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Auckland Pride pt3: Tragic and heartbreaking...

Wed 24 Jun 2015 In: Our Communities View at Wayback View at NDHA

Part three of a multi-part feature series. You can read part one, "Auckland Pride: In the beginning..." here and part two, "Auckland Pride: Things go awry..." here. When the Auckland Pride Charitable Trust was quietly dropped in favour of an Incorporated Society model, it was a legal requirement that the Society have a minimum of fifteen members who are representative of the aims of the organisation and to whom the board is ultimately responsible. To help fulfil this requirement the creators of the Society opted to augment the people on the board itself with a maximum of fifteen 'consultant members' and did not open up to wider community input to identify suitable people to join the consultant membership ranks. Instead they shoulder-tapped at start-up seven people with some experience and credibility. They chose several people already associated with the setting up of Pride and it's first eighteen months of operation, and some fresh faces. wanted to get some sense of where the consultant members stood in all the emerging difficulties Pride was navigating its way through. SIMON RANDALL Simon Randall is one of the country's longest-serving gay politicians with a long track record in Auckland local body politics and is the immediate past-chair of the NZ AIDS Foundation. He was involved in writing the original Auckland Charitable Trust constitution. Once that constitution was drafted and a sub-set of the steering group had identified likely people to kick the organisation off, Randall stepped back. But when Pride later decided, for reasons which are not yet entirely clear, to replace itself with an Incorporated Society, Randall was approached by two of the new organisations' board members to become one of the 'consulting members.' “There had been a couple of a couple of cups of coffee," he recalls. "There was an initial one where I had it with Megan [Cunningham-Adams] and Andy [Jalfon]." Randall agreed to become a consultant member of the Society. "The conversation there was very much skills and connections that would be useful.” The new orgainsation, with its new board and its 'consultant members' came into being in March last year. And that was where Randall says consultation seemed to end. “There was no contact between when I was appointed until the [July] AGM where there was a general desire of consultant members to want to be a little bit more involved.” That desire seems to have resulted in a strategic working day. “I also had a cup of coffee with [then board member Linda Heavey],” Randall recalls, and I've had a phone call with Linda when she had become the executive officer where I said I was really happy to give my expertise. I outlined where I saw my skills and relationships and offered support. But that hasn't been picked up. “I had a subsequent conversation where they said there were going to be a number of work streams around review and working towards a strategic plan and I was asked if I wanted to contribute, particularly in the governance space and I said yes. But I didn't hear back on that. "So I've made offers but I don't think I've been engaged in terms of giving any support." Asked bluntly if there has been any meaningful engagement from the board, Randall says “No.” If the consultant members were not meaningfully consulted it might be considered that they had just been brought on just to make up the legally necessary number of members. Randall says he wouldn't have joined the membership of the Auckland Pride Incorporated society if he had felt that was the case. “It's fair to point out that there might have been a couple of different ideas about what the role of the consultant members were and so there has been in the past expressed a view that we are making up the numbers but that certainly wasn't the conversation I had when I was brought on board, that is not something I would have been interested in, because I think there is reputational risk and I would want to contribute if I am going to be part of something.” The lack of consultation is something that is causing him to “weigh up where that leaves me and certainly it's a good time to reflect on this, to have an AGM and air these sorts of things.” Auckland Pride, Randall believes, “is something that needs to endure and they've got a lot of really good people out in the community and a lot of people willing to work with them and my advice to them would be to take up that opportunity." As to whether Pride is operating in the spirit in which it was set up and is it fulfilling its mandate to the glbti communities, even this consultant member can't see enough into the organisation to be confident judging that. “I don't think there is enough transparency about where they are at to be able to gauge that. They've done a wonderful job bring Pride back and that's been a huge amount of work from the trustees and others over many years, but it is always better when you have people in the tent.” Can that be done under the present set-up? “There is more than enough ability within their structure to be more inclusive of the community.” ASHLEY BARRATT Ashley Barratt, who works internationally in the area of management and governance consultancy and is currently the chair of Body Positive, is also musing on the actual, as opposed to the intended, role of the consultant members. “Why have a group of people that you call consultant members if you are not willing to consult with them?” he asks. He says his first involvement with Pride was when a member of the original Pride Charitable Trust asked him to go to one of the board's meetings in its first year because they were having issues around governance. “So I and another member of my team did a ninety-minute workshop during which we talked with members of the board about some of the contemporary issues such as clarity of purpose. I think it went down really well and so my expectation from that was that there might have been some professional role for me, and there may well have been some community role for me. Subsequent to that I was