Pride Fest faces uncertain future as power struggle imperils popular local event

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The future of a popular festival that attracts tens of thousands to Kansas City every year could be in jeopardy — not because of the coronavirus — but from a power struggle with the board overseeing the event who some believe can’t be trusted.

Pride Fest takes place the first weekend in June. Every year, since its inception 40 years ago, it has grown. Last year, organizers said the festival held at Berkley Riverfront Park attracted 45,000 people with estimated revenue topping $600,000.

Now the future of event is in doubt. The board that heads Pride Fest is being attacked by its former members who have accused it of operating under a veil of secrecy and spending vast amounts of money with too little accountability.

“We’ve asked for the bare minimum of a non-profit that receives public funds: turn over financial information, release their minutes so we can see the conversations that take place to see how that money is spent and none of that has been provided,” said Wes Warner, a former board member of the Kansas City Diversity Coalition, which heads the festival.

Last July, in response to demands from the LGBTQ community, the board for the first time invited the public to its monthly meeting.

It got ugly.

Members of the public called for the board president’s resignation and demanded answers as to why members of the public, and even some board members, had been stonewalled when they requested access to financial records, which are required to be open to the public. 

Star Palmer, who also served on the board, said that as Pride Fest has grown from its humble origins as a large block party to a major festival, the board has failed to adapt. She accused of it operating as a private club where the meetings, the minutes and the financial documents are often secret.

“Folks are just throwing money at it blindly and they have no idea what is going on behind the scenes,” Palmer said.

Palmer said she was also concerned that the board’s president, Donnyel Gregory, has felony convictions from the 1990s for theft and is a registered sex offender. Palmer said the board of Pride Fest needs to have higher standards.

FOX4 tried to talk to President Gregory, but he never got back to us. This past weekend, Gregory  agreed to resign his position, but he hasn’t said when, board attorney Jim Breckenridge said.

Warner said Gregory’s resignation is a good start, but he would like to see every member resign so the public can elect a new board.

Warner and Palmer are two of several board critics who have hired an attorney to help them fight for changes.

Meanwhile, Breckenridge said the board is working to address the public’s concerns, including making financial records public.

“We absolutely have the obligation under the Missouri Nonprofit Corporation Act that if members want to access records, they absolutely have the right to do that,” Breckenridge said.

The board has also started opening its meetings to the public as well as posting its minutes and financial statements online. In addition, the board has agreed to have an independent firm audit its finances.

“Their plan is to publish all of that information to their website just like they had done with their minutes,” Breckenridge said.

As for the future of Pride Fest, Breckenridge said the Kansas City Diversity Coalition will no longer host the event. 

But critics, including Warner and Palmer, said this doesn’t mean the end for the wildly popular festival. They said plans are already underway to make sure the biggest event for Kansas City’s queer community lives on.

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