Charlotte Pride: Growing pains?

Board adopts new structure amid controversy over lost members

by Jeff Taylor, qnotes staff
with research and reporting assistance by Chris Tittel, qnotes contributor

Charlotte Pride has grown year after year at a remarkable rate, quickly becoming one of the city’s largest festivals. A study commissioned by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) found that the 2014 festival and parade added over $7.75 million in total economic impact from out-of-town visitors, including just shy of $2.5 million in labor income.

According to Charlotte Pride’s annual report for 2014, last year’s festival earned $287,169 in program services and $99,024 in contributions, grants and “other income” for a total of $386,193 in overall revenue.

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This year’s Pride was bigger still, drawing an estimated 120,000 attendees.

PrideLogoFinal-2014-dates-locationCharlotte Pride switches to governing board structure

This growth has resulted in Charlotte Pride transitioning from an operating board to a governing board structure.

“Charlotte Pride has been pleased with our phenomenal growth over the very short span of just three years,” Grimstad told qnotes by email. “We are committed to a forward path that will see our transition from an operating board to a governing board and other structural changes.”

Grimstad said the transition, necessary for the sustained growth of the organization, has been in discussion for several years in board development meetings and retreats.

“This is a natural evolution for a growing non-profit organization,” he said. “This decision is informed by best practice standards of organizations of our type, size and growth stage. This kind of move is necessary for future growth, including fundraising, donor relations, the potential hiring of staff and volunteer engagement. Our membership in InterPride has allowed us to have conversations with other Pride organizations similar to our size who have gone through similar transitions. These conversations are helping to inform our plans. Many organizations transition from founding boards and operating boards to governing board structures.”

“Charlotte Pride has been managed by an all-volunteer operating board and committees overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization. These volunteers have put in countless hours and dedication to make Charlotte Pride the successful organization it is today. Our transition builds on these strengths. We know that our future success will be guaranteed by the increased efficiency and capacity of a governing board of directors and the creation of new volunteer engagement opportunities for community members,” said co-director Craig Hopkins on a post published on Charlotte Pride Scribe, the official blog of Charlotte Pride, found at charlottepride.org.

“Charlotte Pride’s transitional board includes co-directors Grimstad and Craig Hopkins, as well as board members Gwen Pearson, Matt Comer, Jeff Sampson and Marc Alexander. These board members will work with the organization’s advisors and consultants in transitioning to the governing board, guided by best practice standards and strategies.” It goes on to say, “Charlotte Pride will be engaging community members in several outreach efforts.”

Board members exiting Pride

It is not uncommon for a board to lose members over time, and Charlotte Pride has certainly not been immune from this phenomenon in recent months, with some suggesting that the departures are coming at an unusually quick pace.

“[Resignations are not] uncommon at the end of our program year,” Grimstad added. “The reasons given were largely personal and related to other commitments or a desire to take a break after a number of years of working on the festival.”

A follow-up email to Grimstad asking how many board members have left over the past year was not returned.

On Nov. 17, Former Entertainment Committee Chair Jonathan Hill posted the following status to his personal Facebook page:

“I have decided to break my silence on Charlotte Pride. Charlotte Pride announced today that they are ‘transitioning’ to a governing board. What they failed to tell you is that 9 [board members] resigned this year including myself. The directors talk about being transparent and we demanded it of the LGBT Community Center [of Charlotte]. I think Charlotte Pride needs to look at their internal issues before they end up like the LGBT Community Center.”

Hill told qnotes he resigned in June.

Hill says problems he was experiencing occurred after throwing his support to Grimstad’s re-election campaign opponent Paul Kelly. When the vote was split, advisors were brought in, according to Hill, who says they [the advisors] recommended Grimstad remain as co-director. “We implemented a director-elect position in order to assist in training for new leaders stepping up when one of our two co-directors roll out of their leadership role,” Grimstad said.

Kelly assumed that new position.

Hill further claims that the advisors were “hand-picked” by Grimstand and Hopkins.

While it was Hill who originally recruited Grimstad onto the board when he was serving as co-chair, he says he became concerned about Grimstad’s management style and felt Kelly might be a better option. Hill claims that Grimstad seemed to take this personally and that from that point forward it was difficult to impossible to communicate with him.

Hill also claims Grimstad and Hopkins told the board he was not communicating properly with the co-directors and therefore wasn’t doing his job, which he says is not accurate.

Charlotte Pride largely disagrees with this assessment. They did, however, confirm the responsibility of selection the advisors.

