Bil Browning

OS-SLDN to Close Office, Keep Embattled Board Chair

Filed By Bil Browning | July 01, 2013 1:40 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Allyson Robinson, DADT, Josh Seefried, organizational leadership, OutServe-SLDN

Following news that OutServe-SLDN chapter leaders have mutinied over the organization's board decision to force popular Executive Director Allyson Robinson to resign, a leaked document shows the board's response to the uprising. Multiple calls with chapter leaders over the weekend also revealed even more startling details about the group's future plans - outserve-sldn-300x210.jpgincluding shuttering the organization's office space and laying off the entire remaining staff.

A group of OS-SLDN chapter leaders issued a statement on the group's Facebook page on Saturday. They also followed up the Facebook statement with a letter sent to the organization's board of directors the same day. The letter was signed by almost two dozen chapter leaders - including the entire women's caucus, transgender caucus, and the leaders of several overseas chapters.

The coalition demanded Seefried's resignation as board co-chair originally but expanded their demands in the letter to include a completely new board of directors. Members have already handpicked a group of individuals that would step into the board roles in an attempt to salvage the floundering organization.

The board, however, makes it clear in their response that co-chair Josh Seefried will not be resigning from his position. Seefried is widely blamed as the source of the group's impromptu decision to seek Robinson's resignation. With donors fleeing the already financially troubled organization and membership rapidly declining after the scandal made the news, the board has dug in their heels in a misguided attempt to save face and mitigate the damage.

"The Board is fully committed to the mission first and has no plans to change the composition of the Board, including Co-Chairs, until current responsibilities are fulfilled and new Board members are selected and fully briefed," the board said in their written response to the chapter leaders' demands.

Financial Difficulties

The board blames the group's financial ruin for their decision to ask Robinson to leave. They say there is no money left to pay Robinson or other staff members. Robinson had already cut costs at the organization by 25% in the previous months and two staff members were not replaced after their departure earlier this year. She also reportedly took a pay cut earlier this year to prevent laying off other staff members.

Seefried announced on a June 27 call with chapter leaders that the organization plans to close their office space, telling one member, "The money is bad. We are living on pennies."

"We are shutting down all of the offices," Seefried told another chapter leader after being asked about other cost cutting measures.

Board member Matthew Phelps followed up with more information. "We don't need to be in DC anymore now that DADT is over and DOMA is gone. Now we can look at moving somewhere else," he said.

In their written response to the chapter leaders demands, the board further blames financial considerations as the source of the organization's woes. "Total Net Assets of the organization changed by -$303,660 (negative) from December 2012 to June 2013," the board writes. "There is no money to pay Allyson for continued service to the organization." The board released the statement on Sunday, June 30.

Blame the Messenger

They also charge that recent media coverage is to blame for worsening the financial crisis. "Every day the organization spends in the media is more destructive to the organization - be it orchestrated by former board members, former staff, or select chapter leaders," they wrote.

The group seems to be blaming former board member Sue Fulton for the most damaging leaks. They specifically point out an email Fulton accidentally sent to Robinson, the entire board, and the group's advisory council that documented the board's decision to ask for Robinson's resignation by July 12. The group seems to blame Fulton for the decision, but Fulton has pushed back publicly saying she was trying to buy Robinson more time to fix the troubled group's problems since the board originally wanted to force Robinson out immediately. Fulton resigned following the board vote to seek Robinson's resignation and has been a vocal critic of the decision.

Chapter leaders, however, were even more upset that the board would blame Fulton. In a Google hangout chat the night the board's response was released, some members pushed back against the allegations. Virginia chapter leader Christopher Hooper laid his cards on the table right from the beginning, saying "I don't think you guys... are taking us seriously. [You've] just passed the buck onto Sue."

"It was a board decision, but today when the statement from the [Board of Directors was released], the finger was pointed at Sue and Sue's not there to defend herself and talk to us about it," Hooper said.

Board member Katie Miller responded, "Sue has had a voice in the media whereas the BoD has not. The decision... was a Board decision. The fact it became a media spectacle and the poor handling of it is on the board."

The Seefried Sticking Point

Those attending the call quickly reiterated their demand that Seefried resign. Over and over members on the call kept returning to the point. At one point an exasperated Miller has a back-and-forth with Hooper that drives home the point.

