First the good news: after a tumultuous year of hiring and then firing a new executive director who may or may not have been willing to shake The Centre out of its stale status quo, our queer community centre is due for its annual general meeting (AGM) — and this time more than half the board of directors is up for grabs.
Now the bad news: if you were not already a member of the society that runs The Centre and failed to buy a membership before May 26, then you’re too late to sign up for this AGM and you won’t get a vote in the direction the new board takes or who sits on it.
Unlike the Vancouver Pride Society — which still allows interested community members to buy memberships at its AGM and then to vote on the direction their Pride society should take — our queer community centre closes its membership gate a full month before its AGM.
Which wouldn’t necessarily be an insurmountable barrier if it publicized its AGM and gave interested community members a chance to buy their memberships in time. But it didn’t. The Centre’s board of directors gave our community no public notice whatsoever.
It’s almost as if they didn’t want to hear from people not already in their inner circle.
“Should The Centre publicize the fact that there is an AGM coming up?” board co-chair Craig Maynard asks when I call to inquire. “It just simply didn’t come up on our radar,” he admits.
I don’t doubt Maynard’s sincere dedication to The Centre, whose board he has served on for more than a decade. And I don’t think the board members made a deliberate decision to exclude new people and keep all the decision-making power to themselves.
I just think that finding brand new people with fresh ideas on what shape the new Centre should take and what its focus should be isn’t their highest priority.
Which is really too bad because our Centre needs some fresh ideas, especially now with a new site seemingly in the works and critical decisions to be made about its contents, direction and focus. Not to mention a new executive director to hire.
“There is a leadership problem at The Centre,” gay men’s health activist Phillip Banks told me in February, after the board fired its short-lived executive director, Michael Harding. “Is the current board attracting the kind of people who can not only maintain the status quo but take it to a new level?”
If interested people missed the chance to buy memberships in time to vote at this year’s AGM, they are still more than welcome to attend the meeting without a vote, says Maynard. And they can apply for any remaining board positions at any time throughout the year, he continues. The board will check each applicant’s skill set and if they’re a match they can even be appointed mid-year.
The board is always looking for new people, he emphasizes.
Handpicked new people, that is.
I understand how important it is to have people with specific skills like accounting experience on volunteer boards to ensure their successful continuation. But fresh ideas and new ways of looking at old questions can be an essential “skill set” too.
There’s an element of personal responsibility here too, The Centre’s interim executive director, Jennifer Breakspear, points out after giving me a tour of the current facilities.
Anyone could have bought a membership any time in the last year before the May 26 cut-off. If they were concerned about The Centre’s priorities or wanted some say in the new site’s direction, all they had to do was drop by and get involved, she says.
So how many people have dropped by to become members? The Centre currently has 189 active members, she replies.
The society that’s going to shape our new community centre has less than 200 members?
I sincerely hope Centre members and non-members alike attend this year’s AGM and present as many fresh ideas as possible — before determining who will be entrusted with shaping our new community centre and setting its priorities for the years to come.