The chair of the board of directors of Equality Maryland resigned on Tuesday and the financially troubled LGBT group reduced the salary of its interim executive director and significantly changed her duties, according to a statement released by the board.
Attorney Charles Butler resigned both from his post as chair of Equality Maryland’s board and from the board itself, according to Patrick Wojahn, who chairs a separate board of the Equality Maryland Foundation.
The statement released by the Equality Maryland board didn’t give a reason for Butler’s resignation. But his departure comes one week after he startled some of the group’s supporters and members by publicly blaming the group’s former executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, for the organization’s serious financial woes.
Meneses-Sheets, whom the board fired in April, denounced Butler’s claim that she entered into expensive contracts on behalf of Equality Maryland and hired staff without the board’s approval or knowledge. In what observers called a messy public fight, Butler and Meneses-Sheets each told the Blade that the other shared the blame for a funding shortage that threatens to force the group to close its doors.
“As we announced last Tuesday, the financial situation of Equality Maryland is very serious,” Wojahn said in the statement released by the board on Tuesday.
“We are also hearing clearly through our Listening Tour that people in Maryland want to see significant change in how we operate,” he said. “As custodians of the statewide community’s equality organization, we are committed to building an Equality Maryland that takes community input into consideration and that relies on a sustainable funding model.”
Wojahn was referring to a series of community meetings that Equality Maryland has held over the past two weeks throughout the state that the group has dubbed “listening tour stops.” The next tour meeting was scheduled to take place June 9 in Silver Spring and another is scheduled for July 14 in Temple Hills.
The statement says part of the immediate change the board has approved is a new contract for the group’s recently hired interim executive director, Lynne Bowman, former executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Ohio.
“Effective June 1, Bowman’s focus will shift from external outreach and programmatic involvement to management of internal operations and an increased role directly supporting the board’s efforts to revamp the organization,” the statement says. “As part of the new contract, Bowman will work at a reduced fee and spend half of the month in Baltimore and the other half working virtually from Ohio. She will be contracted on a month-to-month basis.”
Wojahn told the Blade the board will fulfill, on a temporary basis, the duties that Bowman carried out as of this week in advocating for LGBT-related legislation before the Maryland Legislature along with other LGBT-related advocacy efforts.
He said that unless new sources of funding emerge within the next few weeks, all but one of the group’s staff members, the office manager, could be laid off by July 1.
“We offered the staff the opportunity to stay on for the next month,” Wojahn said. “We can’t promise anyone anything beyond that.”
“As part of the organization’ s focus on the future, the board will be meeting to develop a short-term strategic plan meant to guide the organization’ s non-programmatic activities through the end of 2011,” the statement released on Tuesday says. “In addition to a renewed focus on fundraising with individual donors, it is expected that the plan will also address ways to increase and diversify the membership of the board of Equality Maryland, enhance community involvement in the direction-setting and decision-making of the organization, and identify ways to tighten internal operations and governance. It is expected that the board will report back out to the community when the short-term plan is finalized.”
Sources familiar with LGBT politics in Maryland have said the Human Rights Campaign, which is based in Washington, D.C., was expected to lead a coalition of national and local groups in an effort next year to push for a same-sex marriage bill in the Maryland Legislature.
Some of the state’s leading transgender rights advocates announced two weeks ago that they have formed a new statewide group called Gender Rights Maryland, which they said would lead lobbying efforts for a comprehensive gender identity non-discrimination bill.