Atlanta Pride leadership creates ‘sick situation,’ critics say

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Two Atlanta Pride Committee board members gave up their seats and claimed the organization conducted a “sham” board election, is awash in secrecy and is plagued by entrenched power.

Several other current and former Atlanta Pride committee members and board candidates spoke out about the issues, whichflared up publicly in October when a former board chair resigned and called for the group’s executive director to step down.

Travis Brookshire resigned his board seat on Sunday in an email to the board and the committee members. He served as a volunteer for Atlanta Pride for five years until joining the board in 2018.

Brookshire (photo left) cited his concerns over the board election process, a lack of transparency, refusal to turn over financial documents and refusal to institute term limits for board members, according to the email.

“Given these concerns, along with those raised by other board members throughout the year, I think it’s clear that the leadership and management of the organization, both [Executive Director Jamie Fergerson] and board of directors, is off track and there is a strong resistance to change and attempting to correct these issues,” he wrote.

Chris Jones cited the same concerns as Brookshire in his decision not to run for re-election to the board. He did not show up to Atlanta Pride’s year-end meeting on Saturday, which was closed to the public. Four new members were elected to the board at the meeting, according to a current committee member.

The board tried to force Jones out in November after he publicly raised concerns about the organization’s leadership and financial future, but he survived the vote. He stepped away voluntarily after one year on the board and did not seek election to a full two-year term on Saturday.

“They’re just off the rails,” Jones (photo right) told Project Q Atlanta.

‘The elections were a joke’

Atlanta Pride’s bylaws state that its Nominating & Review Committee is responsible for deciding who can be considered a board candidate. The full Atlanta Pride committee membership then votes on them at the year-end meeting. But several sources said one person – Nominating & Review Committee Chair Jane Acuff – picked the slate of candidates.

“They allowed one person to pick all the people who are nominees,” Brookshire said. “They’re going to say that [former Board Chair] Sean [Cox] did that last year. That’s a lie. There were a lot of well-rounded and well-versed people. This to me is a very biased board election.”

Only six new candidates made it to the ballot, according to several sources.

“These are all people that [Fergerson] says will allow the organization to begin healing, which is another way of saying these are candidates who will not raise a fuss and will let things continue how they’ve been operating,” Jones said.

“This is essentially a sham election and people should be concerned about this and the closed-door nature and the secrecy of this,” he added.

One board candidate – who requested anonymity – confirmed that most members of the Nominating & Review Committee were shut out of the process.

“Obviously the method used was to protect the incumbents,” the candidate added.

Tony Kearney (third photo) also applied to be a candidate for the Atlanta Pride board. He served on the board from 2005 to 2008 and was a committee member and entertainment chair from 2008 to 2014. He’s also served as a Pride grand marshal.

But Kearney was not chosen to make Saturday’s ballot.

“I went into this process because I wanted to be on the board, but I also wanted to make sure it was a legitimate process and I was proved right that it was not a legitimate process,” he said.

The board election process showed that Atlanta Pride “is being run like Trump is in [charge],” according to a current committee member who requested anonymity.

“The elections were a joke,” they said.

Four new board members were elected on Saturday, according to multiple sources: Emily Gettelfinger, Sam Lim, Emily Porter and Elaine Marie Serrano. Former board chair and now Treasurer Trisha Clymore, Glen-Paul Freedman, Vice Chair Justin Gavette-Boring and Secretary Traci Romero were re-elected. They join Chair Will Bryant, Acuff, Earl Fields and Dan Wilkerson to make a 12-person board. Atlanta Pride’s bylaws state the board can have between 11 and 13 members.

Board refuses to provide financial docs

Jones requested 18 months of detailed financial documents from the board in November out of concern over the organization’s accounting, he said. Atlanta Pride posts a 2018 audit and its tax returns on its website, but Jones sought more detailed records.

But the board refused to provide the documents and enlisted attorney Jennifer DeLoach to turn down the request, according to a Dec. 4 email obtained by Project Q.

DeLoach accused Jones of leaking confidential Atlanta Pride documents to people outside the organization.

“In light of your behavior, the board has chosen not to entrust you with the possession of financially sensitive information about APC, which has serious and well-founded concerns about your intentions,” she wrote.

Jones responded to DeLoach and the Atlanta Pride board, disputing that he released privileged documents. He added that he is not required to provide an explanation for why he wanted the financial documents.

“As a member of the board, the bylaws are crystal clear on this,” he wrote.

Brookshire said DeLoach’s letter to Jones was a “scare tactic.”

“Per our bylaws, the board has the right to request these – they knew what they were doing,” he said.

'It's a sick situation going on'

Another attorney for Atlanta Pride, Patti Richards, recommended in an organizational review in October that the board initiate term limits for members. Board members currently serve two-year terms with no term limits, according to the bylaws.

“Outside perspectives do not appear to be welcome or respected – if heard appears to be ignored, or responses are negative without explanation,” Richards wrote in the review.

A summary of Richards' findings was given to committee members at Saturday’s meeting instead of the full report, according to a current committee member. The board made no reference to instituting term limits, according to a copy of the board’s responses to Richards’ review obtained by Project Q.

The lack of term limits for board members hinders Atlanta Pride’s growth, according to Brookshire.

“I can’t think of any board on a non-profit in Atlanta that does not have term limits on their board. We need fresh ideas and new faces,” he said.

A handful of people have “hijacked” the organization, according to Kearney.

“It’s a sick situation that’s going on and people need to pay attention,” he said. “You gotta hold people accountable, that’s the key. No one’s holding the board accountable and no one’s holding [Fergerson] accountable and it’s just going on in this vicious cycle.”

Atlanta Pride Board Chair Sean Cox resigned in October after a failed effort to oust Fergerson. He warned of “significant financial issues, management issues, contract issues” and sponsor complaints, which Fergerson and the board denied.

Richards recommended replacing Fergerson and making wholesale changes to a “clearly dysfunctional” board, according to a memo she wrote to the board in August.

Atlanta Pride hired a public relations firm in October to manage the fallout from the leak of internal reports and criticism from current and former employees, volunteers, committee members and board members.Fergerson also asked Atlanta police to investigate the leaked documents, though an incident report lists the incident as a “non-crime.”

Fergerson (second photo) and Bryant declined to respond to Project Q’s questions about Brookshire’s claims, allegations that one person chose the slate of board candidates, the non-profit’s views on instituting term limits for board members and whether the board gave Fergerson a year-end raise and bonus.

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