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Lexie: Why I've quit Pride board

Wed 3 Dec 2014 In: Our Communities View at NDHA

Lexie Matheson Rumours circulating that Auckland Pride Festival board member Lexie Matheson had resigned from that board were confirmed this afternoon with Matheson saying she actually resigned a week ago. Her resignation follows, and is linked to, the resignation last month of the Pride Festival Director, Julian Cook, who it is understood felt his relationship with the board was deteriorating and who objected to being summarily told he would report to an employee of the board rather than the board itself. “I resigned last Wednesday, the day before the interviews for another board member and a festival director,” Matheson says. “I was to have been involved in choosing a Festival Director,” but I couldn't in all conscience stay on when my heart was no longer in it.” Matheson,  a university lecturer in events, project and arts management, says she has for some time been at odds with her fellow board members over the direction the board has been taking and some of its decisions. As an example she gives “inappropriate dealing with the gay media,” which she feels should be used by the Board to maintain links between itself and the wider glbti communities it represents. “We should be transparent, honest and responsible to our community,” she says. “The board took a position where they were staying quiet about things. I said we should do the opposite. I felt the community had a right to know Julian had resigned. But I was outweighed by other opinions. They felt if they said nothing it would all fade away.” “I was concerned and spoke at a recent meeting about the co-chairs' interview with GayNZ.com and their statement that the Festival was under control. It wasn't. We were losing the festival director so the 'everything is fine' public position wasn't true.” Matheson also objected to Pride board co-chair Dan Mussett telling the community through GayNZ.com that “we did everything we possibly could to keep Julian. There were several conversations with him, with several different people. There was a group mediation session and formal mediation was offered as well. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Ultimately it was his decision, and ultimately he decided to move on.” Mussett's comment was in response to GayNZ.com journalists asking if the bottom line of negotiations with Cook was that in the end they had to choose between having Cook as their Festival Director or their new Executive Officer as his boss – a situation he had apparently not signed on for when he contracted to direct the festival.” Matheson says the board was not open to compromise or accommodating Cook's desire to keep to the arrangements he signed on for. “So there was a bottom line," says Matheson. It related to the working relationship between the festival director position and the new Executive Officer direction. Regarding who reported to who. I felt it was reasonable for Julian to be concerned. So I told them it was inappropriate to lie to the media. Dan said he had been misquoted.” Since the interview was published two weeks ago, neither Mussett nor his co-chair has conveyed any concerns to GayNZ.com regarding the way their comments were reported. Matheson says she was still unhappy regarding the earlier “non-advertising of the Executive Officer petition, especially given the closeness of the appointee and [Pride co-chair] Megan [Cunningham-Adams].” “And I was personally getting quite a lot of flack regarding the poor way this was handled, even though I was the person on the board disagreeing with this.” A GOVERNANCE-ONLY BOARD What does Matheson believe is the problem underlying these issues? “That's a really hard question. The first board was appointed through a community process and there were seven like-minded people who had track records and skills... there was real expertise on the board. And they had Julian and Jonathan [Smith, the parade organiser] who are both very experienced." "Then they lost a few people such as Gresham Bradley and Richard James. The nature of the board changed, and this year it changed again. There are only three original board members on the team now and some of the board members are very new at this.” “They are committed to being a governance-only board. But we are a small community, and being on the board of a community organisation like this is necessarily a hands-on thing. This board became obsessed with being a corporate board and forgot its community.” The implication of being a governance-only board is that operational matters are handled by someone other than board members, such as a paid employee in the nature of a manager or Executive Officer. “Therefore the importance of appointing the executive officer took on quite a degree of substance,” Matheson says. “I'm a person who wants to be involved on the operational side and that's what we need at this stage of Pride, then we can slowly catch up on the governance aim. We should connect with with our community otherwise Pride will suffer.” Such hands-on involvement with the community is something close to Matheson's heart “because I'm a professional event and theatre manager and I'm obsessed with seeing people don't get hurt. The circumstances of Julian's resignation flowed over negatively into the community.” BOARD VS COOK The flashpoint for all this controversy was Cook's resignation and how the lead-up to it was handled. Cook is remaining silent and the board co-chairs say the circumstances surrounding his departure are confidential. Does Matheson believe Cook was dealt with fairly and appropriately by the board? “My concern was that this had started to bubble some weeks before, regarding the appointment of an Executive Officer. For the board I'd been Julian's go-to person. He and I were in contact every week or so to talk things through about progress on the Festival. I started to hear his unease and shared that with other board members but they gave no sense of concern.” “Eventually I got a message from the Executive Officer saying 'Julian has problems, can you sort it out?' I seriously don't think they looked at his concerns with any seriousness. There was no desire to negotiate or bring it to any resolution. I would have wanted a compromise to be reached.” “We should have considered [his concerns] more carefully. We should have revisited the underlying situation. Everything tracks back to that non-advertised position. We could have formally restructured things through a transparent process, re-advertised the various positions, but it was decided not to do that. We should have addressed Julian's concerns. The decision to accept Cook's resignation was made by six people, Matheson says. “Five voted 'yes' and I abstained. But I was part of the board, therefore 'we' decided.” THE CONSULTING MEMBERSHIP Hovering in the background of the Pride Board is a group of people hand-picked by the board to be the minimum of fifteen people legally required to operate as an Incorporated Society. They include several past members of the Pride board and are understood to have been chosen for their experience, expertise and community-connectedness. The board co-chairs refer to them as Pride's 'consulting members.' Where have they been in all this? “That's a good, and vexed, question,” Matheson says. After they joined the membership “these people asked how they could be involved. But we hadn't thought about that. Recently we had a strategic planning day regarding governance and how the community could make a contribution.” In fact GayNZ.com has spoken briefly with several of these consulting members and although none wanted to be quoted directly, they have individually told us “they have never asked me for advice” and “I'm really angry about what's been happening.” It has been suggested that recently one consulting member demanded and was granted the opportunity to give the board some straight down the barrel advice.” As yet we have been unable to contact that person for further details. So the consulting members are, sums up Matheson, “not very involved. It's a big dilemma and they need to find ways they can assist.” She feels the board is “conscious of not wanting to lose control... I don't mean that in a bad way, they want to avoid being subject to too much interference from all kinds of directions.” THE 'D' WORD Asked if this sounds like a dysfunctional board, Matheson pauses. “I think we became dysfunctional and I have to carry some of the responsibility for this too. I am proud to have been a board member but, yes, we became dysfunctional. And Julian, as Festival Director, was the person most affected by that dysfunction. We lost our Festival Director, a person who was valuable to Pride and to the community in general. To allow it to get to the point where he resigned... yes we were dysfunctional.” “But you must remember, we were volunteers,” Matheson says, echoing the co-chairs in their November 19th interview. “We have full-time jobs, so some things slipped past some people. For instance I was in hospital for two months and had a period working in Japan. We all had other commitments along the way.” Matheson says she harbours no bitterness towards the board members she has left. “None. No animosity whatsoever. That's the sad thing, I have a huge admiration for the likes of Paul and Dan and Megan. My resignation was all to do with the direction it was headed in.” And the aspect of this unfortunate situation that finally locked in Lexie Matheson's decision to immediately resign last Wednesday? “I'd lived with it as long as I could.” [Editor's note: The Auckland Pride Festival board has been contacted and is working on a response which will be published on GayNZ.com as soon as it is received. GayNZ.com Daily News staff - 3rd December 2014    

Credit: GayNZ.com Daily News staff

First published: Wednesday, 3rd December 2014 - 8:40pm

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