“Like many other positions, advisors are appointed by the co-directors,” said Media & Marketing Chair Matt Comer in an email to qnotes, who added that they have not been responsible in helping to choose leadership. “Any board member has the ability to identify, suggest and recruit individuals for the advisory board. In the past, many individual advisors have come at the recommendation of other members of the advisory board.”

The three advisors, which Comer identifies as “non-profit professionals and consultants [with] a wealth of knowledge on organizational best practices and governance” currently assisting the board are Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs, Steve Bentley and Tracy Russ.

“The advisors were asked to assist in our annual event recap on Aug. 27, 2014 and to help us set goals and next steps for the future,” Comer continued. “At a later meeting on Oct. 1, 2014, Richard Grimstad was re-elected by the board to a term as co-director. As with Grimstad’s election in 2014, most of our leadership selections have been made with the overwhelming majority or unanimous support of the board. Under our continued leadership, Charlotte Pride has very successfully navigated several years of unprecedented growth while also working to ensure and increase long-term sustainability, our fiduciary responsibility to stakeholders and our continued commitment to transparency and community outreach, programs and projects. We are confident in the abilities of our co-directors and each member of our board.”

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In addition to Hill’s departure, eight others left the board, including Kelly.

Comer notes that Kelly “fulfilled his term as director-elect and chose not to continue with the organization.”

Thom Hall replaced Hill and is also no longer with Pride. Gary Carpenter-Kelly replaced Hall. He, too, has since left his position.

Other board members known to have left Pride, or chosen not to return, over the past year include: Former Treasurer Tara Moser, Former Community Development Chair Marshall Varner, Former Operations Chair Patrick Paige and Former Media/Marketing Chair Kimberly Brent. That brings the total to nine, as Hill claimed in his Facebook post.

Comer did not directly answer when asked how many board members have left the board over the past year, but stressed that most of those who left did so only at the end of their term.

“Only three board members resigned from their positions before the completion of their Sept. 30 terms,” Comer noted. “The majority of these resignations were personal and related to other commitments or a desire to take a break after a number of years of working on the festival. As should be expected, changes in leadership are common when organizations embark on strategic transitions in governing structures.”

An anonymous individual claiming to have worked “for four years in committees and on the board” sent an email to qnotes, which said in part, “The disgust among board members and committee members is rampant.” The email said they believed the problem was “mostly due” to Grimstad’s management style.

Paige mirrored this sentiment, saying, “My perspective is that there has been a lot of personality conflict. Especially with the directors.”

“I have found with all volunteer, non-profit organizations, including Pride, that there is always going to be turn over on the board and committees for many reasons. People get burned out, individuals realize they don’t have the time, individuals have issues with how particular procedures are implemented, etc., etc.,” said Former Co-Director and Parade Chair Dave Webb in an email.

Webb left in September of this year to focus on his teaching career, noting that the plan to leave the board had been in the works for a while.

“Pride’s board has been no exception,” Webb continued. “Over the last five years there has been raised voice, feet stomping, walking out of a meeting and all sorts of drama, and I’ve been part of that on occasion. It is the nature of the beast and it is also a sign of a board that is engaged and passionate. Does everyone agree? No. Are there times individuals decide they can’t get along with another individual or rule? Yes. That is the challenge with any organization and especially this one that has grown its attendance from 15,000 to over 125,000 a year.”

While the bylaws as they currently stand suggest that both Grimstad and Hopkins should be rolling off as directors sooner than later, this may no longer be the case before long due to the change to a governing board structure.

“The board has resolved to transition to a governing board; our current board members will assist in this process. Part of this process will likely include bylaws revisions to better reflect the desired governing structure for the organization. The forthcoming governing board will make final decisions on board leadership in the future,” said Comer.

[Editorial Note: Matt Comer, Charlotte Pride Media & Marketing chair, served as editor of this newspaper for almost eight years and is no longer on staff at qnotes.]

 

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Posted by Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.

8 Replies to “Charlotte Pride: Growing pains?”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didnt a former “friend” of Matt Comer ring the alarm bells over a year ago about Pride and its false claim of “community” plus the conflict of interest of Matt Comer who as (then) Editor) of QNotes wouldn’t DARE look into the very financial shenanigans of Charlotte Pride that the “journalist” claimed was the same reason to go after the LGBT Center?

    How strange *cough cough cough* that the answers he provides for this story read like the same ones he went into a tizzy about when they were provided by the LGBT Community Center.

