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Pride board: 'Creating a foundation'

SAN DIEGO – San Diego LGBT Pride’s new board of directors met with the community Monday night at The Center, stressing that its members are busy trying to pick up the pieces after a widely publicized scandal nearly derailed the organization.

“Three weeks we’ve been on the board,” said Judi Schaim, board co-chair along with Larry Ramey. “It is taking a tremendous amount of time sifting through things.”

Schaim left the distinct impression that the task was Herculean.

“We are trying to make sure that our house is in order,” she said. “Most of what we are doing is creating a foundation.”

Ramey said the new board had already reached a fork in the road. “The key question is: What direction should we go?”

The town hall meeting drew an audience that filled about half the seats set up in The Center’s auditorium. That was a stark difference to the last public meeting, when the auditorium was packed with concerned and angry members of the LGBT community. Last night, however, a speaker named Wendy told the board that her trust in Pride had been rejuvenated. Her comments drew applause from the audience.

Schaim said board members have spent many hours pouring through the books, trying to figure out where the money was spent and how it was dispensed back to the community. Board member Joe Mayer is the group’s new treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee, which is trying to grasp the big picture on money matters.

Ramey and Schaim said the board has hired an independent auditor to examine the books. The firm of Lichter, Yu, and Associates, based in Encino, will conduct the audit.

“We all know you are watching us,” Schaim told the audience. “We care deeply about this organization.”

The Pride parade and festival is one of the largest public events in San Diego, attracting about 200,000 people each year. About a quarter of the attendees come from out of town and help generate hotel taxes that are crucial to the city’s general fund budget.

City Councilman Carl DeMaio has said that the city gets at least $100,000 in tax revenue from the Pride event annually.

Previously, Pride officials have said that the event helps generate at least $30 million annually for the local economy.

But San Diego Pride suffered a near-fatal blow when allegations of the misuse of charitable funds were leveled at the organization. Public pressure forced the old board to resign, and a new board was recently installed.

The two new co-chairs told the audience Monday night that they would not address any questions related to the old board or former employees – at the advice of attorneys.

“It’s a legal matter,” Ramey said.

After brief remarks by Schaim and Ramey, the two fielded questions from the audience. For the most part, the audience showed a lot of love to the new board members or offered constructive criticism about several key points of concern:

_ Adding an educational component to the Pride festival.

_ Questioning fundraising goals and efforts.

_ Keeping and improving the Pride rally so activists can have a voice.

_ Opening the beer gardens to all, instead of keeping them as “special ticket” activities.

_ Making sure that the hours-long Pride parade runs smoothly without long gaps between acts.

The new Pride board said the next public meeting would be in April, date to be chosen.