says.

But all is not peaceful at the board level. New secretary James DeYoung resigned days before the special meeting citing unusual practices.

DeYoung says he’s had the wording of minutes from conflicted discussions softened to reflect an inaccurate account of a meeting, was not given a key to either the Society’s mailbox or its offices, and was not given a copy of the Society’s bylaws despite repeated requests.

“It’s so much like swiss cheese,” he says.

Ewing says that at the special meeting, DeYoung “expressed his regret of resigning to myself as well as to other people.”

She has high praise for treasurer Piersdorff’s detailed work at developing financial statements and a business plan.

Laura McDiarmid, a board member and former commissioner of the Vancouver Parks Board, told members that the Society needs to develop an infrastructure so that the organization is sustainable in the longterm.

The existing bylaws do not allow a director to be remunerated for work, other than for “reasonably incurred” expenses. Some other cities have full-time paid staff and a year-round office.

Ewing says she feels “confident” that the Society is on a road to recovery. “There’s great stuff in the works. There’s a bunch of people working their asses off to get the debt paid, put on Pride this year and build a society that will run all year round.”

Four new people were elected to the VPS board at the special meeting: Bird Moses, Mischa Irwin, Robert Dufort and Carl Austin.

A 2001 study found that the VPS generated $22.6 million in economic activity in Vancouver. Last year’s festivities drew more than 100,000 people to the West End.