Ottawa
7 min

Pride is $100,000 in debt

Amid resignations and accusations

THE PROBLEM OR SCAPEGOAT? Critics charge executive director Robin Duetta was treating Pride like a one-man show. Now he's one of only two people left on the board - with a $100,000 mess. Credit: Rob Thomas

Under the crushing weight of a six-figure deficit and amid a bitter leadership battle, the Pride Committee Of Ottawa has somehow managed to dodge another bullet.



According to board member Robin Duetta, the $50,000 loan guarantee Ottawa City Council granted Pride in April has not yet been called – even though the festival could not meet its required bank deposit schedule at the end of September.



Duetta – who assumed the board position of past president after his term as paid executive director expired Aug 1 – says the festival’s deficit currently sits at about $100,000. This number, the largest deficit ever for an Ottawa Pride Committee, includes the amount of the loan guarantee.



“They are working with us and that’s good news,” Duetta says of the bank that holds the loan guarantee. “There’s still payments that need to be made, but they are being patient and confident that we will be able to get our stuff together.”



Duetta adds that he hopes “to hold a couple of fundraisers” over the next several weeks to help the committee meet the deposit schedule, as well as alleviate some of the festival’s accumulated debt.



But financial difficulties are not the festival’s only problems.



Citing irreconcilable differences with Duetta and treasurer Geoff Robbins as one of their reasons for stepping down, Pride Committee chair Janet Vachon and first vice-chair Ric Watson resigned from the board Sep 9.



Vachon and Watson join second vice-chair Mary-Lou Bruce and secretary Jerry Martinovic, who had already resigned in late July. Of the five board members serving during Pride 2004, only Robbins remains.



Due to the resignations, an annual general meeting has been called by Duetta. The meeting will take place on Thu, Oct 28 at 7pm in the Champlain Room of City Hall (corner of Elgin and Lisgar Sts).



In July, Watson – previously the committee’s longest serving member – had resigned, but tentatively returned to the board in August before resigning again last month.



“I was hoping that the four key people that were left at that time – myself, the chair, the treasurer and the so-called executive director – could at least put the pieces back together and have something to give to the community. But that just didn’t happen,” Watson says. “I think that over the course of the last year, some people on the Pride Committee lost sight that it was a community event, rather than’a one-man show,’ and for me, myself, that’s part of the reason I resigned. And it’s not from lack of experience – this is my fourth year on the board.”



In March, Duetta stepped down as Pride Committee chair to take on the new paid position of executive director.



But once this shift took place, Vachon says she found it increasingly difficult to perform her new duties as chair due to “personality clashes” and “differences of opinion” she frequently had with Duetta over Pride 2004.



“I think that he [Duetta] had a really hard time adjusting to the fact that he was now a consultant. I can imagine it’s hard, but at the same time that’s where a lot of the conflict happened and it showed within the group and it filtered down,” Vachon says. “Everyone has failures, and I’ll be honest, my failure was the fact that pulling off a position like this while working full-time is extremely difficult… but we all had personal issues in our life.”



But Duetta argues that his role and responsibilities as executive director were clearly outlined in his contract drawn up by the board. And if at times he did perform some of the chair’s duties, it was because Vachon and Watson “left this job to one man.”



“This idea that it’s a ‘one-man show’ is a load of crap. The rest of the board worked fabulously together to make Pride happen,” Duetta says. “And I resent that they are suggesting that this is a one-man show. I took over because I had to compensate for the lack of the chair of the festival, she wasn’t there and she didn’t do her job the entire year.”



Vachon, however, maintains that while she may not have been physically present at all scheduled board meetings – due to a job-related course she was required to attend in the evening – she frequently touched base via the telephone with the committee during those meetings that conflicted with her course schedule.



In addition, Mary-Lou Bruce says that not only did Vachon “join in those meetings in conference call in between breaks,” the former chair also gave board members ample notice that she would be taking the class and that it might bring up conflicts with future meetings.



“It just made it very high tension and very uncomfortable for those who put out a lot and who were being overstepped,” says Bruce, referring to the “power struggle” between Duetta and Vachon. “It was a shame because we made a really good team, but when personalities and egos get in the way of things, you lose the message behind it.”



In addition to criticizing Duetta’s job performance as executive director, some former committee members also say Robbins did not adequately perform his duties as the festival’s treasurer.



