As the West Hollywood City Council and the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board prepare to address issues with Christopher Street West and its management of LA Pride, we’d like to suggest it focus first on transparency and civic engagement.
Given that the citizens of West Hollywood donate hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and services to this annual event, we deserve to know what’s really going on in the offices on the second floor of 8235 Santa Monica Blvd. For a model, members of the council and the advisory board and the board of CSW need look no farther than 118 miles south to San Diego or 377 miles north to San Francisco:
— It’s not clear what policies, if any, CSW has in place to protect against conflicts of interest or excessive compensation. CSW’s reimbursement for lavish spending by board members on travel and entertainment sparked a scandal in 2000. San Francisco Pride makes public bylaws that cover everything from limits on expense reimbursements to when financial statements must be published to how board members are chosen. If CSW has policies that address the problems uncovered in 2000, its financial backers — i.e. the residents of West Hollywood — have a right to see them.
— The only way for the public to learn about LA Pride’s financial situation is to wait until the IRS releases CSW’s required 990 tax form (a year after the close of the financial year), San Francisco Pride publishes its latest form on its website. San Diego Pride publishes its financial statements on its website. (To its credit, CSW did provide estimates to WEHOville for 2012 and 2013 when we asked for them last week).
CSW also hurts its credibility by routinely proclaiming its LA Pride event brings 400,000 people to West Hollywood, a claim convincingly disputed by Frontiers magazine columnist Dana Miller. The revenue it reports from attendance at the Pride festival suggests only 28,000 people entered West Hollywood Park to participate. Could it be that 372,000 other Pride attendees skipped that key part of the three-day event?
Unlike CSW, the organizations that run San Francisco Pride and San Diego Pride also engage local residents in Pride planning throughout the year.
— San Francisco Pride holds public board meetings once a month. San Diego Pride holds public board meetings quarterly. By contrast, CSW keeps the LGBT community in the dark with private board meetings held who knows when. Even the West Hollywood City Council “subcommittee” established last January to work with CSW isn’t required to report its activities or even whether it has ever met. That’s because it was established as an ad hoc group with only two council members, which allows it to avoid holding open meetings and keeping minutes as required by the state’s Opening Meeting laws. Sadly, that’s not an unusual maneuver for the West Hollywood City Council, whose members often prefer to bargain behind the scenes rather than debate in public.
— CSW publishes the names of board members but doesn’t explain who they are. That’s a bad thing for an organization criticized in 2000 for having a board that was “closed and elitist.” By contrast, San Francisco Pride and San Diego Pride both provide detailed biographies on their web sites that allow supporters to gauge the qualifications and skills of board members. San Francisco’s is here and San Diego’s is here. San Diego even offers a form for those who want to apply for a board position or to join its citizen advisory council, another good idea for CSW.
— The choice of various grand marshals for the LA Pride parade is a mysterious process. San Francisco Pride, however, has a transparent system that even allows the public to vote for one of the marshals chosen from the community. One has to wonder if CSW’s process is why LA Pride usually can’t find a grand marshal until the last minute. And maybe that process, or lack thereof, explains why LA Pride’s 2013 grand marshal was Maria Menounos, a B-list actress and professional wrestler with no obvious connection to the gay community. By contrast, San Diego Pride featured gay icon La Toya Jackson and gay activist and actor George Takei.
CSW also should do something that even San Francisco Pride doesn’t: Explain who it pays for what. The organization says it is all-volunteer in explaining its lack of quick response to public inquiries and why the Pride event is somewhat dysfunctional. But in fact it engages a number of unidentified contractors who are paid unknown sums. The public has a right to know, for example, who is paid what to do such a poor job of finding a grand marshal.
The San Diego and San Francisco pride approaches aren’t complicated or expensive or even especially innovative. They are what a community like ours should expect from a non-profit organization that depends on LGBT residents for support and that produces an event so integral to what the community stands for. They are what the West Hollywood City Council should demand in exchange for our support for CSW. We want to be proud of LA Pride.