Equality Maryland’s board of directors turned down an offer by an anonymous donor to give the financially struggling group $500,000 in exchange for the board giving up its voting privilege and becoming an advisory body, with a new board to be selected by the donor.
Darrell Carrington, an Equality Maryland board member who knows the identity of the donor and acted as the donor’s representative, said he resigned from the board on Monday following the board’s decision to turn down the offer.
He said he recused himself from voting on the offer, among other things, because the donor wanted him to be part of a new board selected by the donor to help save the organization, which faces the prospect of having to lay off all of but one of its employees by July 1.
“It’s a gay man out of Montgomery County. I can’t identity him any more than that,” said Carrington, when asked to reveal something about the mystery donor.
“The reason why he made the offer is because he’s been following Equality Maryland for years,” Carrington said. “And of course he wants to see the organization survive.”
Added Carrington, “In any corporate type of structure, or even a non-profit, if someone’s coming in with money to lift the organization they need to be able to call the shots. And that was something that was not going to work for them,” he said of the board.
Patrick Wojahn, one of five remaining Equality Maryland board members, said Carrington also withheld the donor’s identity from the board. According to Wojahn, Carrington disclosed the name of another individual working with the donor who was to join the donor and Carrington to become a new three-member board that would take control of the group under the terms of the offer.
“There were a number of strings tied to the deal, which basically made us uncomfortable with it,” Wojahn said. “And we decided that if we are going to turn over the organization to some people who really didn’t have any ties to the LGBT community that we needed to have more of a conversation with the community first.”
Carrington, who is straight, works as a political consultant and lobbyist before the Maryland Legislature on issues other than LGBT rights. However, activists familiar with Equality Maryland say he worked hard for a same-sex marriage bill that died in the legislature earlier this year.
Since meeting with LGBT activists and Equality Maryland members over the past few weeks, the board has been told repeatedly that “people want more accountability and more transparency” from the group, Wojahn said.
“To basically turn over the organization to these folks who really didn’t have any ties to the community without further dialogue within the community about what that would mean, we thought that would not be fair to the membership of the organization,” he said.
Carrington said he and others who have worked with the organization doubt it will be able to survive much longer. “It’s essentially out of money,” he said.
“We don’t believe the organization is going to fold,” said Wojahn. “We’re looking forward. We’ve already been doing fundraising. We’re working on a plan to expand the board, to rebuild the organization, and we feel that we can work with the community to rebuild.”
Yet he said that unless contributions begin to flow to a substantial degree, the board will be forced to follow through with its earlier stated plan to lay off all but one employee by the end of this month due to an inability to meet the payroll.
Asked if the board would reconsider the offer by the anonymous donor after discussing the proposal with the group’s membership, Wojahn said, “I don’t know. They wanted an answer fairly quickly about whether or not we would take their offer. So I don’t know if it would still be available.”
Carrington told the Blade on Tuesday that the donor would consider making the offer available if the board should change its mind, but he said the terms would remain the same.
“The offer is we’ll put the money up but the current board has to be ex-officio,” he said. “They cannot have any voting rights or responsibilities.”
Added Carrington, “I’m a little disappointed, with the amount of work I have done over the years for marriage equality, for them not to understand that I would not put together a team that would try to destroy what we’ve built. I think the financial commitment should speak volumes to the level of commitment that everyone has to saving Equality Maryland,” he said.
“I have to question them when they say they are the custodians of the organization for the state of Maryland,” added Carrington. “My question is who are you the custodians of if you have to close your doors by the end of July? I just don’t know if they’re seeing the big picture here.”
In addition to Wojahn, the other board members remaining with Equality Maryland include Lisa Polyak, Rosemary Nicolosi, David Lublin and Mark Yost.
The group’s board chair, Charles Butler, resigned after stating in a Blade interview that the former executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, was responsible for much of the group’s financial problems. Meneses-Sheets disputed his allegation, saying Butler and the board were responsible for the money problems. Butler said this week that he resigned from the board for personal reasons unrelated to the organization.
He said he and his husband were beginning the process of adopting a child and because of that, along with the demands of his job, he no longer had the time to devote to serving on the board.