Sandra Laframboise resigned as vice president of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) May 13, making her the seventh director to resign since the society’s November AGM.
She says her resignation was spurred in part by two alleged incidents between herself and fellow VPS director Alan Herbert.
In a letter of grievance to the board, Laframboise accuses Herbert of yelling at her and calling her names in front of community members on two separate occasions.
“I feel that the boardroom is now unsafe for me and cannot return to the boardroom until this is addressed,” she writes. “Because every time I think of returning to the office I just want to throw up and go hide, in other words I become violently ill.”
On Apr 15 a meeting took place between members of the VPS Festivals Committee and bar owners to discuss Davie St Pride. Laframboise says she was “dismayed” to see Herbert at the meeting and asked him to sit as an observer, allowing members of the committee to address the meeting. During the course of this meeting she alleges that Herbert became agitated, yelled at her and called her names.
Herbert confirms that he attended the meeting. He says he wanted to find out what the plan was for Davie St Pride as he could get “no answers” to his questions at a Pride board meeting two days earlier.
“The reception I got was to be silenced,” Herbert says, “without explanation.”
He notes, however, that the Pride Society has a policy — “and that policy is every member of the board is free to attend any meeting and to participate,” Herbert says. “So I would like to know what’s going on.”
VPS president Ken Coolen says he wasn’t in the room during the alleged altercation but was in the office and overheard a confrontation.
“I was in the office entryway talking to bar owners when I heard a commotion coming from the boardroom. Alan came out and yelled at me,” Coolen alleges. “He was upset about something that happened.”
Laframboise says she raised her concerns about the incident to Coolen and signaled her intention to resign.
“Ken talked to me and urged me to reconsider and rescind my resignation,” she says.
“He said to trust him and he’ll deal with the issues. But he didn’t deal with the issue, and it exploded again in the boardroom and I was verbally assaulted again and nobody did anything,” she alleges. “I was stunned so I resigned again.”
Herbert acknowledges that he called Laframboise a name at the Apr 27 board meeting, but says she “stepped way out of line” and she’s got to expect consequences.
“She accused me as being responsible for the bar owners walking” away from the dance party proposal.
“This is a pure invention,” he says.
Coolen says yelling is never appropriate.
“There’s no need for anybody to do that,” he says. “Yelling is completely inappropriate and that’s why it’s gone to a grievance procedure and we are allowing a group of people including three directors from the board to move forward and deal with that and they are going to address this as fairly as possible. They are going to move forward with the process.”
Laframboise wants the board to strike a committee to investigate the situation, to include the results of the investigation in the minutes, and to implement board training on conduct and decorum.
But these incidents are a “drop in the bucket” according to Laframboise, who feels there is a deep-seated lack of decorum and respect at the board level.
“There have been six resignations, some of which were not predictable but some I think could have been avoidable,” she says.
“Some resigned because they had differences with the president and things that happened. I’m talking in particular the executive. I mean, I can’t say for sure, I don’t have full proof of it, but I know that there’s been some stuff that happened. There is tension that exists.”
Laframboise’s resignation comes only weeks after Victor Bearpark resigned from his position citing personal reasons.
“I personally had a really great experience,” says Bearpark, who was VPS secretary. “But it’s become really heavy in the last couple of months.”
Bearpark believes the stress of being on a “working board” may have contributed to a negative atmosphere.
“Nothing stops the parade — every year it happens and people have a great time. But all the work put in by a very small amount of people takes its toll and after it’s taken its toll what do you do then?
“There’s no reprieve from that,” he says. “There’s no board of elders that are there to guide people. You’re thrown to the wolves. Just all the drama. It never ended. You couldn’t go to a board meeting and talk about business without some past incident coming up. It was very uncomfortable when people are fighting.”
He believes the atmosphere may have led some people to leave the board over the years.
“As secretary I’ve read all of the resignations for the past five or six years. It’s always the same things. Some former resignations are about bullying, aggressiveness and I just don’t understand it. It’s a community-based organization. You never hear problems from other organizations like you do from Pride,” Bearpark says.
Coolen points out that the previous six resignations were for valid reasons. “One left for political office, some left for health reasons, a few for other personal reasons, whether it conflicted with school or employment.
“This is the way that it goes with a volunteer position,” he says. “The president and other members of the board put upwards of 30 to 40 hours a week for free. We are trying to change that and have more paid staff to do this work.”
Coolen believes much of the conflict stems from disagreements at the board table.
“Everybody’s perception is their perception,” he says. “There are definitely disagreements at the board table. We all come from different places as a volunteer organization. We sit down to make decisions how to go forward with Pride. There is going to be debate, conflict and sometimes negativity.”
—With files from Natasha Barsotti