Closing the book on Pridegate
The three former Pride board members tell their side of the story
Published Thursday, 11-Feb-2010 in issue 1155
On Oct. 6, 2009, San Diego LGBT Pride Board of Directors voted to give now former Board Chair Philip Princetta a $5,000 check for what they said was going beyond the call of duty in his volunteer role with the organization. According to Pride’s bylaws, board members are not to be compensated. In early January 2010, former Pride executive director Ron deHarte spoke out against the board’s action. Within a few days, the then three-member board – Princetta, Treasurer Mike Karim and Secretary Carl Worrell – dismissed deHarte from his position and announced that Princetta had returned the check. On Jan. 10, former Pride board members organized a town hall forum where they, community members and Pride volunteers and former staff discussed the dispute and called for the three board members to step down. After the forum, which the board did not attend, Princetta reaffirmed the board’s commitment to not resign and within two weeks the board voted in three new members: Debra McEntee, Suanne Pauley and Joe Mayer. But things changed after a meeting between the now six member board and Senator Christine Kehoe, former deputy mayor Toni Atkins and City Councilmember Todd Gloria that took place on Jan. 23 at the senator’s office. According to the board, Kehoe, with Gloria and Atkins in attendance, made a series of demands that included Princetta, Worrell and Karim’s resignation and a list of former Pride board members to be voted into a new board. The next day, the board – with the exception of Worrell who tended his resignation earlier in the day – voted in most of the people on Kehoe’s list and Princetta and Karim resigned a few days later. The three former board members – Princetta, Worrell and Karim – have spoken out about their side of the story, while Kehoe, Gloria and Atkins have, for the most part, kept quiet and continue to do so. With a mostly new board in place and the three current and or former government officials keeping what they say to a minimum, we attempt to close this chapter of San Diego Pride’s history with an extended interview with the party who will speak, the former board members: Princetta, Worrell and Karim. The Gay & Lesbian Times talked to the former board members about the “Kehoe meeting,” the $5,000 check, their troubles recruiting new board members, their thoughts on last month’s community forum, the issue of bonuses, their purchase of a new building, their concerns with deHarte and staff and their advice for the new board. We begin with the meeting that took place at Senator Kehoe’s office.
Gay & Lesbian Times: Who initiated the meeting at the senator’s office?
Phillip Princetta: I did. On the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 22, I called Christine’s office to ask for a meeting around 3 o’clock. I had felt that the CAPI [Consolidated Association of Pride] conference was off the ground and running well. It was day one and now it was time to call Kehoe up and fill her in on what had been happening over the last two to three weeks. I left a message, and then she called back and left a message, and then I called her back.
GLT: Why did you want to meet with Kehoe? Are you friends? Does she advise the organization?
PP: No, I just thought it was time to fill her in. She in turn, I thought, would fill in Todd Gloria. I just thought I would bring her up to speed because I know she has an interest in San Diego Pride from having rebuilt it in 1989 when it had some bankruptcy issues.
GLT: How did the meeting start?
PP: We walked into her office and waited a couple of minutes in her board room, and then someone told us that, ‘They would be right out’ and then Kehoe, Todd Gloria and Toni Atkins came out.
GLT: What exactly happened from the time they entered the room till the meeting ended?
PP: After their initial introduction, Kehoe asked, if I’m not mistaken, ‘Do you think there has been any perceptual damage that has occurred within the community?’ I said, ‘No’ because I felt like there was only a core group of people that were dissatisfied, and then she went around and asked that same question to the rest of the board members.
Carl Worrell: The three of us [Carl, Phillip and Mike] did pretty much agree that there was a perception that things were out of whack, but we all said that, ‘We thought it was a vocal minority.’ Then she asked if all three new members [Debra McEntee, Suanne Pauley and Joe Mayer] had taken some kind of oath or alligence to the three old board members and Debra, Suanne and Joe answered ‘No.’
