Equality California hopes to announce a new executive director in a few weeks, EQCA Board President Clarissa Filgioun and Equality California Institute Board President Cary Davidson told Frontiers.
During a lengthy interview on Sept. 11 at the Beverly Hills headquarters of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the board presidents were asked a range of questions, including about the seeming lack of urgency to find a new political leader.
Interim Executive Director Laurie Hasencamp—who has been serving in an administrative capacity and has stayed longer than her originally projected four-to-six-month agreement—said she would stay “to make sure there’s a meaningful transition,” but her commitment was not open-ended.
“There are candidates in play, and there’s the expectation that I won’t be here that much longer,” Hasencamp said. “I’ve made it very clear I’m not here indefinitely. ... I’m not giving them a drop-dead date because I don’t want to say I’m abandoning you or anything like that. ... I would expect by Thanksgiving. ... I would be back on a part-time basis.”
“We are acting with deliberate speed. We were hoping that we would be able to do this faster,” Davidson said. But there was a process to go through after Roland Palencia abruptly resigned as executive director on Oct. 12, 2011.
“Laurie has done an amazing job. She really turned us around,” Davidson said. “Her purpose was to get us to a point where we could hire an executive director. After she’d been in the role for about three months, then we determined—now it’s time to go out and do the search.
You characterize it as, ‘Well, you’ve known for all this time.’ But for us it was phase one, phase two and then there was phase three, let’s do the search,” Davidson continued. “Our search is taking about the time that the search professionals say the search should take. Maybe we’re probably a little ahead. But I think we’ll end up probably right in the range. We have really good candidates, very promising candidates. And I trust that the board will come to a decision on the new leadership in—it’s hard to know exactly—but I hope within a few weeks.”
The budget for EQCA and EQCAI is roughly $3 million, with no debt and roughly 30 full and part-time staff and volunteers, Hasencamp said. The organization is being run as a “collaborative” effort, with previous full-time senior staff positions handled by independent contractors. However, those consultants are also committed to EQCA—including former Legislative Director Alice Kessler and her firm and communications expert Steve Roth, of OutThink Partners.
“We don’t really see them as contractors. We see them as staff members,” Filgioun said, adding that the new executive director will decide whether to continue with outside consultants or hire a staff. “Our goal is to actually get legislation through the legislature, and then, if the governor signs it, that’s better. We hope so.”
The board presidents seem perplexed when asked about the perceived disconnection between EQCA and the public.
“There are people like you and other LGBT organizations, and you talk a lot to each other about many things, including, potentially, Equality California,” Filgioun said. “What we hear, also, is the person on the street through some of the extraordinary work our field team is doing—and they have done tremendous work. What we’ve learned is how strong the brand remains and what a fantastic success story we are. ... So I think there is a sort of a perception divide amongst the people in-the-know and then people who support—the general public—who support what Equality California does.”
EQCA’s next big focus is the Safe Schools Audit, a bill co-authored by openly gay Assemblymember Ricardo Lara and straight ally and EQCA boardmember/Assemblymember Betsy Butler. “We’ve passed over 80 pieces of legislation—about 90 now—and we need to make sure they start getting implemented,” Filgioun said. When reminded that similar legislation was proposed by former Executive Director Geoff Kors, she added: “And that’s certainly something we talked to Geoff about, too.”
Kors served nine years as executive director and built the two-person, debt-burdened EQCA into the most respected LGBT state lobbying organization in the country. But the board presidents shift in their seats with mention of his name, and when asked if they would continue with the Carver Model of organizational governance that allowed the executive director to have considerable power.
“I think we’ve learned some lessons during that time,” Davidson said. “I think in some instances, the board ceded too much authority to Jim [Carroll, second in command] and Geoff, and we relied on them too much. And now we want to be not involved in the day-to-day operations, but we want to be aware of what is going on.”
EQCA serves a “unique role” in California’s LGBT movement. “We’re doing [this work] for those who don’t know how to get help; for people who haven’t come out; for seniors who have to go back into the closet these days and don’t have the protections in place—even though we have the laws that we’ve passed,” said Davidson. “There’s just so much more to do.”
Go to LGBTPOV.com for an expanded version of this story.