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Talking in circles at Utah Pride

On Nov. 6, in a hastily scheduled and barely announced “talking circle,” Utah Pride Center’s acting board chair John Netto failed to allay community concerns regarding the Center, it’s embattled executive director, and the future of the Center’s SAGE program.

As QSalt Lake reported Nov. 5, the SAGE Advisory Board delivered a letter to the Pride Center requesting the SAGE program become independent of Utah Pride, citing a lack of confidence in the Pride Center management’s commitment to the program and to the aging LGBT population.  SAGE advisory committee member Michael Sanders read the letter aloud to the attendees, formally requesting that SAGE be allowed to dicotomize itself from Pride Center management and to conduct its own fundraising and manage its own finances.

Last week, Utah Pride laid off SAGE director Charles Frost in an emergency cost-saving move prompted by the revelation of over $300,000 worth of bad accounting.  Director of Operations Joe Gonzalez was also laid off, and other staff were subject to payroll and benefit cuts, as well as the termination of matching 401(k) contributions.

According to the minutes of the Oct. 28 board meeting, the financial issues were the result of a decrease in donations combined with the loss of two significant grants, both of which expired this year.  It was also noted there was an “overall difficulty with anticipating funding and expenses in Gap accounting.”

Several of those present at the meeting expressed disappointment in Netto’s willingness and ability to answer direct questions, especially those related to separating SAGE from Utah Pride, the overall financial health of the institution, and the community’s apparent lack of confidence in Valerie Larabee, Utah Pride’s executive director.

In answer to multiple questions, Netto was contradicted by participants, including other members of the board.  He then retracted and rephrased those answers defensively, at one point claiming that if his words were going to be picked apart he’d just “have the lawyers answer.”

Near the end of the meeting, SAGE advisory board member Jerry Buie asked the audience how many were attending due to concerns about the future of the Pride Center.  A majority of attendees raised their hands in agreement.  He followed up by asking how many felt that their concerns were being heard and felt some level of relief.  No hands were raised.

Buie posted this comment on Facebook following the meeting:  “I do think we should reconsider the talking and listening circle philosophy …. not sure that much listening was accomplished…. when one is formulating a response while the question is being asked would suggest that listening is not taking place.”

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