PP: Then she [Kehoe] asked if the $5,000 had been paid back, and I said, ‘Yes.’ And then she asked for a copy of my personal bank account records.
CW: That shocked me the most. [I thought,] ‘Where are you coming from?’ I was just totally shocked by that and by the bullying that was being used.
PP: Then she asked if the board had ever taken an ethics class. And we all said ‘No.’ But I said, ‘I thought that it was a good idea.’ Then she said, ‘The most important thing is Pride and having a Pride [festival] and the 200,000 people that attend Pride.’ Then she said that, ‘Pride would [implement a] hiring freeze, that all business transactions be sent to her and Todd’s office and that all meetings had to be open to the public and all financial documents must be disclosed and made available to the public.’ I did try to say to her that, ‘They are available to the public on the Web site,’ but I couldn’t get a chance to get it out. I did want to mention that this issue was between Ron deHarte and myself, but as soon as I said, ‘Ron,’ she said, ‘We’re not here to discuss Ron deHarte.’ I thought, ‘OK, whatever.’ Then she presented us a list of people that she was suggested to be on the board.
CW: She then said she wanted to know that we all would resign by the 28 [of February] and that we were free to reapply, if we chose to do so. My question to her was, ‘Apply to whom?’ If we all resigned, there would be nobody to appoint the board. She said that the three people who were there – Suanne Paul and Debra McEntee and Joe Mayer – were tainted because we had appointed them. But if they were tainted because we appointed them, we were the only one’s who could appoint somebody else. Christine said she didn’t have any idea of how it was going to work out but that we needed to resign.
PP: Debra and Suanne were shocked that she would want their resignations. They just recently got on the board (Debra on the Jan. 15 and Suanne and Joe on Jan. 20).
GLT: Was receivership discussed?
PP: I don’t think it was discussed in the meeting, but I felt like it was implied. It wasn’t like, ‘If you won’t, I will.’ It was more implied to the effect of, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes.’
Mike Karim: When Debra and Suanne came back from the meeting to the hotel, it stuck in their heads. So either Kehoe strongly mentioned it or strongly eluded to it.
GLT: Did Kehoe say if she had any authority to make such demands?
CW: She didn’t give us any inclination of why she thought she had the authority. I mean it came across that she had the authority because she was Christine Kehoe, period. There was some speculation: She’s been around enough; she’s connected to state officials.
It was to terrorize us. Phillip wasn’t terrorized. I wasn’t terrorized. Suanne [Pauley] and Debra [McEntee], were terrorized. That’s why it stuck in their heads when they were back at the hotel. They were terrorized. – Carl Worrell
MK: She did not say how and why because the organization is in excellent financial standing, excellent. We have been one of the most profitable Prides in the country for years and years.
CW: Do you want me to speculate? It was to terrorize us. Phillip wasn’t terrorized. I wasn’t terrorized. Suanne and Debra were terrorized. That’s why it stuck in their heads when they were back at the hotel [at the CAPI conference]. They were terrorized.
PP: I was shocked that a senator could have that kind of power over anyone, especially Suanne. I was like, ‘Gosh they are like shaking in their boots.’
GLT: What did the three of you do after the meeting?
PP: We went back to the hotel [at the CAPI conference] and called a meeting. What should we do? She wants to put the list of people’s names on the board. We voted on them with the exception of two: Romer De Los Santos II – because we did say that, ‘His resignation [last December] seemed odd’ – and the other was Ann Hewett, who was [former Pride executive director] Ron [deHarte]’s good friend. She was the one that brought Ron in for the hire. And we voted all ‘Yes’ to bring them [the rest of the people on the list] on.
PP: Then on Sunday, Joe had a conversation with Kehoe. He sent us an e-mail saying that, ‘She’s sticking to her guns about what she said yesterday.’ However Joe, did ask about Romer and Hewett and [he said] it was OK with her [Kehoe] that they didn’t get placed on the board.