"We demand Josh steps down," Hooper said.

"I got it," Miller responded.

Hooper shot back with a firm stance. "We're not playing with this. You guys don't understand we have members that [are] leaving every day."

Following the meeting, transgender chapter leadership repeated their demand that Seefried be removed from office. "If Josh stays, we will leave. Period. He is toxic in the work of trans military equality. We stood by and contributed to every other chapter and initiative for Outserve, but can not be supported in return?" admin Brynn Tannehill and the chapter's anonymous leader said in a statement. (The trans chapters' leader remains cloaked because the military would remove them from active service if their gender identity was acknowledged.)

A copy of the Facebook statement, and the letter sent to board members are after the break. Also included is a copy of the board's response back to the chapter leaders.

UPDATE: Christopher Hooper, OutServe-SLDN Virginia Chapter Leader, has released a statement to Bilerico on behalf of the coalition of upset chapter leaders.

Hooper writes, "While we do not dispute what was reported in the recent article, the information contained in it - including a statement by the transgender chapter and a letter sent to the board - were not meant for release. The Board and the Coalition have begun to make progress in our work toward coming to an arrangement, one that will put OutServe-SLDN on the right track to represent all of its members."


OutServe-SLDN Chapter Leaders Manifesto to Board Members Posted to Facebook

STATEMENT FROM THE COALITION OF CHAPTER LEADERS

This week, OutServe-SLDN's mission of full equality in the military was set back by the abrupt attempt to dismiss Executive Director Allyson Robinson. The cause was attributed to the current financial state of the organization, but that crisis was never disclosed to the general membership, nor was a call to action asking for help. Two statements were released three days after initial leaks reported these events.

This entire episode has damaged OS-SLDN's reputation as a leader in the LGBT community and as an advocate for the transgender military community. Donors and sponsors have indicated that Allyson's loss makes them think twice about contributing to our organization. The loss of key board members and staff who resigned in protest due to the Board's method of approaching Allyson has damaged OS-SLDN's operational capability.

In sum, this episode was the result of a reckless attempt to save money without considering the consequences and it has had a clear detrimental impact on the organization, including our future ability to advocate effectively for the LGB and transgender military communities.

It is our view, after reviewing the situation and options available, that the best way forward is to address the problems within the leadership. We will be asking for the resignation of Josh Seefried, Co-Chair of the OS-SLDN Board of Directors and coordinator of the process that led to requesting Allyson's resignation.

If OS-SLDN is to survive, we need change immediately. We need transparency and honesty. We need clear communication that comes from the top of the organization and directly addresses the membership.

We need to react and repair the damage that has been done by the Board of Directors.

OS-SLDN is a membership-based organization. Without the members, it cannot exist. We are committed to improving this by ensuring that membership has an ever-present voice and the opportunity to participate in the governance of OS-SLDN.

Most importantly, we are unequivocally dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military, veterans, and our families, to include ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

OutServe-SLDN Chapter Leaders Letter to Board Members

June 29, 2013

To the Board of OutServe-SLDN:

On the evening of June 22, 2013 at an OutServe-SLDN Board of Directors meeting held in Washington, DC, a call was made for the resignation of Executive Director Allyson Robinson. In subsequent meetings between concerned parties (Chapter Leaders and representatives of the Board of Directors), the stated reason for the resignation was a need for the board to save money by cutting salaries and expenses in order to meet financial obligations.

Through an unknown person, the contents of an email and rumors of the events of this meeting became public knowledge and created panic among the members of OutServe-SLDN, as well as concern among donors and supporters. For three days, the Board of Directors remained silent and failed to communicate directly with members. For three days, speculation and "leaks" were the source of answers for the members.

Regardless of the stated reasons, the method and execution of approaching Allyson Robinson to request her resignation resulted in the immediate loss of Board Members and Staff, affecting the balance of the votes on critical decisions and the operations of the organization at a critical time in our history.

