October 18, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Stonewall Dems leader to step down
Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, announced today he will be stepping down. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The National Stonewall Democrats announced today that its executive director, Michael Mitchell, will leave the organization at the end of this month when his two-year contract expires.

Mitchell’s departure comes at a time when financial problems forced the organization earlier this year to lay off at least one staff member, leaving the group with just one part-time and two full-time employees as it gears up for the 2012 elections.

The announcement that Mitchell will be stepping down also comes amid reports by knowledgeable sources that at least three of the group’s board members resigned in March over a heated dispute over whether the board should retain Mitchell as director. At the time, a majority of the board backed Mitchell, according to sources familiar with the group.

Mitchell told the Blade his decision to step down was due to his own assessment of what is best for NSD and himself at this time and it had nothing to do with the board’s deliberations earlier this year.

“That was months ago,” he said in referring to the board resignations. “Those board members left actually for a variety of reasons. I don’t think they all left because of my leadership,” he said. “That’s not what I got from several of the board members who left.”

Two board members who resigned, Melissa Sklarz of New York and Chris Massicotte of D.C., declined to comment on their reason for resigning when contacted by the Blade.

Mitchell discussed further his decision to step down in an NSD statement released Tuesday.

“The decision to leave NSD was a difficult one for me, especially with a critical election coming up next year that will define us as a nation, but it was made easier knowing that our affiliates, staff and board are fully engaged in fulfilling the mission of National Stonewall Democrats,” Mitchell said in the statement.

“It’s been my privilege to work for NSD the past two years and a distinct honor to have been able to work with our affiliates around the country who are doing the on-the-ground, necessary work of getting pro-equality Democrats elected,” he said in his statement. “It has been a particular point of privilege to work with such a dedicated and hard-working staff.”

In mentioning NSD’s affiliates Mitchell was referring to the more than 80 LGBT Democratic Party clubs from across the country, including D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, that are members of NSD’s grass roots network.

“Michael has accomplished many great things while serving as our executive director,” said Craig Roberts, NSD’s board chair. “During his tenure, he has represented the organization incredibly well and built and solidified relationships that are integral to the work of NSD,” he said.

“To know Michael is to know that he is incredibly committed to our organization and to electing pro-equality Democrats. I’ll miss working with him, but I know that he will continue to do good work in the next phase of his life,” Roberts said.

In its announcement on Tuesday, NSD said the board has named Jerame Davis, the organization’s current Affiliate Services Director, as interim executive director while the board conducts a search for a permanent director.

Roberts said he didn’t know whether Davis would apply for the permanent director’s position but he would welcome him, as he would other applicants, as a candidate to be considered for the post.

Sources familiar with NSD said board members who called for replacing Mitchell earlier this year praised his overall work but believed he lacked fundraising skills needed to sustain the organization at a time when a sagging U.S. economy made it more difficult for all non-profit groups to raise money.

When asked this week why NSD was encountering financial problems, both Roberts and Mitchell cited a decline in contributions from donors based largely on the economy.

In addition, the two said the widely reported support by the national Democratic Party for LGBT equality has played some role in prompting NSD donors of the past to give money directly to the Democratic National Committee or LGBT supportive Democratic candidates rather than to NSD.

“This is partially due to our success in helping to build a strong, pro-LGBT equality Democratic Party,” Roberts said.

Roberts said NSD continues to fulfill its role since its founding in 1993 by gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as an advocate for pushing the Democratic Party to go further in its support for LGBT rights. He disputed claims by some critics that NSD has become a “puppet” of the DNC.

He and Mitchell said a decrease in the number of board members from eleven to six this year also made it more difficult for NSD to raise money. Roberts said rules established for board members require that they contribute or raise at least $10,000 a year as a condition for serving on the board. He said the group’s bylaws allow the board to expand to 15 members.

“We’re looking for new board members at this time,” Roberts said. “We invite anyone interesting in serving at this very important time leading up to the elections to contact us.”

Roberts said the group’s small staff and shortage of resources, along with an “oversight,” were responsible for NSD’s not filing its 990 IRS financial statements for the 2009 and 2010, which all non-profit, tax-exempt organizations are required to file.

“We’ll be doing that in the next few weeks,” Roberts said. Mitchell said he expected to have the two forms filed with the IRS, at which time they become public documents, by the end of this month.

Roberts declined to disclose what NSD’s current operating budget is, saying jokingly, “It’s somewhere between $100,000 and $1 million.”

The NSD 990 reporting statement for 2008, the last one the group filed as of this week, shows it raised $465,391 in revenue and had $435,946 in expenses. The 2008 revenue figure represented just over $101,000 more than the $363,947 in revenue NSD reported for 2007.

Mitchell said the 2008 income came in the midst of an exciting U.S. presidential election that prompted many supporters to make a contribution to the group and just before the recession hit.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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