CW: And it was during that conversation that she changed her mind and said that the three people that were new on the board [Debra, Suanne and Joe] didn’t have to resign.
GLT: Why did the board vote to give Princetta a check for $5,000?
CW: When new board members come on, they’re told that they will be expected to give somewhere around ten hours a month to Pride. Phillip was giving twenty to twenty-five hours a week at that point in time. And so we simply thought that that kind of dedication and that kind of commitment to the organization deserves some reward, some recognition.
PP: It was a lot of work. I put a lot of time into it. Back in April, I blew a fit. I said, ‘Damn it. I’m just disgusted. I spend day and night working in this organization. Instead of giving Ron a bonus, I should get one.’ That was just a pissy fit. There was nothing that was said again until October.
GLT: Wasn’t it clear that it was in direct violation of the organization’s bylaws?
CW: We knew that the check was in violation of the bylaws but in the same way that any number of 501 C 3 organizations wave bylaws at the drop of a hat. It was our intent from the time that we gave him that one time stipend that it would be reported on the 990, that he would get a 1099 for it and that it would all be a transparent transaction. Look, it was one-third of one percent of our revenue. It was an inconsequential sum.
GLT: Do either of you have any regrets over giving the check?
CW: We would probably do that differently, although we did not do anything that was wrong. The one thing that might have altered my decision – and I’m only saying, ‘might’ because I don’t know if it would have made a difference completely – but we didn’t stop to think what the public reaction would be. If we had stopped to think about the public reaction, then we wouldn’t have done that. Anything else wouldn’t change it at all.
GLT: Do you have any regrets over accepting it?
PP: I feel the same way. I feel that the $5,000 wasn’t at all that important. If we had anticipated the public perception of it, it just wasn’t that important to have it. I mean it wasn’t like a life or death situation.
GLT: Was it the last straw with Ron, when he brought up the $5,000 check?
PP: I can’t say it was the last draw, but the way it was done didn’t feel right.
CW: Ron told Phillip and Mike, on separate occasions on the same day, that ‘If Phillip resigned before midnight on the 31 of December’ that he ‘could make it all go away.’ And it was never anybody’s intent to make it go away. It was our intent to be transparent about it. To report it as it needs to be reported in the 990. Ron’s contention was that on the 990, you only had to report those that were directors on December 31. Everybody else that I’ve talked to, or the way I read the form myself, understands that 990s say that you have to report anyone who was a director during that year, five minutes, one hour or the entire 360 days or whatever.
PP: I was thinking, ‘Where is this coming from?’ I thought, ‘Why didn’t he sit down with us’ and say, ‘Listen, their could be a public perception problem. I didn’t realize it, but I realize it now. What do you guys think? How can we make this right?’ But we didn’t have that. We were told that, ‘if I resigned, then he ‘could make it go away.’
[Ron de Harte] knew about the check on Oct. 6, but he said, ‘Nobody asked me.’ I said, ‘If you knew this on Oct. 6, why didn’t you mention it? You never keep your mouth shut.’ When he handed the check and didn’t say anything, my first thought was, ‘Oh, this is going to be used against us.’ Because its unheard of for Ron not to comment on something. – Phillip Princetta
He knew about the check on Oct. 6, but he said, ‘Nobody asked me.’ I said, ‘If you knew this on Oct. 6, why didn’t you mention it? You never keep your mouth shut.’ When he handed the check and didn’t say anything, my first thought was, ‘Oh, this is going to be used against us.’ Because its unheard of for Ron not to comment on something.
Then there was December 31. He said, ‘I met with the attorney, called the accountants, informed the staff about the $5,000 and that we will have to change the budget.’ So I thought, who told you to do all that?’ It was like, ‘Wow you are really moving on this, pushing us.’
GLT: How did the board get so small?