    Obviously Matt is about pointing fingers but not walking the talk…

  2. I believe several important details were omitted but a major incident that speaks to Richard Grimstads character and poor choices was when he received a dui after a pride event last year.

    http://www.jailbase.com/en/arrested/nc-mcso/2014-07-10/richard-arthur-grimstad-1619234-439328

    People on the board whispered about the DUI and reportedly brought it up with the Advisors then but nobody wanted to act on it. That says to me the Board was also ineffective due to the friendships at play.

    So many issues with the remaining leadership still, so many left previously calling for others to step down but sadly I don’t think it’s going to improve if the remaining board stays. They need to clean house.

    Matt Comer resides in the same residence as Richard as well. I can assume several private meetings were discussed at the residence and decisions made in those confines. Where is the transparency?! The board went so far as to stop publishing regular board meetings and that is when I stopped attending. It was because of security risks from outsiders however I believe it was to keep their meetings confidential.

    A concerned “former” volunteer.

    PS – this is going the way of the LGBT Center!!!

  3. Sounds like there are a lot of changes going on with the growth and change in structure. I think the real test of any organization is the outcomes they produce. In this case that would be Charlotte Pride 2016. I’m hopeful though based on past performance.

  4. While I think that Mr. Grimstead’s DUI issue is irrelevant, unless the board wants to address that with him personally, I do find translucent state of Pride concerning.

    Many of our organizations both gay and straight have open meetings and also post their minutes and financials for review. The reasons surrounding the dilution of transparency are not good enough to warrant closed meetings nor are they means to not disclose financials to the community for an organization that serves everyone.

    I am appalled that Matt Comer and even some of the current and past board members would take the stance that they did with the failing LGBT Community Center and not hold their selves to the same standards with Pride. I do believe this is where the conflict of interest may have come into play. Can you be objective and truly a journalist when you serve on the board and also live with the chair?

    Also, I do work for one of the largest sponsors for Charlotte Pride as well as volunteer each year and can attest that sponsors and city officials are growing weary of Richard Grimstead and his attitude, professionalism issues and also inability to work well with others that criticize or do not see it his way.

    Charlotte Pride is a jewel in the crown of the Queen City, and as a lifetime resident, lesbian and professional I am proud of the growth, but those growing pains should never be an excuse for the antics of late.

    The mass exodus of board members can be seen in many lights, but the community knows that it was due to irreconcilable differences stemming from direct leadership problems and Richard Grimstead.

    That name seems to be the theme of my remarks, but I will sat that most peculiar are the voices that rang so heavily each time one of our orgs overstepped or attempted to not answer questions during turmoil. They are silent. Too many cronies in this one it appears.

    I do believe that there are courageous members who left the board and stated the facts and then there are those who are professional and attempting to not cause drama.

    Lets be real folks, it starts at the top and to bring a culture that appreciates all ideas, creativity and leads instead of manages will prove better for Pride in this current season. I call for the resignation of Richard Grimstead effective immediately. Be a true leader and realize that there is a season to everything. Do not let the great things you have done end in scandal or rumors.

  5. Simply put. Maybe we should call emergency town hall meetings and demand some answers and get the media involved. The questions may get answered then.

  6. Another Concerned December 9, 2015 at 7:56 am

    How much money does Pride raise each year? How much goes to community? How much to paying for things like a RuPaul Drag Race Winner? My guess is entertainers receive more than local LGBT orgs.

    If this was the old LGBT center – there would have been a barrage of articles about questioning where the money goes and calls for less money spent on the org’s needs and infrastructure/operating costs while demanding more transparency and more distributed to the LGBT community.

    Most of the Board celebrates that they took Pride away from the community center which as a result forced the community center to go into a downward financial struggle.

    Not certain why Pride, which is supposed to be about LGBT Pride and all that we achieve and celebrate, should just stand for being the third largest LGBT festival in the South, Is that all we have to slap ourselves on the back about?

    Is the point of why we celebrate Pride missed for the sake of being elaborate and expensive?

    Someone should write a series of articles about that…

  7. I am confused about the statements regarding lack of transparency. While it is understandable folks may disagree on the mission and how funds are spent, the mission statement, 990 tax forms, by-laws, resolutions and a wealth of other documents are posted on their web site. In 2014 their finances were audited. If I recall from serving in past as Director and officer positions, including Treasurer and Chair of 501 (c) 3’s, their income is not yet at a level where an audit would be required, so I applaud them on taking that additional step for 2014. The website is here – http://charlottepride.org/. Section 5.1 of their by-laws indicates meetings schedule shall be made public, and Section 6.2 addresses meeting transparency and that the public may attend.

  8. Pride needs reform December 14, 2015 at 9:51 am

    hahaha – that’s what the bylaws indicate but they’re not followed.

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