A series of changes to the Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) constitution and bylaws are aimed at putting the Society on a more stable and professional footing, says VPS director of governance Ray Lam.
The proposals, which include revamping the VPS’ governing structure, board nominations and voting processes, will be brought before the VPS’ annual general meeting Nov 17 for debate and vote.
“We need these changes. We’re getting to the point where the board can’t effectively do everything,” says Lam, who drafted the proposals.
Right now, VPS directors handle all the Society’s affairs, including day-to-day business, financial management and long-term planning, Lam explains. With 15 people responsible for the whole of Pride, more community involvement is needed but current Society regulations prevent delegation of work, he claims.
“I believe it’s bylaw 32. It states that the committees can only consist of directors, so the committees for parade, festival, membership, fundraising —all of those —have to consist of directors. The bylaws don’t allow members or the public to join, which then means the duties of committees also fall under the board,” he says.
As it stands, a director works about 600 hours a year, then puts in about 260 more hours in committee time, Lam estimates.
“Because the duties of the committees are falling under the board, the board is now working 860 hours a year,” Lam calculates.
The introduction of a senate, says Lam, would create “proper separations in authority” with the new body responsible for maintenance and long-term planning of the Society, leaving the board to focus on day-to-day business.
“The point of the senate and the proposed committee structure is to take work off the board. Because what you come to realize is the long-term planning and the development of the society, as well as the majority of the governance work of the Society, falls to the wayside, or always gets neglected because directors have to be members of committees, and the impending deadlines of an annual celebration are more important than long-term goals. What we end up having is sort of like a self-destructive cycle, ” Lam contends.
But former VPS director Todd Brisbin says a senate wouldn’t be necessary if the board had the tools and resources to govern effectively.
“If you need a senate to govern the Society, then your board isn’t doing its job,” he says.
Community activist Jamie Lee Hamilton isn’t sure why a senate is needed either. Placing another tier above the board could lead to Pride doing “things the membership doesn’t want without any accountability to the membership.
“I think the community should dictate what the community wants,” she says, “and therefore the only way that the community has direct influence on the Pride Society is through the board. I don’t want to see different tiers set up.”
Lam says the senate would only be convened for specific purposes, not to become “an upper-level board” or to take over Pride.
The senate would be elected by the membership, he points out, and would therefore have “the same form of accountability we have for the board.”
Asked about a new bylaw clause that gives the proposed senate veto powers over “any resolution of the directors” and the ability to reverse directors’ actions, Lam reiterates that the senate’s purpose is to enforce the Society’s long-term goals —”not to manage or do any business of the board.”
Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva calls the proposed senate an interesting concept, but wants to hear more debate on it before casting his vote on the matter.
“There will obviously be some problems around it, but I think a sort of a body of elders who have gone through the experience before —sort of a sober second thought —is not a bad idea. But I would love to hear the debate on the floor about the pros and cons of that, so at the present time, I don’t know how I’d vote on that,” he says.
Brisbin is also concerned about another proposal calling for a 60-day waiting period to be imposed on new or newly reinstated Society members before they can exercise their vote.
The proposal could have the effect of limiting community members who want to get involved, he claims. “You should never close the door to someone who wants to be involved.”
Memberships have to be available up to the AGM, Brisbin continues, questioning whether the proposed wait violates the BC Society Act.
The BC Society Act states that “a voting member of a society has only one vote, and, despite any contrary provision in the bylaws, may exercise that vote on every matter without restrictions.”
“We’ve consulted the Societies Act and we’re sure that what we’re doing and proposing is consistent with the Societies Act,” says Lam.
Lam says the wait time is meant to prevent people from stacking elections or influencing the direction of the Society.
“Right now, the way it is, people can purchase memberships the day of the election, meaning after they know a specific agenda item is going to be tabled that day, they can buy a $10 membership for the purpose of influencing that one item. So these people would otherwise not be engaged or involved with the Society but they decide to influence this one topic,” he explains.
Lam says the wait time is also meant to stop people owing the VPS money from “all of a sudden” repaying their debt when they “see an item they want to influence.”
Lam notes the 60-day clause is not a new idea, and is adopted by many non-profit societies.
Deva thinks the 60-day wait period is a “little excessive” and would “take away from the fact that you can go and vote on your Pride society.”
As for the proposed changes to the nominations process, Deva says he’s in favour of Lam’s call for criminal record checks for those who are interested in serving on either the board or the proposed senate.
While Deva acknowledges that accessibility to the Society could be affected, he contends that “a little more contemplation of the candidates” is a good idea.
“We know it’s a fairly important position, and I think if people are really serious about it, they would go through those steps. They’ve had so many people elected off the floor who just haven’t shown up or it hasn’t worked out,” Deva points out.
Hamilton is more skeptical.
“That seems to be really treading into [the] area that is privacy issues. I can understand if you’re running for a position such as treasurer,” Hamilton concedes. “You want to make sure that someone hasn’t been in trouble with the law in regard to possible embezzlement or that sort of thing. [But] say someone got a minor conviction, say possession of marijuana, I don’t think that something like that should preclude them from being on a board.”
Lam says there is no intention to bar anyone with such a charge from serving on the board.
“We’re looking at more financial misconduct and things pertaining to the Society,” he says.
—With files from Diane Claveau