Challenges hit SJ gay agencies
by Seth Hemmelgarn and Matthew S. Bajko
Two LGBT-related nonprofits in San Jose face challenges as problems, including unstable leadership, hit one and the possibility of a building sale looms for another.
The festival director for the San Jose LGBT Pride celebration, who was just hired in January, recently resigned, and tumult at the board level appears to be slowing down preparations for the August 19 festival at Discovery Meadow. The troubles come as the Gay Pride Celebration Committee of San Jose, the group behind the event, starts from almost nothing to try to raise about $200,000 for this year's celebration.
Meanwhile, the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center faces concerns of its own. The center's building will be sold in 2013.
Despite his organization's troubles, Pride board President Nathan Svoboda, who joined the group last July, said, "I do guarantee San Jose Pride will happen."
He said Pride has support from "many people," and "We're going to continue. By no means are we in turmoil."
Pride's board is set to meet at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Thursday, April 26) at the DeFrank Center, 938 The Alameda. Agenda items include disbursement of the festival director's role.
Given that the organization is based in a city of almost 1 million people, its struggles in recent years may seem odd. Among other problems, last year's festival saw disappointing attendance numbers, and it once again didn't have a parade.
Ex-festival director Dane Dugan, who resigned earlier this month, initially declined to be interviewed for this story but eventually provided several comments through Facebook.
He noted that he was only in the position for about two and a half months.
"There were so many red flags in that short amount of time that I needed to make the decision that I did," he said.
Among other problems, he said, nobody "seemed to know who would play what role. It went back and forth so many times on who would coordinate volunteers, sponsorships, etc. that I still don't know what the final placement was."
He also said, "There is an enormous amount of work still to be done and unfortunately those involved are having to focus on the process of how things need to happen, rather than actually doing them."
He added, "Hopefully what happens is that the board realizes they need to activate the community to fill the gap and make the festival happen."
In a list that Dugan said he was asked to prepare and brought to an April 3 executive board meeting, he shared several concerns. The list included the expectation that, "If you volunteer to take on a project, you do it, keep to the timeline set forth or delegate it to another person."
Dugan said that he didn't make it through the list at the meeting because Svoboda "broke down crying and said he would be resigning." (Asked about that meeting, Svoboda said, in part, "I don't know that there's really too much to explain.")
Svoboda almost left the board himself.
In an April 5 email, a copy of which he provided, Svoboda expressed confidence in the organization but said, "[R]ecent operational concerns and executive matters within the organization cause me great concern. A professional structure and integrity are passions I am unable to compromise. Unfortunately, my philosophy and vision for the organization no longer align with peers of the board of directors and its contractor."
He said his resignation would be effective at the end of the next board meeting, April 11.
The agenda for the April 11 meeting included the item "Nominations and selection of new president." According to Svoboda, the resignation was retracted, and the board voted unanimously to keep him.
Another topic on the agenda was for the dismissal of Roman Fernando, the board's vice president.
Andre Mathurin, who resigned from the board recently, said he'd wanted Fernando to step down as vice president because when he tried "to figure out where in the board things were getting the most slowed down, for me that was Roman." He said Fernando "had a lot of great ideas," but he suggested those notions weren't realistic.
Several board members voted to keep Fernando, and the proposal was rejected.
Dugan's departure means more work for at least some of the remaining board members. In his resignation, Mathurin said that he couldn't commit the time that would be needed.
However, in an interview, he said, "I'm leaving on good terms," and he's offered to help them in the future.
Fernando declined to be interviewed, referring questions to Svoboda.
Pride's current net income is an estimated $8,000. In interviews, Svoboda seemed unaware of some key components of his organization's budget, including its total expenses.
He said that he disagreed with that notion, but he initially said Pride's budget this year is $250,000. However, budget documents that he provided show the group's total expenses are expected to be about $197,000. That's an increase of just over $35,000 from last year, when costs totaled approximately $162,000.
Much of the increase is related to the entertainment costs, which are listed at almost $48,000, up from about $27,000 last year.
Club Papi, the group known for its go-go dancers, is working to provide at least $10,000 toward costs.
In an email, Club Papi owner Jamie Awad said Papi has agreed to raise the money through fundraisers. In a phone interview, he said that like others trying to help Pride, "I'm working my ass off."
"This year is very critical for Pride, and the South Bay community in general," said Awad. He said that he doesn't see turmoil around Pride, and he hoped this story "doesnŐt push away potential sponsors."
Svoboda said that Pride is working to raise money through sponsorships and other sources. He said they recently received $5,000 from Hewlett-Packard. An HP spokeswoman didn't provide confirmation of that amount.
Svoboda estimated that a recent fundraiser at San Jose's Brix nightclub raised "a little over $500," short of their goal of "at least $1,000."
He said the organization is "looking at making potentially hard decisions, and that may include adding or subtracting of events." He indicated discussions would include whether to have a parade this year. The parade would cost approximately $18,000.
