5 min

Rift in Pride Society

President accused of mismanaging funds

Credit: Dan Jackson

Almost half the board of directors of Vancouver’s Pride Society has resigned amid allegations of financial mismanagement on the part of the society’s president and inappropriate, unilateral decision-making.

Andrew Simmons resigned right after Pride but his concerns began in February, just one month after he joined the Pride Society’s board to run its corporate sponsorship portfolio. That’s when he first asked to see an itemized list of the society’s revenues and expenditures. But he didn’t get it.

In fact, Simmons still hasn’t seen a detailed list of the society’s finances, even though he has asked for a copy many times. Instead, he says, he has heard excuse after excuse for the last seven months.

“I don’t know what we do with our money,” he says.

As a board member, Simmons says he should be entitled to see the books. And as the person in charge of persuading corporate sponsors to pitch in for Pride, he says he feels really uncomfortable not knowing exactly where the money is coming from and where it’s going.

The president of the Pride Society admits that accounting is not his strength and that this year’s treasury is “not the most organized at the best of times.” But Michael Cowan says that there has been no misuse of money.

“There has been no impropriety. Nobody’s hiding anything.”

The disorganization stems partly from the society’s attempt to change its accounting system in June. As a result, a lot of the data from this summer still hasn’t been entered. Cowan is still hoping for more volunteers to help him with the time-consuming data entry. But that’s all the hold-up is, he says.

“As far as I’m aware, there is no misuse of funds. I haven’t misused any funds,” Cowan says.

Jude Clemonte also resigned from the Pride Society’s board right after Pride and he, too, has concerns about financial mismanagement.

He points, for example, to one of the society’s Balthazar T-dances held earlier this year. Cowan ran the float that night, Clemonte charges, and he never brought the money back.

As office administrator, Clemonte was in charge of balancing the books on a daily basis. He says he has yet to see the money from that dance-despite his many requests to Cowan to bring the money in. When the money still hadn’t arrived after Pride, Clemonte resigned.

Cowan says he doesn’t know which dance Clemonte is referring to. “I certainly haven’t taken any money,” he says. He does admit, however, that he regularly splits T-dance profits between the Pride Society and himself to supplement the stipend he receives as president. He says he also foregoes his stipend when money is tight.

“If there’s money not accounted for, I’m sure it will turn up” once the books are brought up to date, Cowan says. “I’m absolutely 100 percent sure that there’s been no impropriety,” he repeats.

Clemonte is not convinced. He also has questions about an Air Canada sponsorship ticket that he claims Cowan used to fly a friend in from Toronto for Pride. “All this falls within the mismanagement which I did note to him in my resignation,” Clemonte says. The tickets were supposed to go towards flying performers in for the festival.

Cowan admits he used one of the plane tickets to fly his friend, Tim Freear, from Toronto to Vancouver for the five days of this year’s Pride festival.

“I was feeling overwhelmed,” Cowan explains. “I needed somebody who knew what he was doing. I made the decision to fly Tim from Toronto to Vancouver on the condition that he work for us.” Freear volunteered with the Pride Society for years before he moved to Toronto in June.

It was a unilateral decision, Cowan admits, but he needed help desperately. And since it was a corporate sponsorship ticket it didn’t cost the Pride Society anything, he adds.

When asked why he didn’t consult the rest of his board before he used the ticket, Cowan says, “I honestly didn’t see a need.” Besides, he says, he didn’t think people would show up for a board meeting so close to Pride.

This isn’t the first unilateral decision by Cowan to upset some board members. His decision to call several MPs right before this year’s Pride Parade-without calling a board meeting-also generated a lot of anger.

Cowan says he knew he’d get flak from all ends of the community when he called the MPs for their stance on the federal government’s decision to appeal the Ontario marriage case. But he did it anyway, he says, because the information needed to get out there.

Simmons says Cowan was out of line. He should have called a board meeting first. Marriage is a contentious issue in the gay community, Simmons says. The board should have had a chance to set a course together.

Jane Anderson agrees. She, too, resigned from the board shortly after Pride; though she claims it was for personal reasons of exhaustion and had nothing to do with any disagreement she may have had with Cowan. (The fourth person to resign, former media relations liaison Barb Snelgrove, also says she left the board due to exhaustion and dismisses any suggestion of a rift in the board.)

But Anderson admits she had a problem with the way Cowan handled the marriage question. “There was some concern among those [board members] who were not consulted over the decision that was made and how it was handled,” she says, carefully choosing her words.

Cowan admits that he did not call a board meeting. Instead he called down his list of board members until he received the minimum amount of support he needed to claim quorum. There wasn’t enough time to call a meeting or to call everyone, he insists. “It wasn’t like quorum was even necessary,” he adds.

Simmons disagrees. “This kind of thing flies in the face of the board,” he says. And this isn’t the first stance Cowan has taken that doesn’t reflect the rest of the board, he adds.

Cowan does a lot of things on his own that he shouldn’t, Clemonte agrees. He points, this time, to Cowan’s handling of the Queers United Against Kapitalism (QUAK) protestors at this year’s Parade. Mid-way through the Parade, Cowan sent a representative to MLA Lorne Mayencourt to ask him if he wanted the protestors removed from the route. (Mayencourt declined the offer.)

That was not the correct approach, Clemonte maintains. The board should have, once again, had a chance to meet and discuss the best way to deal with protestors at Pride.

Cowan again says there wasn’t enough time. But Clemonte says the QUAK protestors gave the Pride Society two day’s notice before they crashed the Parade. That should have been enough time to bring the board members together to formulate a policy, he maintains.

It all points to the need for new leadership in the Pride Society, Clemonte concludes. Simmons agrees. “The board doesn’t have the leadership it needs,” he says.

Cowan says he has “no problem with someone new taking over” if that’s what the board and the community wants.

“You don’t get a lot of kudos for what you do,” he says of his work with the Pride Society for the last five years. “You are there because you want to be there, and that’s why I’m here.”

The date for this year’s annual general meeting of the Pride Society has not yet been set.