Another meeting is scheduled tonight to discuss SAGE Utah at the Utah Pride Center, however once again, notice of the meeting was not given to the current SAGE Advisory Board, nor was advance notice given to the community, merely a post on SAGE Utah’s Facebook page late last night. As transparency was purported to be the new mantra of Center leadership, Advisory Board members are skeptical that can be accomplished.
“We hope for the sake of the community that communications improve at the UPC as the new board president, John Netto vowed at the last meeting, but obviously that plan hasn’t been implemented yet,” said advisory board member Michael Sanders who, along with Utah Pride board member Jon Jepsen, were appointed as liaisons between Utah Pride and SAGE Utah at the previous meeting held Oct. 30.
The advisory committee met Nov. 3 to discuss the future of SAGE Utah after the program director Charles Lynn Frost was laid off on Oct. 28 when Utah Pride found itself in a financial crunch after a review of their records. The committee then drafted a letter to the Utah Pride Board of Directors and executive director Valerie Larabee.
“[T]rust has been severely compromised over the last year, but more specifically, no one on the Sage Advisory Committee felt they held any trust or confidence in the management or leadership capacity of the Utah Pride Center,” the letter stated.
The committee says that Larabee has little interest in the program, based on the fact she has not attended events, from pot lucks to galas to their annual awards brunch honoring local dignitaries.
They also take issue with redirecting a grant that helped pay for SAGE to general funds.
“We have no confidence in the Utah Pride Center’s commitment to the demographic of the Sage community, as evidenced by taking funds intended for Sage and redirecting them in a manner that compromised the position of a dedicated employee hired specifically to address the needs of the Sage community,” the letter reads.
At the meeting last week, Larabee said she could not contact advisory board members because she did not know who was on the committee.
“To not know who was on the advisory committee at this critical time of the program was a telling commentary of the awareness and investment the Utah Pride Center placed on Sage,” the advisory board stated.
The committee was particularly concerned about the timing of the layoff, as the group was gaining traction on a number of issues relevant to aging gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors.
“Sage was developing programs, outreach, community liaisons, evaluating needs, and identifying cultural competent care centers and places that seniors would seek as resources. Several projects, such as Sage Story, were in the works and will require the community to have confidence in the Pride Center. It is highly unlikely that Sage services can be sufficiently offered on a volunteer basis,” the letter continued.
At last week’s meeting, Larabee said the Center is dedicated to the programs of SAGE and cited three levels of SAGE that will be handled by Center staff.
“Someone needing help with something like getting their Social Security check will be handled by our case management team; those with socialization needs will be handled by a human being on the phone; and advocacy issues will fall on more senior staff, including myself,” Larabee explained. “The key element is that we can’t drop the ball on anyone’s needs at a basic level.”
She also said that projects that are underway are “on track” to continue.
Advisory board members, however, are highly skeptical that the work can be done without a full-time staffer dedicated to the program. Their answer is to pull the program from the Center and run it separately until such a time the Center can find funding for it.
“In order for Sage to at least remain current in its work, until an employee can be designated, it must be fully autonomous of the [Utah] Pride Center. In essence, Sage can be housed in the Pride Center, but outside of that, it must maintain its own books, budgets, and employee(s) and not be micromanaged by the Pride Center,” the letter states. “We currently have [IRS] 501(c)(3) resources prepared to assist the Sage programming in moving forward. We are confident in our ability to raise the funds we need to secure the Sage Program. We require the autonomy from the Pride Center, although in the spirit of a community center, it would make sense to house the program within the Utah Pride Center.”
“The circumstances in which we find ourselves are not a coincidence; they are the product of mismanagement and carelessness. We believe that the lack of awareness of what Utah Sage was accomplishing and the direction this program was heading is an interesting commentary of how the Sage demographic is respected,” the letter continued. “Although we trust the vision of an LGBT community center, the nature of the management and the lack of awareness are of dire concern. To trust the Utah Pride Center at this point could be a fatal decision for Sage Utah. It is our intention to move this work forward as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The SAGE advisory board consists of Jerry Buie, Kate Call, Ingrid Davis, David Andreason, Brent Marrott, Peggy Kjelstrom, Daniel Musto, Mary Olsen, Julie Anderson, Kelly Kightly (absent from the meeting) and Michael Sanders.
The letter will also be presented at tonight’s meeting, which will be facilitated by Netto. The meeting is at the Center, 255 E 400 S, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Leaders of the Utah Pride Center were asked for a response, but the deadline for this story was tight and no response has yet been received. This story will be updated when that happens.