Saturday, February 17, 2007

Seattle Out and Proud's $100,026.33 debt

I have received a couple emails from readers who are outraged with Seattle Out and Proud (SOAP)because they have not paid their $100,026.33 bill for last year's Seattle Pride event. One reader said: "Its like going to a restaurant, ordering a bunch of food and drinks and walking out without paying the bill. A person doing so would certainly be charged with a crime. Whether legal or not, Seattle Pride has committed a crime a against the [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender] community."

The Seattle Gay News had been sitting on this news for several weeks while we developed our story. We held out hope that SOAP would step forward and pay their bill or, at the very least, negotiate a payment plan by February 15, the deadline the Seattle Center had established. However, that deadline has come and gone.

According to the Seattle Center, planning Seattle Pride 2007, which is a little more than four months away, would have had to have started by that date. Also, the Seattle Center executive staff concluded last November that last years debt must be addressed before a new event can be staged. For these reasons alone, the SGN felt compelled to move forward with the story this week.

As Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has said, "The Gay Pride Parade is a lot bigger than this organization." The decisions of SOAP not only effect the few people on its board or among its membership, but the entire region's GLBT population and its allies. According to SOAP's sponsorship materials, nearly 200,000 people lined up to watch the parade and another 50,000 joined in the festivities at the Seattle Center.

SOAP had signed a three year contract with the Seattle Center last year. Under the terms of the contract, which were later approved by the Seattle City Council, the Seattle Center would provide the buildings and the grounds at "no cost" if SOAP reimbursed the city for its operational costs. "You always hope that when you sign a contract with somebody that they understand their obligations and that they will make good on it," Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark told the SGN this week.

Writing this weeks article about SOAP's 2006 debt was a difficult process, not only due to all the components of the article, but because I knew the potential consequences of such an article. SOAP has been hurriedly asking for sponsorships from major corporations, especially in these last few weeks. I believe few corporations will want to sponsor an event, when the money they donate could conceivable be applied to last years debt. There is no assurance SOAP will have the financial capability to mount a 2007 event.

However, the only people who can be blamed for SOAP's current situation is SOAP itself, more specifically, its leadership. At no point did SOAP approach the community or its sponsors to explain the situation. They had six and half months to solicit donations and support. SOAP President Albert-Gauthier also confirmed that the organization owes money to other creditors from last year's event, in addition to the Seattle Center. Clearly, SOAP knew it did not have sufficient funds to pay its debts.

Time has run out for SOAP. They have not paid off its debts or sincerely attempted to dialogue with the Seattle Center about a payment plan. The region's GLBT community cannot wait another month, if SOAP cannot quickly lay out a workable plan for addressing its past obligations while organizing for Seattle Pride 2007. As Clark concluded, "This is one organization that is clearly in financial trouble, but that should not cast a shadow on the whole community."

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