Charlotte LGBT center prepares for second town hall

On verge of closure, group will address several continuing issues of concern

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: February 5, 2014 in News

lgbtcentercharlotteOriginally published:
Feb. 5, 2014, 2:15 p.m.
Updated: Feb. 5, 2014, 2:57 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leaders with the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte are preparing for their second public town hall, to be held Thursday evening, 6:30-7:30 p.m., at their facility at 2508 N. Davidson St.

On Jan. 22, the group announced it is on the verge of closure and may shut its doors at the end of February. In response, the group has rolled out new sponsorship and membership structures.

Membership, transparency and board accountability have been topics discussed since last fall. On Dec. 4, the group held a town hall meeting, at which 100 people attended. The town hall was planned in response to several commentaries from this writer at his personal blog in November.

Since that time, the group’s board has amended its bylaws to open board meetings to the public, though an initial revised version of the bylaws technically limited board meeting attendance only to center members. The center later clarified its intentions for open meetings.

The Thursday town hall will address several continuing topics of concern. According to center board member and public relations chair Patrice Shannon, the board has chosen to discuss the bylaws, its membership drive and financial status, strategic planning and community outreach. Shannon said the center is also reaching out via social media for other topics as suggested by community members.

Shannon also said the center hopes to use the town hall to garner additional feedback on its changes. As such, they have not yet revised their bylaws to address concerns over membership. Currently, members have no vote unless the board decides to poll members. Members cannot vote for board officers and have no oversight or voting rights on bylaws amendments.

“It was apparent in the original release to our bylaw changes we made several errors that affected the community in a negative way,” Shannon said in a written statement. “It was clear that we did not have a full understanding of the view of the community and we want to use this Town Hall meeting to gain a better perspective.”

The center will be utilizing an outside consultant, Josh Jacobson, a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), of Next Stage Leadership Consulting.

“In the upcoming Board meeting (which is open to the community) we will fully discuss the changes to our bylaws and will be working with a third party … to review the changes so that we appropriately address the needs of the community,” said Shannon. “We feel that this approach is best in order for us to make effective change and prevent misunderstandings in the interpretation of the bylaws.”

Jacobson, Shannon said, reached out to the center to offer pro bono non-profit consulting. Jacobson previously worked as managing director at Patton McDowell & Associates, LLC, a Charlotte consulting firm.

Jacobson will also moderate Thursday’s town hall. He has little experience in LGBT community work, Jacobson said in an email to qnotes. But, the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund was a client of his former firm. Jacobson said he has a wealth of experience working with small-to-midsize non-profits needing organizational development, such as strategic planning, board and staff engagement and fundraising.

“I reached out to [Center Chair] Roberta [Dunn] and [Operations Director] Glenn [Griffin] based on some of the stories in the media of late,” Jaconson said. “I was previously a member of the board of The Light Factory, which you may know went through a challenging time recently regarding board governance and member engagement. I saw in the media stories regarding the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte a similar thread of disconnect and felt I could uniquely assist at this time.”

Shannon said center leaders want to hear from community members and want to work together to improve the organization.

“We want to clear up any confusion there might be on certain bylaw changes and walk away with everyone working towards the same goal — A stable community center that will foster the growth of our diverse community,” Shannon said. “Together we can do great things, but we won’t be able to do anything if we can’t keep our doors open. We hope that after hearing what the Board has to say and understanding our new goals for 2014 and beyond that the community will want to support our mission. The fact is we need supporting members and community sponsorships to stay open, so we want to win the trust and support of the community in order to become the Center that we all want and need.”

Advertising and outreach for the town hall has been limited. Though the center listed the event on its website and in its newsletter, as of Wednesday it had yet to utilize other resources, like Facebook, to advertise the event.

The town hall will be followed this weekend by the center’s “Back to the Block” party. The Saturday event will raise funds for the center, which will be selling memberships and sponsorships during the event.

Controversy over the center’s lack of transparency and financial problems have inspired at least one public effort to establish a new organization if the center should fail. About half a dozen community members under the leadership of activist Janice Covington say they have already secured temporary meeting space and are poised to create a steering committee to form a new organization if necessary.

The center’s latest stumbles are not the first time it has faced controversy. In 2007, the center came close to closure while also facing concerns over a lack of transparency.

info: lgbtcharlotte.org