[Ed. Note — This editorial was written on June 2 as the June 6 issue was going to press. As of press time, Dunn was still a member of the LGBT Community Center Board of Trustees. On June 4, it was announced she had resigned from the board. For an archive of all recent and past center updates, click here.]
After years of missteps, doubt and worry, one singular truth has become more obvious with each passing day: Charlotte’s LGBT community has lost confidence in its LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. More specifically, donors, volunteers, funders and others have lost confidence in the center’s board of trustees, as each incarnation of the board has taken actions which served only to compound upon years of mistakes. Even more specifically, the community has lost confidence in former center Chair Roberta Dunn and Vice-Chair Bert Woodard, two of the longest-serving members on the board whose leadership over the past year has resulted only in a bevy of financial errors, board mismanagement and, at times, confrontational engagement with the very people and organizations that could have worked to support and save the center from the crisis it now faces.
In order for this current center to survive — or at the very least address their multiple problems before facing a potentially inevitable closure — there is just one clear route remaining. Dunn and Woodard, both of whom at press time were still sitting members of the board, must immediately step down.
Additionally, though neither Dunn nor Woodard can be held responsible for all of the center’s troubled history, a review of its innumerable missteps is necessary as the community, donors and volunteers consider their next steps.
More than 10 years ago, community members from all walks of life — rich with a diversity of experiences and backgrounds — came together to form the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. Their work resulted in the organization finding high-profile space on Central Ave., giving visible voice to Charlotte’s LGBT community like never before. The group also created a budding mix of programs and activities, but was never able to find the right combination necessary to support its basic operational needs.
Financial troubles soon followed with support beginning to dwindle by 2006.
Only when the center partnered with this newspaper’s publisher and other community leaders to produce the city’s annual Pride activities did the organization find the necessary funds to continue supporting itself — in doing so, the center’s first major financial crisis was revealed. The center was some $40,000 in debt and center staffers were found to have been siphoning money out of a reserve account for Pride Charlotte to pay rent and payroll.
The money was repaid to Pride activities and the community stepped up to save the center — $20,000 from Southern Country Charlotte, $18,000 from the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund and a $10,000 donation from an individual donor. But, from that point forward the center remained unable to independently pay for its basic operating needs. Its executive director was let go. Center hours were cut. Programs were discontinued and the center’s previous membership structure was abandoned. Board turnovers engendered more uncertainty and a new board chair was tapped to lead the organization. While the organization was able to immediately stabilize its budget, the new leadership, soon to include Woodard, made decisions and interacted with community members in such a way as to — intentionally or not — alienate some fellow board members and many staff and volunteers.
As some board members, staff and volunteers became disillusioned, support for the center began to drop again. With several board changeovers, new board chairs promised to re-engage the community and rebuild trust, but failed to do so. Promises for transparency and accountability were broken time and time again.
The organization exists now — but barely. Its board has experienced constant turnover and instability, with nearly a dozen different members coming onto and rolling off the board over the past two years. Many who remain — with the possible exception of new chair Ranzeno Frazier and board member Jenny Richeson — seem unable or unwilling to commit the time and energy it takes to shepherd an organization that is, quite simply, in full crisis mode. In March, three weeks after the organization came close to shuttering its doors, the board couldn’t even muster quorum. On May 21, half the board was missing in action.
The organization is now operating at a deficit — at least $7,500 in negative net income since January. Fundraising ideas and projects — some raising a few thousand dollars, others raising only a few hundred — have failed to meet the need. As of June 1, the group had just $617 in the bank and owed the federal and state governments at least $7,000.
Dunn’s and Woodard’s responses to these crises have been to shift blame, point fingers, feign ignorance, mislead the public and silence much-needed constructive criticism from fellow board members, volunteers, community members and donors.
“This isn’t a speaking time,” Dunn responded to this newspaper’s questions at a board meeting on May 21.
Woodard found it — though I don’t possibly know how — appropriate to engage in an argumentative confrontation with the chair of the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund, which has existed recently as the center’s single-largest financial supporter.
Charlotte’s LGBT community clamors in near-unanimous agreement: We are tired of the hubris. We are tired of the excuses. We are tired of the damage and division this leadership has caused.
Trust has been broken, and it will take time for it to be rebuilt. But, Dunn and Woodard cannot be a part of this process. They cannot be part of the center’s reconstruction or its future. It’s time for them to step aside. Fortunately for the center, Woodard’s term ends on June 30. I wish him and Dunn the best in their future endeavors and hope they bow out gracefully and allow this community to heal. : :