PP: The board became three very quickly between Dec. 4 when board member five [Ebony Burnett] resigned and Dec. 14 when board member four [Secretary Romer De Los Santos II] resigned. We were a board of three when our bylaws require four. But the bylaws say that, ‘You accept resignation upon receiving it.’ In Romer’s case, we should not have accepted it because his resignation placed the board in jeopardy. So we knew we had to pick up our numbers back to four right away. The Dec. 4 reason [Ebony Burnett] was vague, and I think she cited, ‘poor leadership.’
CW: I think that her reasoning was really a sense of frustration: that we had talked about doing things, and we just continued to talk about them, but that we didn’t do anything about them.
We were trying to build a board as we realized it was a very small group. I think we need to go farther back because at one point in time, we were a board of six people, but the sixth person, his term ended in August, so he couldn’t come back on the board. And prior to that, when I went through my candidacy, which was a year ago, there were three other women who were interviewed as candidates at the same time. All three of them dropped out and none of them went through the candidacy period.
GLT: Why did you not attend the community forum last month? Some members of the community argued you had a responsibility to be there.
PP: Was the whole community there?
CW: It was about 150 people and half the people there were Pride volunteers. They were asked to identify themselves and they raised their hands. So there really were 75 out of a community of 200,000 gays and lesbians.
PP: I had written a letter of apology that was written in your paper on Jan. 7, apologizing for the $5,000, explaining where it came from, and what we were doing about it. So I didn’t understand why any more needed to be done. We wrote and agreed on the letter of apology to the community. It came out right away that week, two days after Ron was terminated. We could see from reading Facebook and stuff that this was from a small fraction of people. It didn’t even seem like a matter of the $5,000. To me personally it seemed like, ‘We want Ron hired back and that’s the end of the story, and we’re assembling for this reason.’
MK: A lot of the folks at the community town hall didn’t even know what they were angry about. Someone told me, ‘These people are angry, but they don’t know what they’re angry about.’ Why would I go there and face a crowd like that, a crowd that’s not even willing to listen or reason.
GLT: Why was the building purchased during these tough economic times?
CW: Because its tough economic times, it’s easier to buy real estate than it is when things are good. So we got a really good price on the building. We needed to increase the space. As the staff had increased, they were practically sitting on top of each other. If the staff intended to work late on a night we were having a board meeting, they all had to go home because we were all going to have a board meeting smack dab in the middle of their workspace. And the per foot cost of owning the building is less than we were paying per square foot at the rental.
MK: It has been on the books for a minimum of eight years. Since 2002, every board retreat or board member that have come and gone have said, ‘Its time for Pride to have its own building,’ but it didn’t happen until now. It was a great time to buy property.
CW: We did all the right things to carry out our fiduciary responsibilities in buying that building. And it was appraised for more than we paid for it.
PP: And it’s a community investment. None of us own it.
GLT: Why didn’t you seek advice from the community?
MK: Why? My question would be why? Why would you conduct business in that way? Do you want, with all due respect, every bar tender and every drag queen on the street, every businessman, every bar owner, to give their input?
A lot of the folks at the community town hall didn’t even know what they were angry about. Someone told me, ‘These people are angry, but they don’t know what they’re angry about.’ Why would I go there and face a crowd like that, a crowd that’s not even willing to listen or reason. – Mike Karim
CW: Because I go into Urban Mo’s and buy a drink and my money is in Chris Shaw’s cash register, it doesn’t mean I have a say whether he gets to open Gossip Grill or not.
GLT: Various community members have questioned whether it was appropriate for San Diego Pride to be handing out bonuses to its executive director and staff during a recession. Do you think the money should have instead gone to local nonprofit organizations that have had to cut back their programming such as Being Alive or the San Diego LGBT Community Center?
CW: We managed our money well enough that we could give our staff bonuses. Why should we be spanked for doing that? Why don’t you go and spank the organizations that aren’t managing their money well enough that they have to lay people off?
GLT: Did deHarte earn his bonus?