After careful deliberation over the events surrounding this incident, we, the undersigned OutServe-SLDN Chapter Leaders of 19 chapters as of 29 June 2013, submit this letter seeking the resignation of Board of Directors Co-Chair Josh Seefried, who is reported to have led the initial meeting, for the following reasons:

1.) Loss of confidence in Josh Seefried and the Board's activity under his direction. His failure to wait for a full and present Board, allowing for a proper debate before making a critical decision, is representative of a lack of respect for his fellow board members. He violated their trust in him as their leader. Prior to seeking Allyson's resignation, he failed to anticipate the loyalty of the members of the board and the staff who resigned and failed to arrange a compromise that would result in a smooth transition for the organization into a more financially and operationally stable entity.

2.) Damage to the prestigious reputation of OutServe-SLDN. This organization has been a leader in the fight for the rights and benefits of LGBT Military Service Members and has earned a highly-respected reputation in the community, especially with the appointment of Allyson as a highly-qualified veteran of both the military and the fight for equality - who also happens to be transgender. The reputation of OutServe-SLDN has now been irreparably damaged by the lack of communication immediately following the initial leak and the failure to directly address the question - "Was she fired because she is transgender?" We are now viewed as another LGBT organization filled with infighting, resulting in a loss of confidence about our ability to accomplish our mission.

3.) Loss of income. We have struggled to retain grants from regular donors following the repeal of DADT. The appearance of chaos and instability along with uncertainty about the structure and operations of the organization have now put funding by major grantors further at risk and thus endangered OutServe- SLDN's financial future in a time of fiscal crisis.

4.) Damage to operational effectiveness. With the loss of David McKean, Zeke Stokes, Gary Espinas and others, the organization has taken an operational hit, leaving Allyson and a skeleton crew to sustain communications and the mission of advocacy and outreach, while also figuring out how to carry on costly existing planned events (as stated to the public by the Board of Directors in their initial statement following this incident).

It is clear that a failure to plan, to listen, to negotiate, to compromise or to lead have crippled this organization, one that was in the nascent stages of becoming something powerful and unique for LGBT military members.

The Board of Directors has 48 hours to respond from the time this letter is sent. The significant portion of this letter also determines Josh Seefried must vacate his position as the Co-Chair of the OutServe-SLDN Board of Directors and remain off the Board indefinitely.

At such time, the Board will work with Allyson Robinson and decide on employment terms as the current budget dictates for as long as they are able to ensure her financial stability. Negotiations may take no less than 24 but no longer than 72 hours. Non-negotiable terms include her departure as she sees fit and no contractual obligation to remain with OutServe-SLDN for any specific time period.

Following the resignation of the Board Co-Chair Josh Seefried and Allyson Robinson's employment terms, the entire Board of Directors will be dissolved, with immediate reconstitution consisting of two (2) individuals chosen from the original Board plus designated individuals as determined by the Chapter Leaders. Other Board members will have the option of returning pending approval from the membership.

OutServe-SLDN belongs to the members; without us, it does not exist. By requesting Josh Seefried's resignation, ensuring Allyson Robinson maintains her role as Executive Director for as long as feasibly possible, and dissolving the Board of Directors due to loss of membership confidence, we can restore OutServe-SLDN to an organization of integrity, leadership, and forward movement.

Very Respectfully,

Jase Daniels, OutServe-SLDN Central California Chapter Leader
Luz Bautista, OutServe-SLDN Illinois Chapter Leader
Angelo Bonavita, OutServe-SLDN Ohio Chapter Leader
Katelyn Crosby, OutServe-SLDN Korea Chapter Leader
Tania Dunbar, OutServe-SLDN Ladies Forum Leader
Danielle Escorza, OutServe-SLDN Arizona, Cuba and Florida Chapter Leader, Air Force Forum Leader
Amber Glitz, OutServe-SLDN Ladies Forum Leader
Christopher Hooper, OutServe-SLDN Virginia Chapter Leader
Mika Jackson, OutServe-SLDN Northern California, Ladies Chapter Leader
Ro Krueger, OutServe-SLDN Afghanistan Chapter Leader
Jeffrey Mueller, OutServe-SLDN Colorado/Wyoming Chapter Leader
Name Withheld, OutServe-Trans Chapter Leader
Jeffrey Priela-Tam, OutServe-SLDN North Carolina Chapter Leader
Steven Proctor, OutServe-SLDN Tennessee Chapter Leader
Jonathan Roman, OutServe-SLDN Georgia Chapter Leader
Brynn Tannehill, OutServe-SLDN Trans Chapter Admin
Alison Unger, OutServe-SLDN Georgia Chapter Leader
Chris Wuerfele - OutServe-SLDN Missouri Chapter Leader

