Less than a year after the last crisis caused a special general meeting to be called by community members, Pink Triangle Service finds itself again in crisis with the resignation of three employees, including the executive director.
Michelle Reis-Amores resigned effective the end of May, citing interference from the board. Her resignation followed that of two of the three other staffers, Libby Boudreau and Jerry Martinovic, within weeks of each other.
In detailed interviews with Capital Xtra, all three employees shared stories of a board executive that micromanaged their day to day work, leading to stress and the inability to perform their tasks because of interference.
But board president Richard Montminy denies the charge of micromanagement. The board, he says, is in transition from being a working board to a policy board.
Reis-Amores was new to Ottawa when she came to work with PTS as executive director early in 2005. She says that she knew her job would initially be challenging.
“When I came in this organization, it had severe problems,” she says, including a $35,000 deficit, a lack of vision and a poor relationship with funders. Reis-Amores says she leaves with a sense of accomplishment, with the budget in surplus, excellent relations with funders, new equipment in place, and client numbers climbing. And she brought a vision of a client-centred organization funded by grants from the provincial ministry of health.
But the atmosphere could have been better.
“It has everything to do with community development, with vision, with staff work,” says Reis-Amores. “I brought in a vision of what PTS could become. I could not sustain that kind of intensity without the understanding and support of the board.”
An Apr 11 board meeting brought brewing conflicts to a head, she says.
At that meeting, she recalls, board president Richard Montminy “suggested staff were either ineffective or could possibly be an embarrassment and so we maybe shouldn’t participate in LGX. I made up my mind then and there that this is not a place I could be comfortable working,” says Reis-Amores.
Reis-Amores says she always worked in healthy work environments before coming to PTS.
“You either feel supported or you don’t. You know when somebody’s out to get you. I felt ineffective,” says Reis-Amores. “They needed a scapegoat and I was it. I quit.
“After April 11, I sensed the energy and I decided I needed to leave before my reputation got tarnished.”
Reis-Amores took a leave of absence before leaving PTS and landed an executive director position with Learning Disabilities Association of Ottawa-Carleton.
“Maybe because I’m leaving (PTS) they’ll be able to clean up their act and be a better employer,” says Reis-Amores.
Jerry Martinovic was the office administrator and events and fundraising co-ordinator. Now unemployed, he says he left PTS after 11 months because “I found that despite all mine and Michelle’s efforts of trying to resolve problems, that board members were interfering in staff operations far too much.”
Martinovic adds that he felt he was rendered powerless by the board to do his job. But despite his tumultuous relationship with the board, he says his working relationship with Reis-Amores was good.
“The only problem was the board because they interfered in my job and (Michelle’s) job. Any time she tried to make a decision, (the board) would countermand that,” says Martinovic.
He cites an example of board micromanaging. Charged with putting together a fundraising concert, Martinovic found the board interfering in details such as picking a name.
“It took four weeks to pick a name for the concert,” he claims. [The staff] suggestions were rejected and all their suggestions, when they did give any, were inappropriate.” One suggestion made by the fundraising committee was to call the event Gay Bash, he says.
Board members wanted to cancel last fall’s donor party, Martinovic says. “We had done the booking six months in advance, locations and venues options. We had put our deposit down, we have verbal and written contracts with the caterers, beer and wine suppliers, and entertainers.” In the end, Martinovic threatened to resign if the party didn’t go ahead as planned. It did.
Libby Boudreau came to work for PTS as a community development worker in January of this year. She says she left without finding a new job because “I was fed up of that place.
“It was with reluctance that I applied for the position knowing PTS’s history, knowing the controversy around the organization,” says Boudreau. “I felt encouraged that it was a new board. It seemed that it was working hard getting into a policy board. I had full confidence.”
She feels let down. Her job should have involved being in the community, but she felt pressure from the board executive to be in the office at all times.
“Basically, I had to do outreach from my desk, which is not very successful when you’re trying to build opportunities and networks. You have to be out there. You can’t expect people to come to you; you want them to participate in your project. It was quite difficult.”
Boudreau says she believes the complications between the board and staff originate with the attitude of some board members. “PTS has always been a working board. They’re really struggling with letting go of the day-to-day operational decisions. I don’t know if they had the experience to know they should’ve been backing off.”
In the end, FSO cancelled the funding for PTS to run Boudreau’s project until further notice. “The problem with PTS comes down to micromanaging the Family Services Ottawa project, which we didn’t feel was appropriate,” says Carol Proulx, co-ordinator of the social inclusion project. Also, the loss of a permanent executive director was a factor, she adds.
But board president Montminy denies that he or the board interfered with staff decisions.
“I never, never told people how to do their work. That’s the role of the executive director to do that,” says Montminy. “[The staff] have no historical background within the organization, nor do they have historical background within their own specific assigned tasks because no one did them before. So there’s a process of evolution as the board hands over tasks to the staff.”
It’s hard to find good volunteer board members, says Montminy. “One thing I find about the gay community in Ottawa is that it likes to devour its own. Very few people step forward to help. It’s increasingly difficult to get competent people on boards because they don’t want any of that. They say it’s not worth it.
“The people I have on the board are doing their best, they’re trying hard, and they’re spending tremendous hours on it. But we need people with expertise, knowledge experience,” says Montminy. A policy board is supposed to be a resource. If you look at the boards of the queer organizations in the city and start analyzing them, there’s not that many.”
Controversy has dogged PTS over the past year. Members called a special general meeting Oct 25 to discuss the direction of the organization. Community donations plummeted last year-raising just $16,000 of a targeted $110,000-and members told the board at the October meeting to move the organization back closer to Ottawa’s queer community.
The issue of micromanagement of staff by board members was also raised at that meeting. At the time, the executive noted that the organization was in transition from a working board to a policy board.
That transition has been going on for several years now. Past president Bruce Bursey says the board hired a consultant in 2000 and 2001 to help the board focus on its mission, mandates, vision values and future,
The groundwork was laid to ensure a transition to a policy board.
“The consultants helped us understand that [the transition] wasn’t going to be easy,” says Bursey. “Now, one or two boards later, [we are] dealing with the second executive director and there’s problems.
“PTS’s accountability is not just to the [community] donors. It’s now to the city and to the province. They now get more money from the government than they do from the gay community. If the government says, ‘Wait a minute. Why are we reading about these people and their incompetence?’ that’s when PTS literally dies.”
Interim executive director Wayne Adams refused to make minutes for the past several board meetings available to Capital Xtra readers. He was unaware of any obligation to do so, he told Capital Xtra..
An accountant by training, Adams is a fundraising consultant. He refuses to answer whether he is queer.
His job, he says, is to take care of administration and fundraising at PTS until a new permanent, and presumably queer, executive director is hired.
Meanwhile, the board “is stepping up in terms of PTS’s role in the community. The board is going to be more involved.”
Adams says he is aware of the history of disorder surrounding PTS.
“There’s always turmoil when organizations go from small volunteer-based organizations to something that’s aiming to be a mid-sized one where there’s paid staff. There’s changing roles for everybody,” says Adams.