EQTX board forced Coleman to resign

Posted on 24 Aug 2012 at 9:00am

Dallas board member Wade Hyde steps down over group’s decision to part ways with executive director, citing alleged lack of transparency

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Dennis Coleman

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

An Equality Texas board member submitted his resignation Thursday, Aug. 23, citing an alleged lack of transparency involving the board’s swift action to force Executive Director Dennis Coleman to step down last week.

Wade Hyde, a board member from Dallas, said he was shocked after a hasty conference call meeting Friday, Aug. 17. No agenda was provided to board members and the call took place through Equality Texas board Chairwoman Anne Wynne’s Austin law firm, not the Equality Texas conference call system normally used for meetings.

“I would presume that they didn’t want Dennis to hear,” he said, adding that the executive director was often present for board meetings.

Technical difficulties prevented Hyde from hearing the first 15 minutes of the discussion, but the meeting lasted a little more than an hour. Equality Texas Foundation Chair Whitney Kelly and Equality Texas Chair Anne Wynne raised “ongoing concerns” about Coleman’s performance before the board voted to have Coleman resign. Hyde said the vote was “certainly not unanimous.”

If Coleman had refused to resign, the board would have terminated him “because of his failure to meet his performance goals, insubordination, and possible financial malfeasance,” according to minutes from the meeting that were provided to Dallas Voice by Hyde.

Because of the technical issues, Hyde said he doesn’t know the validity of the reasons for requesting Coleman’s termination and the only mention of poor performance was that the Ally Awards in Dallas earlier this year didn’t meet fundraising goals. That was a known fact before, but Hyde said Coleman’s leadership had never been questioned in any other board meetings.

“My outrage is not about Dennis’s performance. I really don’t know what those issues are. In my working relationship, we’ve been very productive and I think quite successful,” Hyde said. “My outrage is the way this matter was handled. … The total lack of transparency from the executive team was, to say the least, disheartening.”

Coleman had served as executive director of Equality Texas since July 2010 after serving as executive director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, based in Dallas.

Coleman, who lives in Dallas, did not return calls for comment this week about his resignation or what he plans to do next.

Hyde said he was speaking on behalf of Coleman, who isn’t permitted to speak to the media because negotiations involving the terms of his separation agreement are ongoing.

Equality Texas has begun a nationwide search for a new executive director.

On Friday, Aug. 17, Wynne told Dallas Voice Coleman did not give an official reason for his resignation, which had been announced earlier that day. Wynne did not return calls for comment this week concerning Hyde’s allegations.

“We’re really grateful for his [Coleman’s] service and we’re sad to see him leave,” Wynne said.

Wynne said the board will turn its focus to finding Coleman’s replacement. The search is expected to last about 60 days.

“When you lose an executive director, you want to initiate a nationwide search and make sure you find the next best guy,” Wynne said.

In the meantime, Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith will serve as interim executive director. Smith has been with the organization for nine years, serving as deputy executive director since 2005. He previously served as interim executive director from February to August 2010.

Smith told Dallas Voice this week that he took time over last weekend to consider applying for the position and likely will.

“Yes, I have [thought about it] and I probably will,” he said. “That’s where I am right now. I probably will apply.”

Despite Coleman’s absence, Smith said Equality Texas will continue its work with programming and will complete a budget and annual plan for the upcoming year on schedule.

“I’m sorry to see him go, and I guess more work is going to fall on me,” Smith said, laughing.

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ALLIES NOT STRONG ENOUGH | Former Equality Texas board member Wade Hyde, shown speaking at the group’s Ally Awards in Dallas this year, said the event’s failure to meet fundraising goals was cited as one of the reasons for the removal of Executive Director Dennis Coleman. (Amy Price/Dallas Voice)

Smith said the work Coleman started would continue, such as taking the community education program Equality Project to 96 of the 150 state House districts and focusing on educating businesses on the importance of equality to ensure a statewide Employment Non-Discrimination Act passes in the next Legislative session.

“The same work that was in progress remains in progress,” he said. “We’ll be working on the same stuff that we expected to be working on. It’s just temporarily there’s one less person here to help with that.”

Coleman lives in Dallas and commuted to Austin during his time leading Equality Texas.

Coleman’s salary, which is a combination from Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation, was $88,000 last year.

He was Dallas Voice’s 2011 Person of the Year for his work in turning the organization around and helping push through two anti-bullying bills during his first and only session of the Legislature.

The bills didn’t include LGBT-specific protections, but Equality Texas has called them the first two pro-equality bills to pass in Texas since hate crimes legislation in 2001.

Hyde said he had not intended to resign Thursday. Instead, he said he was going to wait until his anger calmed and the situation blew over. But after Wynne sent Hyde an email about his communications with Coleman after his resignation, Hyde said he decided to resign and speak to the media.

The email mentions that Hyde had told Coleman to direct media inquiries to him and that he would no longer recommend possible board members for the position.

Hyde said after the board’s action he wanted to speak for Coleman, who he said has become a close friend since his time on the board began in May 2011.

As for recommending board members, Hyde said he didn’t want them to join an organization that operated so unfairly and secretively.

In the email, Wynne explains that only board chairs are allowed to speak to the media, according to the by-laws. And a discussion of “personnel matters to third parties also violates your responsibility as a Board member.”

Hyde spoke to Dallas Voice after he submitted his resignation.

Other board members spoke this week about the legacy Coleman will leave behind.

Board member Travis Gasper of Dallas has known Coleman for several years before he took over as executive director. He said Coleman’s legacy at Equality Texas would be his work with anti-bullying bills and that he inspired change because he was able to engage the community to protect children.

Equality Texas Treasurer Lisa Thomas of Fort Worth said she was grateful for Coleman’s help in achieving progress in Tarrant County.

Board member Jeanne Rubin of Frisco said Coleman came in when the organization was in trouble and helped turn it around. But Coleman won’t really be gone, she added.

“I’m sad to see Dennis go but I’m sure he’s not going to go away,” Rubin said. “He’s been doing this kind of work before and I’m sure he’ll keep on doing it.”

 This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 24, 2012.

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