Lower Columbia Q Center reaches agreement to resolve legal dispute

·3 min read

Jun. 22—A custodial board will guide the Lower Columbia Q Center out of a legal battle that caused conflict and dysfunction at the nonprofit over the past year.

Over 90 days, the board will oversee the nonprofit's operations, revise the bylaws, review the finances and clarify whether Astoria Pride is controlled by the Q Center or is an independent event.

As part of an arbitration award, the eight Q Center board members who were involved in the legal dispute have been removed. The custodial board will appoint new board members.

Judge Daniel Harris, who mediated the dispute for the Arbitration Service of Portland, encouraged the custodial board to choose new board members "who would be independent and act in the best interest of the viable function and mission" of the nonprofit.

Former Q Center board members Taz Davis, Dida DeAngelis, Don Duncan and Sandi Hilton said the arbitration award brought some clarity. "The previous board of directors have been asked to support the custodial board when requested through their respective (counsels)," they said in a statement.

"The respondents are grateful that the dispute among the LCQC board members has been resolved," Blair Henningsgaard, an Astoria attorney, said on behalf of former board members David Drafall, Hilary Ann Levine, Tessa Scheller and Jim Summers.

Judge Harris will retain jurisdiction and address any issues with the custodial board, which is made up of Brett Estes, the chairman, who serves as Astoria city manager; Cindy Price, a former Astoria city councilor who serves on the Planning Commission; and Marcus Runkle, a business consultant.

The Q Center, which provides outreach, education and advocacy for the region's LGBTQ community, has been divided since a contentious board meeting in June 2021 that ended without being properly adjourned.

A lawsuit filed in Circuit Court in December by Duncan, Davis, DeAngelis and Hilton said that shortly after the meeting each side hired legal counsel and through their attorneys discussed and negotiated several options to restore operations.

Despite all of the board members signing an arbitration agreement last July, the lawsuit said some board members later ceased communications and acted in other ways that caused dysfunction.

The lawsuit asked the court to dissolve the nonprofit and appoint a custodian to manage its affairs.

Judge Beau Peterson issued a temporary restraining order in December directing board members to comply with the terms of the arbitration agreement. In January, Peterson stayed the proceedings and ordered the board members to comply with the arbitration agreement and conduct essential operations.

The process then moved to an arbitration hearing before Judge Harris, who issued a final award outlining a plan of action on June 13.

The final award includes a civility and nondisparagement provision that directs the former board members not to disparage the custodial board, the Q Center, Astoria Pride, or others involved over the next three months.

"However, this order does not prevent the parties from stating that a dispute has arisen within the LCQC Board of Directors, that the dispute is being resolved through arbitration, and that a final award has been entered," the judge held.