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VPS directors try to remove Hamilton from board

Motion puts Pride's transparency and accountability into question: McKeown

An attempt by some directors of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) to remove a fellow director just one week before Pride led to highly contentious exchanges at the VPS’ last board meeting, Jul 21.

Even before the meeting got underway, Pride Society president John Boychuk, anticipating the heated discussions, cautioned that if the discussion around the table was not “healthy for this organization” or increased “the tension in the room” he would call for a recess.

“If after a five-minute recess, we are not able to have calmer heads prevail, the meeting will be adjourned and a meeting will be called for a larger space,” he warned, adding that he may also move parts of the public meeting in camera if necessary.

“That means that only directors that are elected by the membership are to be at the boardroom table, and all other persons who are members, visitors, guests or press will be asked to step outside into the hallway.”

The original meeting agenda included a call for the removal of interim director Jamie Lee Hamilton from the Pride Society’s board of directors. It also called for Hamilton’s removal to be addressed in camera. It did not specify the grounds for her proposed removal.

Hamilton challenged the motion’s placement near the top of the agenda. She alleged that the Pride Society’s secretary, Alexander Barrett, was in a conflict of interest because he introduced the motion and should therefore step aside from expressing any opinion on its placement. She called for it to be moved lower down in the proceedings.

Calling into the meeting via cell phone, vice-president Laura McDiarmid also asked for any debate on Barrett’s motion to be delayed until she arrived at the meeting. She said she was the mover of the Mar 31 motion to appoint Hamilton to the board in the first place and was not prepared to discuss it while she was on the phone and in transit.

She also maintained that the board could not rescind her original motion to appoint Hamilton now.

Barrett countered that any member who is a voting member of the board can bring a rescinding motion.

Hamilton called for a recess — the second of the evening — in what she called “a very unconventional meeting.”

The transparency and accountability of the community’s Pride organization is in question, argued longtime gay activist Kevin Dale McKeown.

“My reading of our bylaws tells me the removal of a director is the privilege of the members. This is not the membership,” McKeown said in reference to the tightly packed gathering in the Pride Society’s small boardroom.

McKeown also suggested that the board would be in violation of its own bylaws if it decided to go in camera to remove one of its directors.

“I do believe that if this board goes in camera and removes a director — a director who is known in the community to be challenging the issues that the community is concerned about — this will simply feed into the perception that the Pride Society is the captive creature of a board of directors who are more interested in their own power, perks and prerogatives than in transparency, government and operations,” McKeown alleged. “To do this will distract profoundly from the business of running a successful parade and festival.”

McKeown recommended that the board “seriously consider” postponing the issue of removal until after Pride.

Boychuk indicated, however, that the Society had sought legal advice on the matter.

McKeown said that if there is a legal opinion, the membership ought to hear it.

Former Pride director Todd Brisbin pointed out that the Pride Society was criticized in 2006 for trying to remove director Marc Schaper on the eve of Pride without putting it to the membership. Schaper was at the Jul 21 meeting.

In the end, the motion to remove Hamilton from the board of directors was deferred until after Pride. It could be considered at the next VPS board meeting on Aug 18 if it is introduced again.

More tension arose when treasurer Ken Coolen delivered his financial report along with a letter he wrote in which he sought to address “accusations against myself” allegedly made on a Facebook blog regarding his “ability to keep track” of Pride Society monies.

Coolen said he wanted Hamilton as an administrator of the site to respond to the accusations, all of which he alleged were made by Brisbin.

In his letter, Coolen attempted to refute Brisbin’s alleged accusations that there have been “glaring inaccuracies and omissions” in financial reports; that other Pride directors have found financial reporting that was “improper;” that there were missing bank statements and tax returns; and that the documentary team Transmission was given air dollars.

Coolen denied, for example, that bank statements have ever gone missing, saying they are always in the Pride Society’s file. The organization’s tax returns are also up to date, he maintained, except for last year’s which he said are being looked at by an independent accountant.

“If there is any evidence of blatant dishonest behaviour I would like to have it brought forward,” he said.

Coolen also asked for an explanation of Brisbin’s alleged accusations that he repeatedly withheld information, yelled at and swore at other directors, stormed out of meetings and has inconsistently done his job as treasurer.

“If there is evidence of information being withheld I would like to know what that is in reference to,” Coolen said.

He also denied ever swearing at another director and asked for any evidence of that to be brought forward.

“I have in fact left two meetings in disgust,” he admitted, adding, “I’m not sure how that information was communicated to Mr Brisbin as he was not at either of those meetings.”

“I am surprised you didn’t come to me to clarify these things,” Brisbin replied, adding, “I’m glad you finally did, and I’m glad it took a Facebook group to do it.”

“Why didn’t you come to me and ask me these questions?” Coolen countered.

“I would like to. Let’s do it,” said Brisbin, alleging that Coolen was “never around.”

“I’m here every day, 9 to 3,” Coolen fired back.

A highlight of the evening was volunteer coordinator Monika Whitney’s report which noted that the number of Pride volunteers stands at 353 people —up from about 150 last year.