|[Videos] YouthPride ED accused of 'hijacking' town hall forum|
|Written by Dyana Bagby|
|Wednesday, 07 March 2012 18:17|
Rushing in some 45 minutes after a town hall forum had already started on the viability and stability of YouthPride, the agency's executive director almost immediately began arguing with the forum's volunteer organizers.
YouthPride Executive Director Terence McPhaul also disputed the independent task force’s presentation on the finances of the agency, which showed it to be almost $81,000 in debt. The forum was held March 6 in the sanctuary of Saint Mark United Methodist Church.
Some 25 young people attended the meeting, seated in the front two rows of the church, joined by another approximate 20 people including task force members and concerned citizens. The meeting because raucous at times when McPhaul repeatedly cut off people as they tried to speak and angrily denied the agency was facing the crisis that the ad hoc committees uncovered after weeks of research.
Charlie Stadtlander, who organized the Jan. 25 meeting that led to the formation of two volunteer task forces to look into the viability and stability of YouthPride, stressed that the task forces had no authority other than what was “given to us in spirit of cooperation” with Board President Jordan Myers at that Jan. 25 meeting.
Stadtlander said he was “disappointed” with McPhaul's antics. The cooperation abruptly ended in early February.
"The individual or individuals, the leadership of YouthPride, every step of the way did not cooperate and obstructed [the task forces]. Then the individual came to the meeting to try to seize control and hijack the meeting and turn it into a 'blame the task force' scenario,” Stadlander said of McPhaul after the March 6 meeting.
Attendees said they felt 'unsafe'
It was during Patt Cianciullo's presentation of YouthPride's estimated debts that McPhaul entered the meeting. Cianciullo, a certified public accountant and co-chair of the viability task force, said it was determined YouthPride's debt to be at approximately $81,000 as of March 6. The numbers were based on documents provided to the volunteer committee by McPhaul.
The estimated debt includes a $41,000 lawsuit filed by Inman Park United Methodist Church against YouthPride for unpaid rent, as well as $23,000 in fines to the IRS for allegedly not filing tax returns. However not all financial documents were provided to the task force despite repeated requests, Stadtlander said.
YouthPride, which serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer metro Atlanta youth ages 13-24, also does not have a legal board of directors.
"I think the issue is we are inferring as opposed to having the facts at all. This is the problem,” McPhaul said, interrupting the presentation soon after he arrived. “These numbers are inaccurate.”
Several times during the forum, McPhaul took over the microphone despite being told by Stadtlander he was not invited to make a presentation at the forum but rather could be part of the Q&A session. McPhaul also argued and talked over many of those trying to speak.
A former YouthPride client and employee remained standing at the front of the church next to task force members because she said she did not feel safe with McPhaul as he became angry at times, Stadtlander told GA Voice.
Former YouthPride counselor Tana Hall also stated publicly she did not feel safe as McPhaul repeatedly interrupted her as she spoke.
McPhaul: Some task force members 'duped' into serving
McPhaul's public comments included denigrating those serving on the task forces, saying, “I think some people did this with good intention but I think some were duped.”
"While we appreciate all the work you [the task force] have done, the fact of the matter is we have worked on maintaining compliance and have maintained compliance with those that really do have the authority to say that we stay open or close,” McPhaul said.
"Just because we have not been compliant [with no board] does not mean we automatically shut down the agency. So we have to ensure we are compliant with the organizations that require that,” McPhaul added.
McPhaul said he hired an attorney approximately three weeks ago to help the agency organize a board of directors.
The lawyer, Jason McCoy of the Atlanta-based Paul Hastings law firm, said in an interview Wednesday he spoke with McPhaul about a week and a half ago ago and has been retained on a pro bono basis to help McPhaul create a new board of directors.
"He wants to transition to a new board of directors. I've reviewed the bylaws and have had conversations with other board members,” McCoy said.
McCoy clarified by saying he has spoken to McPhaul and Board President Jordan Myers. Myers has been missing in action since January, ignoring requests for comment from the GA Voice.
Myers also reportedly ordered McPhaul to shut down YouthPride, according to Tana Hall, the former counselor at YouthPride who said Myers told her the agency was to shut down Feb. 17.
McCoy said he is hopeful YouthPride will able to form a legal board of directors within 60 days.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Rev. Paul Turner of Gentle Spirit Christian Church tried to discuss the future of YouthPride and what steps can be made with the agency in an obvious financial crisis, but McPhaul continued to interrupt him.
