Karen Ocamb

Equality California Taking Time With Transition Plan

Filed By Karen Ocamb | October 20, 2011 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: EqCa, Equality California, LGBT rights, new executive director, Roland Palencia, strategic plan

Cross-posted from FrontiersLA.com.

Longtime gay journalist Rex Wockner, the Bay Area Reporter, the San Francisco Chronicle and Frontiers have all wondered aloud where Equality California's post-Palenica transition plan might be. In a press release announcing the resignation of Roland Palencia as EQCA executive director, the nonprofit statewide LGBT lobbying organization promised to present a plan last Friday. But no plan emerged on Friday or Monday.

On Saturday, EQCA Communication Director Rebekah Orr told me, "The board is trying to have individual conversations with each staff member and didn't get all the way through that on Friday. We'll send something out Monday I think."

On Tuesday, Orr said the board decided to take a more "deliberative, conscientious approach" to creating the plan. In the meantime, she said, the board and the staff are working together to run the day-to-day operation of the organization.

So what's going on here?

The Chronicle describes EQCA as "hemorrhaging staff" with "one of their top Capitol staffers [laid off] and the other is leaving soon." And, the newspaper reports, "According to the secretary of state, the organization's two political action committees had just under $500,000 as of June 30."

Orr reported to me that as of the end of September, EQCA's net assets were approximately $740,000, with $250,000 cash on hand--figures she said she got from EQCA Finance Director Steve Mele, who left and is now working with a Nevada congressional campaign.

BAR's Seth Hemmelgarn pressed Orr to explain the delay. She told him:

"I think that we can all agree that it is better to do due diligence and to take our time to get it right than it is to have certainty without having ..." She paused, struggling for words, then added, "with certainty without having gone through a deliberative process."

As far as the situation at EQCA looking chaotic, Orr would only say, "The board is working with staff to manage the organization on a day-to-day basis."

Orr also told BAR that "no one's being interviewed" for the posted job for a deputy and political director.

EQCA supporters, including former employees, helped raise money to fund that position in an effort to help out Palencia, who was tied up trying to bring together and lead a coalition to combat the referendum threat to overturn the EQCA-sponsored and Leno-authored California FAIR Education Act posed by the antigay StopSB 48 coalition. The new political director would work with Palencia and government affairs director Mario Guerrero on new pieces of legislation to be introduced next year. Orr says Guerrero is still on the job doing that now. However, he is also expected to leave.

So does the board's failure to produce a transition plan according to the announced timeline indicate that EQCA is in deeper trouble than some community activists believe it is?


Here's why: from what I can discern, the board was just as surprised to hear about the timeline as they were to hear that Palencia was resigning.

Many of us who were watching EQCA closely could see that Palencia was under tremendous strain--essentially doing four jobs: running EQCA as ED, putting together a coalition to oppose a possible StopSB 48 campaign, working on messaging about the "core" issue of gays and kids, and trying to fundraise. But the numerous members of EQCA's board didn't have such daily/weekly communication with him and thus couldn't sense that he was overwhelmed.

Rumors intensified over the weekend of Oct. 8-9 that he might resign--which he first announced to reporters such as myself before formally notifying the board. On Monday night, Oct. 10, Palencia told me by phone:

"I am stepping down. We will be having a board meeting and have a transition plan by the end of the week."

Yesterday, I noted to Orr that she subsequently sent out a press release (on Oct. 10) announcing Palencia's resignation and adding, "Equality California will release a transition plan by the end of this week." Since there was also a quote from Cathy Schwamberger, Equality California Institute Board Chair, it looked like the board had been notified and signed onto the idea of having a transition plan by then.

Orr explained:

"At the time of the announcement, Roland anticipated that he would be able to support the board in developing a transition plan that could be in place immediately, but ultimately the board wanted to take the time for a more deliberative transition process."

Earlier, Orr said in an email:

"The board is working with the staff to run the organization day-to-day and ensure that Equality California continues to do the important work it is known for and that our supporters count on us to deliver. We're focused getting this transition right, which means taking a deliberative, conscientious approach. It may not be quick, but it's what we feel is in the best interests of the organization and our movement statewide."

We also discussed how many in the community were rallying around EQCA to try to help with the transition. She confirmed that a fundraising event in Palm Springs on Saturday raised "$54,000 from the pitch and silent auction plus the $25,000 gift from Gary Soto," a former board member who was being honored.

Orr also said the previous recruiting firm Morris & Berger "has not yet been reengaged."

There were numerous complaints about how the search firm was selected and how they conducted their search during the recruitment process--including complaints about some people who were dismissed from consideration early on. However, the complaints were easy to deflect since those making the complaints had to remain off the record. While the recruitment firm would presumably have to conduct the second search for free--hopefully the board will reconsider their instructions to the firm, or even consider a different firm altogether--as well as the criteria by which they select the next ED.

Ironically and with extraordinary synchronicity, as I was working on this story I received an unsolicited email from Joe McCormack from the recruiting firm of McCormack & Associates. I've known Joe McCormack for many years as a serious gay man who promotes diversity as a major plus in the search for executive positions. He got in touch because he, too, wants to help EQCA. It turns out his bid to conduct the original recruitment process was not even considered by the board. After we chatted a bit, I asked Joe to send me an email with his thoughts. Here's what he sent:

As Roland Palencia recently parted company with Equality California, it's urgent that they find the right leader to advance the cause of LGBT rights in California. There is no margin for error this time, and we would like to be of assistance in identifying an exceptional executive director for the organization.

You may know that we recruited Rebecca Isaacs to the Equality Federation, Kara Suffredini to MassEquality and Lee Swislow to GLAD. We are presently seeking an Executive Director for Amnesty International USA in New York.

Our proposal to assist EQCA on this search initially was turned down because--we believe--of the mistaken perception that we are too much a part of the "gay boys' network" to produce a diversified panel of qualified candidates. A look at our record, however, would show that nearly 40% of our placements are people of color and over 60% are women, often the first to hold the senior leadership position in the client organization.

No one cares about identifying new and diverse leadership for LGBT organizations--including transgender leadership--more than we do. That's why we are in continual communication with the Pipeline Project (which brought us Hector Vargas for the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association) and the National Center for Transgender Equality when we have a search.

However, every candidate must meet the minimum requirements for a position and must have the skills to succeed. No one has the comprehensive database of sources in the LGBT community (and beyond among LGBT professionals who aren't necessarily activists) that we do after 18 years in this business. We have many ways of checking unofficial references, and we can often prevent our clients from making a costly mistake.

I realize that EQCA may go back to the search firm that placed the unsuccessful candidate inasmuch as they should have a one-year guarantee. However, if they are open to a discussion about how we might assist Equality California in this critical search, we would like to have that opportunity.

As someone who benefitted from the brief marriage equality opportunity in California three years ago this month, I would like to see California join New York, Massachusetts, Washington, DC and others by repealing Proposition 8.


Joseph A. McCormack

McCormack & Associates

As the board works on that transition plan, perhaps they might consider having a conversation with some folks with LGBT-specific experience--such as Joe McCormack.

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