OutServe-SLDN Board Members' Response to Chapter Leaders Potential Mutiny

FROM THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS:

As a board, we have wanted to clarify a chain of events of the past week. Our silence has been due to navigating the professional ethics of the board, obligations not to disclose employee performance information, and efforts to work with Allyson Robinson to ensure the most graceful transition possible under the circumstances. Recent statements have identified the need to clarify the following:

1. The board has actively been dealing with fiscal issues of the organization for months, and has called additional meetings in the Spring to deal with a loss in income and to determine ways to reduce expenses. On June 22, the board was again discussing reducing expenses including the difficult discussion of whether we could afford to keep our Executive Director. These discussions were difficult and sensitive. Briefly after the first motion on the topic failed to receive a second, one of the now-former board members proposed a different motion on the topic after typing it into her computer. This motion was consistent with statements of said board member throughout the morning. Unfortunately, that now-former board member prematurely sent the motion in an email directly to the Executive Director and others about the Executive Director's transition. This was done before the board had an opportunity to fully discuss all options, plan for the best approach to this delicate issue, or engage Allyson directly about alternatives. This immediately limited our options. The proposed motion, as received on June 22nd and later published in the media:

"From: Sue Fulton
Subject: Re: motion
Date: June 22, 2013 12:58:24 PM EDT
Cc: "board@outserve-sldn.org" , "advisory@outserve-sldn.org"

I propose the establishment of a Committee that we would delegate to meet with Allyson with the following proposal:
"This isn't working out, we'd like to work together on a transition plan that has you resigning effective July 12, in a way that is best for all of us." or words to that effect.
If she refuses, the Committee would be prepared to accept her resignation immediately.
The Committee should meet with her ASAP, ideally today, but NLT Monday."

2. Financial figures. Donations have declined dramatically since passage and implementation of DADT Repeal. Costs have not. Total Net Assets of the organization changed by -303,660 (negative) from December 2012 to June 2013.

3. There is no money to pay Allyson for continued service to the organization. Furthermore, staff furloughs were also part of a likely cost restructuring.

4. Damage to the organization occurred when a private discussion with Allyson turned into a public media row.

5. We have kept quiet due to our legal obligations for privacy about employment issues and our ethics as a board. Some recently-departed members have not.

6. Every day the organization spends in the media is more destructive to the organization--be it orchestrated by former board members, former staff, or select chapter leaders. INTERNAL collaboration by our members is the solution, not media spectacle.

7. We have been working on a plan to bring more actively serving representation and trans representation onto the board of this membership organization. That will become an interim board that updates by-laws to create the long term shape of the organization including what successive boards will look like. However, working to engage chapter leaders and present this proposal is made more difficult every time discussions with chapter leaders become public media spectacles.

8. As many of you know, we have reached out to all our chapter leaders and conducted calls to get chapter leaders' feedback on the situation at hand and to help develop a path forward. Three calls have been conducted so far and another is scheduled for 2000ET today. This process is logistically challenging and takes time, but the board remains committed to positioning the organization to thrive in the changing environment as quickly as we can, while doing so responsibly and with the input of all our chapter leaders.

9. It is important to note that this is an unpaid board. In fact, we PAY to serve. Last week we donated $18,000 of our own money from just the 14 of us in order to keep the organization solvent. This is in addition to the thousands more we give or raise each year in support of the organization. We receive no money from the organization, nor reimbursement for any expenses.

10. We believe in the mission and support with our time, talents and personal funds in this very much voluntary capacity. Our board members have remained present and united to fulfill serious obligations: a fiduciary duty to pay the bills of the organization, support the ongoing legal caseload of those wrongly treated, and ensure that an organization of nearly 7,000 actively serving military personnel transitions in an orderly and responsible way.

11. The Board is fully committed to the mission first and has no plans to change the composition of the Board, including Co-Chairs, until current responsibilities are fulfilled and new Board members are selected and fully briefed.


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