Commercial Closet Founder Disputes GLAAD Merger Timeline

Wilke Says He Learned Details, Including His Ouster, Via Press Reports

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What seemed like a peaceful merger between the Commercial Closet Association and GLAAD earlier this week has turned into a spat between CCA's founder and the board that sent him on his way.
Michael Wilke
Michael Wilke

Rising tensions
Michael Wilke, founder and former executive director of CCA, said that he learned about the finalization of the merger -- and his loss of job -- through an AdAge.com story about CCA being folded into the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Mr. Wilke said though he'd been involved with the merger talks for the last year, the board made its final moves while he was out of the country and a job offer from GLAAD has evaporated.

"I learned about some of this through your story," he told AdAge.com. He said there was some tension at the start of the process, but that he eventually came to see the GLAAD merger as the best way forward for CCA. Tensions rose again when he and the board disagreed over financial details in the waning days of CCA. Those tensions gave way to the board calling a meeting as he was preparing to leave the country and another the day after he returned. The Advocate's website also reported on the story after an interview with Mr. Wilke.

The facts, according to CCA Board VP Stephanie Blackwood, cannot be argued with. Mr. Wilke, she said, not only was told of the finalized merger but was handed a letter of termination at a meeting Nov. 4.

Debt-free handover
The squabble, she added, had less to do with devious machinations and everything to do with CCA getting its financial house in order prior to the handover. In order "to transfer a debt-free organization to GLAAD, we had to have access to the books." She added that Mr. Wilke consistently overestimated revenue and that considering the recent economic meltdown, the board had concerns about CCA's upcoming December fundraiser. The board decided to cancel the fundraiser and cut the "biggest expense on the books month to month" -- the executive director's salary.

For his part, Mr. Wilke said he made every effort to cooperate with the board's requests, despite increasing personal tensions. At the Nov. 4 meeting, he said, "They told me they were shutting down CCA immediately and canceling the fundraiser. ... That was, needless to say, a surprise to me."

Now, he said, "The board is still trying to discredit me."

Ms. Blackwood said, "We all think Mike's creation of Commercial Closet has changed marketing," adding that the best hope for that work going forward is GLAAD.

Mr. Wilke said he was offered and accepted a job at GLAAD during merger talks. Now, he isn't sure. "They had [a position]. Now they're not sure. ... And they're not returning my calls."

'Further consideration' needed
Neil Giuliano, president of GLAAD, said via e-mail there had been "ongoing discussions and the letter of employment provided, which was never signed and returned, was based on a memorandum of understanding between CCA and GLAAD which stated clearly that Mike Wilke, as the founder and executive director of CCA, should he remain such as of Dec. 31, 2008, shall, should he desire, become an employee of GLAAD as of Jan. 1, 2009. Obviously, Mr. Wilke will not be executive director of CCA on Dec. 31 due to the organization's status and need to shut down abruptly, and the situation requires much further consideration, a topic under review by GLAAD's senior management."

Further, he said, "We will certainly have communication with Mr. Wilke when we are in a more knowledgeable position, and we believe it is best that the conversations that need to take place do so within professional personnel practices and not via the press."
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