Executive director defends decision; others call it “strong arming”

The Pride Center isn’t happy with the Equality Park Garden Club’s change of leadership. So much so that they’ve severed its relationship with the group's annual plant fair. 

“After the recent course of events within the leadership of the Garden Club I have made the decision that the Pride Center will not be collaborating with the Garden Club on the Tropical Plant Fair moving forward,” wrote Robert Boo, executive director of the Pride Center, in an email obtained by SFGN. “The Pride Center will be facilitating this Center sanctioned fundraising event on our own.”

Now the Garden Club leadership is crying foul and accusing Boo of attempting to “strong arm” them.

“We fully supported the Equality Park Garden Club solely because of Chuck Nicholls, previous president and founder,” Boo told SFGN. “He’s a long-time supporter of the Center. And so we did more with the club because of Chuck. Now that Chuck was no longer the board chair, my support of the organization was going in a different direction.”

Nicholls was not running for re-election and while he’s no longer president, according to the Vice President of the Garden Club, Paul Durbin, he will remain on the board as its past president – a new position created in order to keep him involved.

Despite that involvement Boo is not interested in working with the club.

“Because Chuck is not leading the organization, the support we provided in the past is changing,” he said.

Durbin is especially upset over the fact that the Pride Center has decided to move forward with the Tropical Plant Fair on its own. He feels the Pride Center has effectively stolen the event away from them.

“It is our biggest event and our single biggest fundraiser, but almost more important than that, it is our biggest new member recruiting tool,” Durbin said. “We have a surge of new members after the show concludes.”

The Plant Fair, Durbin said, was founded by the Garden Club and its members have staffed the event in the past, own the domain name online, and manage the event’s Facebook page.

“It was our event,” Durbin asserted. “The first two years we did everything while the Pride Center did nothing at all.”

Boo sees it differently.

“That’s their interpretation. The Tropical Plant Fair was Chuck Nicholls' idea. He approached the center about it,” Boo said. “We supported that fundraising event. And we’re moving forward with it.”

But the Pride Center has apparently acknowledged, however indirectly, that the event was started by the Garden Club. The original vendor applications called the event the “4th Annual A Tropical Plant Fair.” The updated version simply refers to the event as the “Equality Park Tropical Plant Fair.”

Last year the Plant Fair brought in $1,471 in profit to the Garden Club.

Boo has effectively reduced the Garden Club to vendor status.

“The EPGC is more than welcome to participate as a vendor in the plant fair just like any other organization but will not have any role in the organization and execution,” Boo said.

“What he did was wrong. We had no intention of giving the Plant Fair up,” Durbin said. “I feel like he’s strong-arming a group that meets in his Pride Center.”

The plant fair isn’t the club’s only grievance. In that email severing its ties to the Garden Club Boo also said it was time to renegotiate their rent.

“Starting in January the room rental fee, which has not been adjusted in five years, will be adjusted accordingly to be more in line with all of the other 60 groups that we rent space to,” he said.

Up until that point the group had paid $50 to rent a room for two hours each month. Durbin said the Pride Center told him they could be charged up to $300, but he suggested $100 and they accepted.

The raise in rent came after a $3,500 donation for a project at the Pride Center by the outgoing board.

When asked whether or not those actions could be seen as retaliatory Boo said “you can interpret it, twist it, and see it in a number of different ways. The decision was made and we’re moving forward.”

Current president of the Garden Club, Chip Jones, agrees with Durbin, but had nothing but nice words for the Pride Center.

“I do think what has happened is unfortunate for all parties involved,” he said. “We’re an asset to them. I don’t want to give them a hard time.”

Durbin though did not mince words.

“We’re a 501(c)3 organization and he interfered in our affairs,” he said. “That just oversteps the bounds of a CEO.”