“The chair and myself as vice-chair, on numerous occasions would ask for a [treasurer’s] report and it would never be provided,” says Watson. “There would always be some sort of excuse or reason why it couldn’t be provided. To run a business – and Pride is a business no matter which way you look at it – we need that sort of information to know how to spend money or not spend money… and the treasurer, I think that even he realized that he’s not suited for the position.”



But Robbins maintains that while he hasn’t “given a written financial report for some time,” his job as treasurer is to “vet” the numbers and “make sure that they make sense” and that if the financial “information is on the table and people know what’s going on, if that is happening, my job for that meeting is done. If I’m not the one talking, who cares?”



Jerry Martinovic says Robbins was an effective and competent treasurer.



“At every meeting, even if we didn’t have financial documents, we went over what had to be paid, what money came in, and all of that. So for them to say that they had no idea [of the festival’s finances], they weren’t paying attention,” Martinovic says.



Duetta adds that the allegations of former board members regarding the lack of financial transparency is “just smoke and mirrors.”



“Pride wasn’t successful, the community is going to be upset about that, and they wanted some people to be scapegoated – Geoffrey and I are being scapegoated – so that they can try to clear a little bit of the mud off of their shoes,” Duetta says.



Martinovic agrees.



“I am just disappointed by the way this is being presented by Janet and by Ric,” he says. “It seems like they are just trying to get the blame off of themselves – and there’s more than enough blame to go around – and it doesn’t all have to do with the Pride Committee itself.”



Budget deficits, accusations of mismanagement and leader-ship battles are nothing new for Ottawa’s Pride Committee, which has been running in the red since 2002. Bitter infighting and controversy amongst board members – with or without a deficit – has been an on-again, off-again occurrence for the past decade.



Ironically, the current board took control of the festival after the previous board, chaired by Ghislain Rousseau, resigned in March 2003 after months of dealing with unpaid creditors, community groups’ frustration and legal threats.



“One of the biggest problems with Pride is that we don’t ask for help,” Caela McAteer, this year’s Women’s Day coordinator and veteran Pride volunteer, says. “And nobody was responsible with each other, and I really think that that was across the board.”



Still, Watson, Vachon and Duetta all agree that while leadership battles can make for less than smooth sailing as committee members attempt to organize a festival, the lack of sustainable funding for Pride is the annual event’s most serious problem.



According to Duetta, this year the festival’s insurance costs were $17,000. The board had tried to secure an enhanced policy that would have allowed the committee to operate its own beer garden – which could have brought in as much as $40,000 in additional revenue – but the policy, at $55,000, was just too expensive.



“And if you look at our budget, the deficit is the cost of insurance, the lost revenue off of the beer gardens and the failure of the revenue projection off of the Big Shiny Ball,” Duetta says.



He adds that organizers had hoped to raise $20,000 during the Big Shiny Ball – revenue to be split between Bruce House and Pride – but ended up losing about $16,000 at the poorly attended event. And, only $1,250 was raised during street collections this year, as opposed to the average $3,000.



Earlier this year, Pride Committee members had thought that the city’s loan guarantee would allow them to participate in the city’s insurance program, but the festival failed to qualify as it was not viewed as a “city-sponsored event.”



If approved, Duetta estimates that the festival’s insurance costs would have dropped to an annual premium of about $250.



As well, although Pride Ottawa 2004 did not receive any funding from the city, it was required to pay fees for festival-related services the City Of Ottawa provides for its events.



“Two years ago we got a grant from the City Of Ottawa for $3,000. [But] it cost the committee $32,000 in services back to the city for that festival,” Duetta explains. “If the City Of Ottawa kept its grant money and yet included Pride under their insurance policy and stopped charging us for our police services, stopped charging us for barriers, stopped making us go to other [outside] contractors for security, stopped making us go to other places for toilets and bike rack removals – if they stopped all of that, they’d have about a $40,000 impact on the Pride Festival – and that’s just Pride.”



Duetta adds that he recently addressed the city’s corporate services, along with other members of the Ottawa Festival Network, urging city council to improve the way it funds festivals.



He says he is “extremely hopeful” the councillors will respond to the festivals’ request.



“Everyone is making money [off of the festival] but Pride. You have a handful of people trying to balance the books without getting any help. Maybe this is a good thing,” Vachon says, referring to committee members going public. “Maybe it will open up people’s eyes and ears.”



ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING.

7pm. Thu, Oct 28.

Champlain Room.

Ottawa City Hall.

Corner of Elgin and Lisgar Sts.

Info: info@prideottawa.com or 238-2424.