"Let me cut to the chase as an outside observer. YouthPride is not doing its job. Regardless of where the fault is,” Turner said, “it would be far more constructive to talk about what we will do with the youth now ...”
"But let me say, let me say....YouthPride is still providing services,” McPhaul said, speaking over Turner.
"Excuse me, excuse me, sir, please don't cut me off. I'm the wrong person to start this with,” Turner responded, obviously irritated.
"Wrong person to start what with?” McPhaul challenged.
"Cutting me off and being rude,” Turner answered.
"We don't need to do any finger pointing. Let's start talking about what we do to make sure these kids are taken care of,” Turner added.
McPhaul acknowledged he did not want to inform the youth of the agency's financial and legal difficulties and many have said they only started finding out the issues after reading about them in the media.
One support group volunteer facilitator, Darryl Moores, said he requested McPhaul speak to his young adult group to inform them of what was happening. He added, however, that he is a strong supporter of McPhaul.
Youth react to task force findings
Numerous youth spoke out at the meeting, saying they believe in the mission of YouthPride and want a one-stop venue for support groups, HIV testing and counseling services. Several said being able to attend YouthPride saved their lives.
They all agreed they wanted to be part of the process of either saving YouthPride, organizing a new youth services organization or working with ones already serving the community.
But others were angered by the task force's presentations of the agency's debt, as well as a contingency plan that has been set in place where youth can go for services should YouthPride eventually close.
"I'm pissed, I'm pissed,” said Casey Geyer, 20, who has been utilizing YouthPride's services for two years.
"I feel like this entire situation from day one of the task force to today was completely removed from youth involvement. I feel like the people here don't adequately represent our interests as queer youth,” Geyer said.
"I feel disappointed. I hope that now queer youth that are affected will find a way without the need for this kind of meeting. [YouthPride] is a pillar for us. It is a unified center. That is important. We need a place to organize ourselves. I do think we need to be organizing ourselves,” Geyer added.
But Timothy Obialo, 28, who attended YouthPride support groups from 2005-2008, said the meeting made him feel more positive about what the task force was attempting to do.
"I think [the meeting] was positive. Initially from conversations I was hearing there was this feeling the task force was attempting to hijack YouthPride and that was the feeling a lot of us had when we came in,” he said. “But the numbers were laid out, people weren't meeting, money wasn't going where it was supposed to go, and I understand that.”
In an interview after the forum, Stadtlander addressed the concerns youth had that they were being shut out of the process.
"Throughout this entire process, our community task force has repeatedly attempted to involve the youth in everything we were doing and we were completely shut out by the current executive director, the current leadership,” he said.
"I am committed in having the youth involved. And for the executive director to stand here and say that he made the decision to not involve the youth and then to keep the youth from us is very indicative of his philosophy that has contributed to the downfall of this organization,” he added.
Stadtlander said he believed YouthPride is “radioactive” and cannot be saved. He said the community members on the task force would help the youth should they seek it.
"The assessment of any person that looks at the depth of information we looked at — financial and legal — would come to the current conclusion YouthPride cannot be saved. It is radioactive,” he said.
"The reality of that will eventually rear its head and when that occurs we believe that moving forward with whatever the youth think they need, and if that's a new youth services organization, we're committed to seeing that happen,” he said
McPhaul: Working on ‘creative and alternative measures’
After the meeting, McPhaul told a group of people that the agency recently received a grant to hire new staff members.
In an email today responding to questions about the grant, McPhaul stated, “I have been working on certain long term creative and alternative measures for funding YouthPride given the negative economic climate that was growing as I became executive director [in 2009]. Some of them have been in the works for two years. At this time, as YouthPride has other partners in the endeavor, I will decline further comment. However, a public announcement is being scheduled.”
At Tuesday's forum, someone asked about McPhaul's salary and if he was being paid.
"I'll simply say that mine is not paid up-to-date,” he said Wednesday.
McPhaul also stated at the Tuesday forum that YouthPride was $100,000 in debt when he was hired in June 2009 and that a $60,000 grant from the Lloyd E. Russell Foundation was pulled without his knowledge.
Pamm Burdett, who runs the foundation, said McPhaul is lying.
"The remainder of the grant was pulled long before Terence started there and it was due to a breach of contract by YP and the former director and board. I have not given YP any money since 2008 due to the breach,” she told GA Voice in an email.
Top photo: Charlie Stadtlander (right) and YouthPride Executive Director Terence McPhaul (far left)at last night's town hall forum concerning the future of the LGBTQ youth organization. (by Dyana Bagby)
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