The budget indicates that organizers are expecting more people to attend this year, and Svoboda said they're doing more marketing and exposure and providing "more entertainment value."
The admission fee for the Sunday festival will remain $15.
Svoboda said that a "Taste and Tempo" event with restaurants, wineries, and similar vendors is planned for Saturday, August 18. Nobody's signed on yet, he said.
Other board members contacted by the Bay Area Reporter either didn't respond to interview requests or referred questions to Svoboda.
Board member Ray Mueller declined to be interviewed, but provided some financial information. In an email, he said that Pride has outstanding debt from 2011 of $13,000, plus a loan for $10,000 that's due in December.
There could be some help on the way from San Jose city officials.
Kerry Adams Hapner, director of San Jose's Office of Cultural Affairs, said her agency is recommending that the city provide a "general range" of $7,500 for Pride.
She said she has "a certain degree of confidence this grant is going to proceed as recommended," but the "final say" would come from the City Council and Mayor Chuck Reed.
Adams Hapner said the office's grant recommendations would be released next week, when they would be forwarded to the city's Arts Commission. That panel would then send recommendations to the city council.
LGBT issues hit council race
The state of San Jose's LGBT institutions has also become an issue in a heated race for a downtown City Council seat. The city has been without an LGBT council member since 2006, and some contend out leadership is sorely needed at City Hall.
Gay attorney Steve Kline has made the lack of LGBT representation a key point in his bid to oust District 6 Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, whose district covers many LGBT-friendly neighborhoods. The local race is on the June 5 primary ballot, and this week Kline won the influential endorsement of the South Bay's main LGBT political group BAYMEC.
"I think one of the clear differences I have made in the campaign, and will continue to make, is he doesnŐt interact with the community or neighborhoods," said Kline.
Oliverio counters that the he is "not completely AWOL" and has attended Pride events, BAYMEC dinners, and the raising of the rainbow flag at City Hall each year.
Yet it has not gone unnoticed that Oliverio, who blogs about city issues for http://www.sanjoseinside.com, has never written about LGBT-specific concerns or topics since taking office. Asked about the omission by the B.A.R. during a recent editorial board meeting, Oliverio indicated there was nothing to write about, as his LGBT constituents' concerns are similar to his other constituents.
They are most concerned about "qualify of life issues in San Jose," he insisted.
Nor did Oliverio sound troubled about the status of his city's Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center, which has struggled financially for the last several years and whose building is set to be put up for sale next year.
"It is offering less services than in the past but it is offering important services such as a seniors lunch, HIV testing, and bingo nights," he said.
Asked what he had done to help the center attract city funding, Oliverio countered that City Hall's own fiscal woes have made it impossible for the council to support many nonprofits.
"Other nonprofits, like the DeFrank, have had to pull it up themselves," he said. "I don't have the pleasure of serving under surplus budgets. We've had to cut."
To help solve the city's fiscal constraints, Oliverio is working with Reed to pass a pension reform proposal on the June ballot known as Measure B. The city's unions are opposed to it, and Oliverio pegs his supporting the measure for why he failed to win endorsements from BAYMEC and the local Democratic Party.
"Sad to see a good organization being controlled by an interest group," wrote Oliverio in an email, noting that BAYMEC's council endorsements mirror that of labor. "It was fairly obvious during the interview when most questions were about pension reform rather than LGBT issues."
Kline, however, insisted that concerns on LGBT issues and other problems plaguing San Jose played into BAYMEC's decision. He said the political group did weigh Oliverio's lack of attention on the challenges facing the LGBT community's institutions.
"I think most people in BAYMEC and the lesbian and gay community would just be outraged to be told that their sole thoughts were on Measure B," said Kline. "He has a very narrow view of the world and this year his narrow view of the world is are you for or against Measure B. That is not the main issue I hear people talk about as I walk the streets."
During his meeting with the B.A.R. Oliverio failed to mention that the City Council next week will be voting on a proposal that would see the DeFrank's building be put up for sale next year.
Due to the dissolution of the state's redevelopment agencies, the successor agency in San Jose will be presenting its plans for disposing of the redevelopment agency's assets over the next 18 months.
Spokesman Richard Keit told the B.A.R. this week that the DeFrank center would be one of the last properties put up for sale. It has had a sweetheart deal for years, paying $1 a month in rent.
Its lease agreement runs through 2054, and any new owner would be required to honor it. The successor agency would seek bids from potential buyers for the DeFrank in October 2013.
Keit said it would be up to bidders to suggest a selling price. The DeFrank is proposed to be one of the last buildings sold since it is currently occupied and is of value to the local LGBT community.
"We think it is an important asset to the community, so it gives the community time to maybe come up with funds to acquire it," said Keit.
The potential sale of the DeFrank is one example where having an LGBT council member could play an influential role, argued Kline.
"How are we going to actively save the Billy DeFrank Center?" asked Kline. "This is something we can't put our heads in the sand about. We are going to need people following what the agency is doing."
Chris Flood, the DeFrank's board president, did not respond to the B.A.R.'s requests for comment.