MK: Ron achieved his goals and his staff achieved their goals but our relationship with Ron wasn’t the easiest to get through. He’s done a lot of good, but the relationship with him was difficult.
GLT: But does that explain giving him a bonus, extra pay for extraordinary work?
CW: Well his work product was in some ways extraordinary. If you reviewed his work product, you would find outstanding things in it.
MK: We would not have given him a bonus if he wasn’t deserving of it.
PP: The issues with Ron were the board, the relationship with the board. And we would overlook a lot of it because his work product was good.
GLT: What about staff? Did staff deserve their bonuses?
PP: Well the way it is set up is that the executive director is the staff’s direct boss. So, in this case, Ron made the judgment call on giving staff bonuses.
GLT: Were there any concerns about staff that you had conveyed to the executive director?
PP: We had been concerned about the hiring of staff. We had a very tense conversation with Ron at last October’s [annual Pride] retreat. We wanted to know, ‘What exactly are you doing for your money’ and ‘how much are you bringing in?’ We also wanted to know what the staff was exactly doing and what they’re job descriptions were. We had issues with both [former director of development] Ken St. Pierre and [former production assistant] Jeff Redondo. We especially had problems with Ken. He did the Friends of Pride program, and he did the Milk Money campaign, and we weren’t seeing a lot of money coming in from him. And it was very tense. Because suddenly we were interfering with Ron’s turf, even though we didn’t quite understand why it was his turf because when push came to shove, we were responsible for it.
CW: It was contentious anytime the board tried to be involved and get information about the employees and that was part of the tension and contention that existed between Ron and the board.
PP: We also wanted progress reports. We wanted yearly evaluations, and we never did get them. We wanted to know what we were getting for paying a person such and such money because we were really increasing staff size. It started with Jeff Redondo and then it went to Cheli Mohamed, Ken St. Pierre, Kelly Gilliland, John Bilow, Jennifer Turner-Minotti and then Vernon Lowe became a part timer.
GLT: Do you have any advice you could to give to the new Pride board?
MK: I would remind them that 2010 is different from 1995. The organization has come a long way. We have members of the community that are employed by Pride. They have children and spouses. The organization has grown, and there is a responsibility to grow Pride. My concern would be to not buckle to this emotional backlash from the community and to just hunker down.
It was contentious anytime the board tried to be involved and get information about the employees and that was part of the tension and contention that existed between Ron and the board. – Carl Worrel
CW: I’m going to exercise my prerogative as the [former] junior board member to not say anything.
PP: They [the new board] should look and really study the discussions and the minutes and the ideas that went into planning and executing Pride. Just the other night at our last board meeting, three people said, ‘Yeah rally, rally. Bring back the rally.’ Before the board decides to restart the rally that nobody went to, including the three people who were at the table who never went, they should realize that we put hundreds of hours into discussing the rally. We discussed every rally that Pride has had in the last ten years. We discussed other rallies in other cities in the United States and around the globe. We discussed the cost of the rally and the fact that the rally was on Friday night and that Friday night could be used for something else like an art of pride, like a youth concert, that would be more suitable to the community, than the 12 people that attend the rallies.
So we had the Equality Torch Relay, which everybody in every Pride around the world grabbed onto. They want this torch to go from here to World Pride in London in 2012. We’ll we had a rally to conclude our Equality Torch Relay on June 6th at the County Administration Building with 250 people. We hadn’t had 250 people at a rally, not in my time.
So my thought was, ‘Before you make a judgment, realize that before we eliminated the rally, hundreds of hours of thought and discussion went into it.’ We even tried doing a rally on a Sunday – don’t go there – we did everything and anything we thought we could do and it didn’t work. So how are we going to make a rally that does work? And the rally that did work ended the Equality Torch Relay. So I don’t know if the three board members thought we were on dope or the executive director was out of his mind, but we really put a lot of work into everything we did.