Broken Trust? Charlotte LGBT center faces tough questions
Updated: June 6, 2014 at 10:46 am
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Originally published: June 3, 2014, 10:39 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2014, 8:00 a.m.
THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY.
Click here to see an archive of recent LGBT center coverage.
[Ed. Note — This story was originally published on Tuesday, June 3, and has been revised to include updates not published in a version of this story printed in the June 6 print edition, which went to press on June 2.]
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Discussions were often contentious, emotional and, at times, bitter, at a last-minute community meeting called for Sunday, June 1 at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. Five current board members faced tough questions about their organization’s financial status and accusations of mismanagement after shocking revelations on Friday that the center was, among other concerns, delinquent on at least $7,000 in outstanding payroll taxes to the federal and state governments.
cash in, cash out
Center revenues, 2002-2012
Center expenses, 2002-2012
Occupancy expenses, 2002-2012
Highest occupancy, 2002
89% of all expenses
Lowest occupancy, 2005
30% of all expenses
50% of all expenses
The center’s largest financial supporters, 2002-2013:
Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund
Southern Country Charlotte
White Party individual donors
Total: $429,583 (estimated)
Note: Financial data compiled from annual Forms 990 and other sources. Expenses do not include cash outlays of approximately $8,000 for furniture and fixture purchases and roughly $90,000 in facility upgrades at the Central Ave. location. Facility upgrades recorded as a loss when the center relocated to NC Music Factory.
About 60 community members attended the meeting, called by a group of eight other leaders who had previously stepped up to volunteer on the center board — if current board members resigned. The group had said prior to and during the meeting that current leaders could no longer be trusted to lead the organization. A day before the meeting, the group had changed course, instead saying they would start a new organization that could “provide a better option for the community.”
But, a meeting between the group and some current center board members might have postponed any efforts to create an entirely new organization — as those involved say they’ll be having broader conversations to determine the next best steps.
“We are going to be consulting among each other, consulting with the community center and definitely seeking the input of the community at large,” said Mel Hartsell, a longtime center volunteer and PRISM young adult program coordinator who was among the eight who had stepped up to challenge the center. “I think the consensus is right now to look at the tax liability issue and figure out if the community wants to move forward with the same center, the same 501(c)(3) and see if that can work and to see if even adding new members to the board will change public perception.”
In addition to Hartsell, who is a social worker and clinical coordinator, the group of eight included: Edward McCray, director of events and donor relations at the McColl Center for Vision Arts; Joshua Burford, assistant director for sexual & gender diversity at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Multicultural Resource Center; Joyce Saint-Cyr, an accounting and financial services professional and business coach; Nate Turner, executive chef and owner at Your Custom Catering & Events, LLC; marketing professional Colleen Lloyd-Roberts, owner of BrandGarden; Bennett Simonsen, who works as the Pets for Life Coordinator, Humane Society; and Jim Yarbrough, owner and publisher of qnotes and the owner of White Rabbit.
[Ed. Note — This newspaper’s publisher, Jim Yarbrough, has been engaged for several months in conversations with the current center board of trustees. Yarbrough was previously asked to assist or join a temporary center board. This writer was not made privy to the contents of Yarbrough’s discussions. Additionally, this writer and Yarbrough have neither discussed nor coordinated together the content of news writings on this issue prior to their publication.]
Story continues below video. A video of the full meeting can be viewed here.
The June 1 community meeting was the third similar event held since December. Last fall, community concerns about the center finances, board management, transparency and accountability mounted. Nearly 100 people attended the December meeting, but despite promises of transparency and change, the center’s situation didn’t improve. In January, the center announced it could close at the end of February. Enough funds were raised to keep the doors open, but sustainability had all but collapsed by the end of May, with the center operating at a $7,500 deficit since January.
On Friday, qnotes reported that the center had just $650 cash on hand. Additionally, the center had failed to pay its sole employee, Operations Director Glenn Griffin, on time, and the center owed at least $7,000 in outstanding payroll taxes. What’s more, center leaders — in particular, former chair Roberta Dunn — knew about the payroll tax issue. Though taxes are still outstanding, an anonymous donor stepped up on Saturday to pay Griffin’s back pay in full.
Last Thursday, Dunn had told her board she intended to resign as chair. She did so on Friday, but remained on the board. Board member Ranzeno Frazier, who came onto the board in February, was elected the center’s new chair.
By the time the June 1 meeting was over, it became clear Dunn had failed to properly communicate with her fellow board members.
“The board didn’t know. I sometimes feel it was ostrich,” Griffin said at the meeting. “They didn’t want to know, because it was out there. I told Roberta and if she didn’t tell the board, then that was a problem. Because, honestly, they mostly didn’t know.”
Still, Frazier defended Dunn’s place on the board.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that Roberta has made the best decisions for the board and for the community, but I know she has a heart and a passion for the community and for certain organizations in the LGBT community,” Frazier told those gathered at the meeting. “To ask a person that has a care for it and tell them I don’t want you to be a part of my board, for me, that doesn’t work for me.”
Frazier added, “If because of one person on the board that bothers you that much that you can’t come and be a part of something that is going to become positive and get past what is going on at this time, that’s something you’re going to have to take on yourself. I’m not trying to be disrespectful or make it personal, but this community is bigger than one person.”
Ultimately, however, Dunn did resign from the board. Her departure was announced June 4.
The most contentious part of debate, perhaps, came when board member Crystal Long chastised community members for not “stepping up.”
