Tracey Sandilands, executive director of Pride Toronto (PT) since 2008, has resigned from her position, PT’s board of directors announced on Jan 26.
The board will take over supervision of day-to-day activities of the staff and volunteers until a recruitment plan is developed. “Planning for the 2011 Pride Week festival is well underway and will continue without interruption,” the PT board states in a Jan 26 news release. Over the next few months, Pride Toronto will be reviewing its structure to ensure that it is properly positioned to meet its members’ needs.
Sandilands presided over a tumultuous period in PT’s history, including two attempts by the organization’s board to censor pride parade participants. In December, Xtra named Sandilands Toronto Newsmaker of the Year.
PT racked up one of its worst financial losses in recent memory in 2010, according to the organization’s audited financial statements, released by the PT board of directors on Jan 25. The document reveals a loss of $431,808 including the exhaustion of the organization’s contingency fund. That leaves the organization $109,401 in the red. The statements also reveal that PT spent an extra $100,000 on staff salaries and benefits in 2010.
The statements include a note about Sandilands’ partner, Janine Marais. Marais was employed “through various periods” between April 2009 and November 2010. Despite laying off six staff in July, PT paid $40,317 for the fiscal year in consulting fees to Marais for website updating and newsletter services. Board members Mark Singh and Jim Cullen approved her for the work.
PT board co-chair Francisco Alvarez maintains it was Sandilands’ decision to leave.
“All she said was it is time for her to leave to do other things,” he says.
Sandilands will receive a severance package, but Alvarez refused to reveal the amount. “I’m not at liberty to discuss the package. We have an agreement with her that specifies confidentiality.”
“We are going to wait for the results of the Community Advisory Panel recommendations before we make any decisions moving forward with our administrative structure,” he says. “We will announce what we’ll be doing at some point, but at the moment we will just carry on and take a more direct oversight of expenses.”
The new executive director will need to have the experience to manage an event the size of Pride Week and a solid knowledge of fundraising, Alvarez says. “Also, going forward, community relations are going to be a stronger focus.”
Alvarez wouldn’t state Sandilands’ salary, citing confidentiality.
Sandilands’ cellphone is no longer working, but she sent the following tweet at 5:09pm to Singh, who was part of the board committee that hired her in 2008: “Thank you Mark. The quantity of supportive messages I am getting from those who actually know is very heartening! #PrideTO”
PT board member Roy Mitchell says he wishes Sandilands “all the best.” But he adds that PT still faces some real problems.
“It’s a system that has to be fixed,” he says. “Tracey’s resigning is part of a bigger process that Pride has to go through. The community owns Pride. It’s our Pride. Pride has lost that connection to the community. Her leaving is part of Pride reconnecting back to the community.”
Don’t expect the drama at PT to be over, says Ashleigh Ingle of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech. Ingle worries that Sandilands’ resignation could be used to “silence criticism” at the Jan 26 general meeting.
“I do think it’s important, but I think it’s dangerous if you stop there,” says Ingle. “Given all the things that have come out, we also worry about her being scapegoated as a way to absolve the board of any responsibility.”
“This isn’t something that happened overnight in 2008 when she arrived, and it’s not going to go away overnight in 2011 when she leaves,” says Ingle.
Savannah Garmon called the news “long overdue.”
“It’s clear she didn’t have a handle on the situation,” she says. “Now it depends on what the board does next. It’s time to appoint a new director. PT should be asking, ‘How do we reconnect with the community? I hope they pick someone with legitimacy.”
“I don’t bear her any ill will,” adds Elle Flanders, who went toe to toe with Sandilands over Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, “but I think it was clear from the beginning that she wasn’t capable of handling complex issues.”