Vancouver
5 min

Pride Society being investigated

Mountain of debt reduced to molehill

DEBTS NEARLY PAID OFF. VPS treasurer Barry Piersdorff was applauded for careful financial management at this year's annual general meeting of the Vancouver Pride Society, Oct 25. Shawn Ewing, this year's president, is returning to the board, but Randy Atkinson has left the Society. Credit: Robin Perelle

First the good news: the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has bounced back from the brink of insolvency and is now within sight of paying off all its debts.



Now the bad news: questions about last year’s board of directors and its finances persist-despite an ongoing government investigation into the matter and a quietly conducted criminal investigation earlier this fall.



The VPS asked the Vancouver Police Department to look into last year’s board because it knew the community still had concerns about financial mismanagement and unaccounted-for money, Steven Schelling told the 51 members who attended the VPS’ annual general meeting Oct 25.



“We wanted to be as honest with the public as possible,” he said, before moving on to the next topic in his report.



The VPS did not ask the police to investigate any one board member in particular, president Shawn Ewing later told Xtra West, when asked exactly who or what the investigation focussed on. Last year, former VPS president Michael Cowan resigned amid allegations of financial mismanagement and unilateral decision-making.



“The intent was not to seek out somebody to hang,” Ewing says. It’s just that, in pulling together last year’s finances, “[we found lots of] missed invoices, crappy accounting” and instances where money was hard to track and may be unaccounted for.



Last year’s Pancakes for Pride accounts, for example, are still a “mystery” to VPS treasurer Barry Piersdorff.



Piersdorff says he still can’t find the revenues from that event, though he expects they’re probably on the books somewhere. As far as he can tell, the breakfast fundraiser cost $904 and generated no revenues whatsoever. It’s just one of many events that cost a lot to stage but made little or no money in return. (In contrast, this year’s pancake event made more than $1,600 and cost just $21 to put on.)



Did Pancakes for Pride make any money last year? And if so where is that money now? The Society doesn’t know.



That’s why the board turned to the police, Ewing says: because it had questions it just couldn’t answer about last year’s finances. “We said, ‘we don’t know one way or the other. Can you investigate?'”



And what did the police find? “They found insufficient evidence to pursue an investigation and closed the file,” Ewing replies.



The Society can’t say any more than that, adds Piersdorff, because the case is now closed and no one has been charged. “Suffice to say that the matter should be laid to rest.”



Meanwhile, a separate yet related investigation is also underway. This one is being conducted by government officials responsible for BC’s Society Act.



The Pride Society asked the government to look into last year’s board because of concerns related to general management issues, Piersdorff says, “such as the adequacy of record keeping and financial reporting.”



Last year’s board left no formal accounting records for a period spanning one year and three months, Piersdorff notes. It also kept no formal minutes from its meetings.



Registered societies are required, by law, to meet certain obligations under the Society Act, he continues. The VPS asked the government to check if its previous directors met those requirements or not. The investigation is ongoing.



Piersdorff doesn’t know when the government will report back, and won’t speculate on its findings. But he doesn’t think the VPS will lose its status as a registered society in BC.



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It’s unresolved questions such as these that have prompted some VPS members to ask the board for an external audit of the Society’s past and present finances.



“I think everyone in the community has had concerns about the financial management of the VPS,” says Gordon Hardy, who asked Piersdorff if he planned to hire an auditor at the general meeting.



Though he’s impressed with the current board’s debt management skills, Hardy says he’d feel more comfortable if an independent auditor reviewed the books.



It’s a question of credibility, he explains. “I would feel greater confidence in the financial statements if they had been audited by an external, qualified auditor.”



Most non-profit societies hire auditors to enhance their credibility in the eyes of their members, he adds. It’s just good practice.



Piersdorff says the VPS is not required by law to hire an external auditor. And he doesn’t think an audit is necessary at this point.



This year’s financial statements have “my professional designation on them,” says Piersdorff, who is also a certified accountant. Besides, he adds, “the books are open to inspection by any member.”



Ewing agrees. Audits are expensive, she says. And the public is always welcome to look at the VPS’ books.



But if any VPS member really wants an audit, they can formally make a motion requesting one at the next annual general meeting, she adds.



Piersdorff would rather focus on the VPS’ accomplishments this year.



Since the new board took over the helm last December, the VPS made enough money to pay off almost all its outstanding debts and cover this year’s Pride expenses.



The VPS started this year $106,000 in debt. Thanks to a combination of donations, grants, sponsorships, memberships and events revenue, the Society has now paid off almost all of that debt. (It’s now down to approximately $13,000 from last year and an additional $12,000 from this year.)



In other words, the current board has transformed a staggering debt into a manageable nearly $26,000 debt.



And even that debt won’t be around for long, Piersdorff promises. As soon as the VPS collects the money it’s owed from a few remaining sponsors, it will be able to pay off that last $26,000, too.



The VPS is “within sight” of clearing all its debt, he concludes with a smile.



How did the Society do it? With a few exceptions, like the Davie St Fair, this year’s events generally made money or broke even, Piersdorff explains-and they cost a lot less to put on. Whereas last year’s events cost more than $261,000 to stage, this year’s expenses came in at less than half that.



Granted, the Society made about $30,000 less this year in revenue, he points out, attributing the difference mainly to a drop in sponsorship dollars. But it still managed to cut all its costs-including its administrative costs-sufficiently to come out almost on top.



Ewing is proud of the board’s accomplishment. But she’s even more proud of the community.



It’s the community that really saved Pride, she says. They attended the fundraisers and bought memberships in the Society. They made it possible to come back from a position that many non-profits would have simply given up on.



In the last 10 months, more than 700 people purchased VPS memberships, swelling the Society’s ranks from 199 last year to more than 900 now.



Fifty-one of those members attended this year’s annual general meeting Oct 25, setting a new record for the Society. They applauded the board’s financial achievements, re-elected Ewing as president and Piersdorff as treasurer, and chose some new members (Karen Newfeld, Lee Casey, Sharlyn Lyden and Peter Beauchamp) to sit on the board.



Leaving the board are Laura McDiarmid, who ran for re-election but was unsuccessful, and Doug Tomkinson and Randy Atkinson who did not run for re-election.



Ewing says Tomkinson and Atkinson both left for personal reasons, and adds that Atkinson will now be able to spend more time on his role as president of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA).



Atkinson was the subject of scrutiny recently surrounding his multiple roles as vice-president of the VPS, president of the BIA, and co-owner of the PumpJack Pub. He could not be reached for comment before press time.