“They want participation and they want to be a part of it, then they need to apply for positions to do that,” Long told the audience. “Nobody has applied for the positions. We’ve needed a treasurer… It was on the website. It was noted. Not one of you came up and said, ‘Hey, I can do this'”
Long added, “Y’all can complain but none of y’all can apply. The bottom line is this, it’s about coming and stepping up. There’s been three town halls… but how many of you have actually stepped up?”
In response, community member Cameron Joyce said two people had submitted applications.
“And, how long have you sat on them?” he asked Long.
“We haven’t sat on them. No no no. See, that’s why y’all don’t pay attention,” Long said forcefully, waving her finger as the audience erupted in negative responses.
The two board applications from Hartsell and Simonsen were submitted at least three months ago.
During discussions, center board Vice Chair Bert Woodard defended the board and the organization. He said the community was treating the center unlike any other organization with which he’s ever been involved.
Despite problems, the center, Woodard said, “has never closed its doors.”
“It isn’t easy. We don’t have the heartstring, which is understandable, of a Time Out Youth or RAIN,” Woodard said. “We pay rent. It is a building with programs. We came this close to closing before I was on the board. It came that close. We survived. … The decision was back then was to go virtual or go to the NC Music Factory, which the decision was to do that. So, we’ve not not done good things.”
A way forward?
The June 1 meeting ended with, perhaps, positive results — even if the meeting itself ran high on emotion.
Board member Jenny Richeson erupted in tears, while explaining her commitment to the organization and the challenges it has faced.
“I stand here embarrassed because I sit on a board I’m extremely proud of and today I heard a lot that I’m embarrassed over,” Richeson said. “I still stand here today saying to you I want to be a part of this board and I’ve worked very hard for it. I stand proud in my community. I’m going to continue to work hard.”
Richeson said she had been part of several conversations, learning more about the community’s thoughts and concerns. “I think we need to acknowledge the conversations that have happened and that we do correct that as a board and we move on from here,” she said.
Conversations may very well continue. Representatives from the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund, the center’s largest donor currently, were present for the meeting. Fund Chair Jenni Gaisbauer strongly encouraged the center to come up with a strategic and fundraising plan.
“You need a professional fundraiser or somebody who can guide you,” Gaisbauer said at the meeting. “An event is not fundraising. [Fundraising is] donors, cultivating relationships with people. We have never received a thank you from you at all, your organization, and that’s a shame on you.”
Gaisbauer said the fund is willing to support the center, if center leaders can present a plan for moving forward.
“We have sat down with your [former] board chair and Glenn [Griffin] for the last two months working on how we can be supportive,” Gaisbauer said. “But you know what, our stakeholders cannot give money to an empty hole anymore. We are here to help in anyway — if you change boards or if you figure out what you’re going to do, we will help you get out of it. We want to help, but you need a plan. You need leadership.”
At the meeting, Gaisbauer said she saw potential in newly-elected board Chair Ranzeno Frazier. He and some other current board members met with concerned community leaders after the public meeting on June 1.
“We hashed out a lot of issues they were concerned about,” Frazier said. “We are willing to work together. We just have to get some things settled. I understand their frustrations and concerns about joining the board immediately. I’m working on my part of the situation.”
Mel Hartsell said the group of concerned leaders are worried about the tax liability. Many want to be involved, but do not want to take responsibility for a prior board’s financial mismanagement.
Trust, Hartsell said, will also be hard to regain.
“I walked away with similar concerns that I had walked away with from every town hall meeting we’ve had on the center,” Hartsell said. “Issues of transparency, issues of whether the community will give the center a chance, whether I’m personally willing to move forward and trust this board. There are questions that still need to be answered.”
Frazier said the meetings on June 1 were emotional, but necessary to move forward.
“There were a lot of ups and downs and yes, it was very emotional,” he said the day afterward. “I walked away learning more than I knew from the beginning. I want the community to see I am for change. I woke up on the road this morning to get this stuff, this situation handled so I can regain the trust of the community.”
In a statement released Monday, the group of eight thanked the center board for being present to hear community concerns.
“As a community, we have much to consider in the coming days and weeks,” the statement read. “We’re looking forward to working more with the community as we advance further.”
And, Frazier continues to make in-roads with community leaders, as he and other board members engage in conversations on the center’s needs and the community’s expectations.
On Wednesday, June 4, Frazier met with several community leaders at the center. There, he discussed his plans to move forward and solicited their advice.
Additionally, Frazier said it has received a 40 percent temporary reduction in rent for the next two months, reducing their rent from $3,500 to $2,100.
The center also said it has been working with a tax consultant and has submitted the necessary forms to resolve its outstanding tax issues.
“A great thank-you to The Community Leaders who attended this meeting and who gave guidance, suggestions, and great feedback for the direction The Center is headed,” a June 4 statement from the center reads. “Ranzeno Frazier will be meeting with further Community Leaders. We are excited that the new Chair has hit the ground running…and he isn’t done yet!”
In a separate letter, sent through the center’s email list on June 3, Frazier said he understood the importance of creating monthly and annual budgets for the organization.
“With the help of the LGBT Center Community and board I plan on creating goals and initiatives to increase the Centers budget but also the membership and trust that of the community by being 100% transparent. With the relationship that I have with Local City, County, and State councils member I will work closely with them to get funding and also embracing the LGBT Community,” Frazier wrote.
He added, “With my professional and social background I do believe and know that I have what it take to represent not only the LGBT Board but also the community. Please remember I can not change that past, but learn from it to build a promising future.” : :
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About the author: Matt Comer is the editor of QNotes, first hired to serve in the role in October 2007. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 704-531-9988, ext. 202. Follow him online at facebook.com/matthew.mh.comer or at twitter.com/themattcomer.