approached to say, 'we are actually incorporating Pride as a society, we'd like you to be involved'. “At that stage the Society constitution hadn't been written, or I wasn't aware that it existed. So I signed on to be a consultant member without really getting much understanding about what that role was. But from the title I was reasonably comfortable that the desire of those people on the board was that they would pick people who had particular skills in particular areas like event management, marketing and governance and they would use those people as consultant members to get some skills and expertise and capability into the board. So I've been curious to see that the only involvement we've actually been able to secure was to be at the AGM.” Has Auckland Pride ever made an approach to Barratt as a consultant member for input in his area of expertise on how they have been running the organisation? “Initially yes, and then no. When Megan and David [Coltman] were the co-chairs I had some reasonably frequent connection with them about how they could structure the organisation to do the things that they needed to do. I met Megan individually and I met David individually. "David's view was that Pride needed to state a mandate for what it was trying to do. And I think that was written into a plan. As a person who is interested in governance I think that is important, to encompass what is the legacy of Pride. I thought, as a consultant member who has a special interest in governance and strategy, that that was something they would want to involve me on. "I don't think I have ever formally seen the plan that they prepared and I'm not sure if members of the community have seen it. Which is surprising given the fact that, if you talk to some of the steering group members, this was a community organisation.” The Pride board selects or shoulder-taps other people to join them rather than the glbti community having any direct input into who represents them. In any organisation is that healthy, is it a good thing? “I guess it depends on the purpose of the organisation," Barratt reflects. "I haven't seen the original mandate that was created but my own personal view is that the intent was that the community would be more actively engaged in the running of the organisation and in particular in terms of its work and goals and vision. At the moment it's clear that [Pride] has been run like a closed organisation." For nine months or so now it has been fairly public that there have been issues with the way the board has operated. Has Barratt ever gone to the board as a consultant member asking to talk the matter over with them? “Yes. Last October or November I asked for a meeting with the board and was told that I had to write down what my questions were and I met with them. They gave me twenty minutes, that was all. Based on that they made a few commitments to me, none of which were actually followed through. I guess I thought I'd done what I thought I could to offer my help and assistance." Does Barratt believe the Pride board is in touch with the people it is serving? “No, I think not. "I think Pride thinks of itself at the moment as an organisation that comes together for the purpose of putting on a festival which is two to four weeks in February. So essentially it sees itself as an event company, an event organiser or event management business which doesn't doesn't therefore need and want a connection outside of that event, which I think is disappointing. I think [connection] was what the community was expecting. I personally think it is reasonable that Pride as an organisation, as an Incorporated Society in perpetuity, would have some on-going relationship.” Several times the board has excused its lack of communication by saying 'we're only volunteers,' the implication being that they have very little time available and that therefore any inability to coordinate or meet regularly to make decisions are hampered by that fact." Does Barratt, as a governance expert, think that is an adequate excuse from the board members of any organisation? “It probably isn't to be frank. "I understand exactly what they are saying, and it is hard in an environment where people are generally time-poor. But I think that isn't an excuse...they could choose to be better at articulating that the reality is limited resources available and that those resources are divided up in this way and use that as a way of making sure they don't over-commit themselves in terms of being able to do things in a timely way.” Barratt says he has always wanted Pride to be a success, and still does. “That is the reason I have stepped up. Although it is tragic the position we find ourselves in there are some very competent and very skilled people who have are, for reasons which I am not really sure, losing the very community that they are purporting to serve. And that is the heart-breaking thing. Pride is intended to be a celebration of our community in my view. It would be interesting to see what strategy the board is working towards and seeing what that says about the role of Pride." Given his criticisms, does Barratt think he has an on-going role with Pride? “I think that is an interesting question. I mean, if you read the constitution consultant members are appointed for a term of two years and that term can be extended by agreement but I've had no correspondence from anybody for at least six months, I don't even know when the AGM is. So I'm assuming the answer is no. Unless I can get some connection to the fact that my input is going to be able to assist the organisation to do what it intends to do then there's little point in me to be in that role.” Note: Since these interviews were conducted understands an Auckland Pride Incorporated AGM has been scheduled. Since we started publishing this series looking at the controversies surrounding Auckland Pride two representatives of the organisation have confirmed their availability for a long-hoped-for interview, which will take place this Friday. Jay Bennie - 24th June 2015    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Wednesday, 24th June 2015 - 2:21pm

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