Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SF Gay Center Endorses
AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

The gay agenda: Marriage, military and mergers. Well, for some, but not for me. Who knew phone company mergers were a crucial gay issue?

Due to the meltdown at GLAAD over its support for AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile, and the role GLAAD board member and former AT&T lobbyist Troup Coronado played in the controversy, we've seen the influence peddling problems extend to NGLTF, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and Equality California.

Today the narrative shifts a bit to the local level. Since AT&T is prominently mentioned as a sponsor of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on their site, and the secretary of the center's board is an employee of AT&T, Michael Albert, I asked executive director Rebecca Rolfe a few questions.

My concerns included learning how much money AT&T had donated, the role of the AT&T employee on the board and if the center had written any letters related to the proposed merger. Turns out the center received a robust $100,000 grant, the center sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission endorsing the mergers, and the AT&T employee played no role in the communication with the commission, according to Rebecca, bolding mine:

AT&T has a long history of support of the LGBT community and the SF LGBT Community Center, starting with a gift to our capital campaign. Their support currently consists of a $100,000 grant to increase technology access to the LGBT community, made in the fall of 2010. ...

Michael Albert is currently a board member, and serves as our board secretary. As such, his responsibilities include taking minutes, documenting board decisions, and ensuring timely filing of legal and reporting documents. Outside of his board role, Michael is an Area Manager at AT&T, where his job responsibilities include leading a team of service executives who manage the service relationships between AT&T and their largest customers. ...

The only policy issue related to AT&T that the Center has engaged in is a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission supporting their proposed merger with T-Mobile, based on our long term partnership with AT&T and our experience of their dedication to supporting the LGBT community. Michael Albert did not request that we submit a letter, nor did he participate in any discussions about whether to submit a letter on behalf of AT&T.

[W]e exceed compliance with all public disclosure requirements, including public access to organizational documents (via public access binder and posting information on our website) and a long standing policy that all board meetings are open to the public. While we did recently update the web site to provide more explicit information that all board meetings are open to the public (based on your suggestion), we have long publicized board meetings on our calendar, on our website, and on public information sites such as the library and city hall and continue to stand by our policy of open board meetings.

Great to see Rebecca disclosing all this info and reminding me that the center's board meetings are open to community members. The next meeting is Monday, July 18 at 7 pm, and I will be there.

More gays need to press GLAAD and all Gay Inc groups to make their board meetings transparent, while also demanding regular town hall meetings open to all. A big reason why corruption flourishes within Gay Inc, and growing numbers of average gays are alienated from it is because of the lack of democratic engagement. That must change, pronto.

I've asked Rebecca for copy of her letter to the CPUC and hope to receive it before the week is over. At the same time, I've had a long conversation with a spokesperson for CPUC about the center's letter and letters from any other California gay groups weighing in on the pending AT&T merger with T-Mobile. Will let you know what I hear back from CPUC.

We need to insist Gay Inc regularly inform us of their communications with regulatory agencies, government agencies or political operations at the federal, state and local levels, and what they are saying on our behalf. It's my strong gut feeling that Gay Inc folks are not just writing to the FCC and CPUC about AT&T/T-Mobile.

Who else are they communicating with, on which issues and when will Gay Inc get around to informing us, say, on a monthly basis, about their lobbying on issues of importance to their corporate sponsors?

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