Clearing Up Misconceptions

In the days since my “outburst” (which, out of context it does appear as such though all of this has been ongoing for some time), I have seen a lot of misconceptions on several points.  Today I would like to clear up some of those points.

“He quit and therefore he has no right to anything.”  While it is true that I left “willingly”, you have to understand the circumstances as to why.

Prior to my departure, a few of us huddled up and got into the “Let’s get this in order” mode.  We held meetings, we assigned new roles to new people and we began to dive in to really get things put together for year 5 and beyond.  I assigned Susie to a more active, year round, role and she was to be my #2 in all things HavenCon.  She had shown she was organized, detailed oriented, and above all had the follow through to get stuff done.

We worked tirelessly and were making good progress until the topic of hiring her accountant brother came up.  I had asked her to approach him for advice on our taxes, etc (meanwhile, we were STILL waiting on our determination letter from the IRS which was holding a lot of things up) while I began talking to another individual to come on as a member of the board as our treasurer.  This individual had worked for the IRS and currently works for the state and so they really knew their stuff.  And, again, they were very willing to come on board and help us.  Previously the person who was supposed to be helping with finances and tax stuff had done 0 things which caused those things to fall back on me.  I’m not a tax expert, but I asked for advice and read hours and hours of information to try and get a good grasp on it.  But, like many other things, I did my best to get it done but still needed help.  Having 1000 tasks to complete throughout the year and no follow through from others on offered assistance, things can happen.

When Susie approached us about hiring her brother, I had already brought up the fact that I wanted to bring on the new treasurer (it’s documented in the board meeting notes) and therefore should not have come as a surprise.  I also let it be known that if were going to pay someone I wanted to:

A. Know who they are (meet and talk with them myself).

B. Hire someone from the community we represent (we should be empowering/employing members of marginalized groups…period.)

C. Make sure there was not a conflict of interest per the COI document we had just been working on (nepotism was a possibility with her being an executive as well as almost becoming the secretary of the foundation and that being her brother.  She turned down the secretary role during the board meeting).

This is when she got upset and we all decided that it would be a good idea to take a break for that night.

Fast forward a day or two.

Susie returns to the foundation chat and dumps this on me:

(Paraphrased because I don’t have the logs, they do and said they would release them, but have not.)

“Shane, you keep moving the goal posts, it is frustrating.  Everyone is frustrated, you have to change things NOW or I will leave and that will look bad because 2 other females have already quit.”

That’s like, not even half of what was said, but these are the main points.

Let’s break it down:

“You keep moving the goal post”:  No, I don’t.  The goal of supporting our community and putting on a good show is always the same.  The (oh god am I using sports metaphors right?) plays we use to get to the goal posts will ALWAYS change.  That’s the nature of the business.  It can be frustrating, I get frustrated regularly, welcome to running a convention.

“You have to change things NOW”:  What in the holy hell do you think I was doing?? WE were creating well defined roles and responsibilities to help manage expectations of our staff.  WE were working on foundation stuff.  We started weekly hangouts to cover things.  WE were changing things.  So, am I hallucinating all of this?  Or was I actually ACTIVELY working on making changes?  What it seems to me is, you wanted ALL of the control while I wanted to divvy up the responsibilities among people that had the experience, were interested in helping and would follow through. But because YOU didn’t get everything you asked for all at once, you wanted to throw a fit, make me look, sound and feel bad in the hopes of what?  The only logical end I can come up with is the result that occurred.

“I will leave and that will look bad because 2 other females have already quit.”:  This is the part that just blows my mind.  This veiled threat of calling me out for sexism.  As I said the night you posted everything (even though, as I had warned I had had a few drinks and probably shouldn’t say anything at that moment) and reiterated the next day.  HOW DARE YOU.  I was raised by 2 very strong women, my mother and my grandmother, who taught me to respect everyone equally and that gender alone doesn’t signify strength.  Sure you later went back and said “just pointing it out for optics”…but to me this was low.  This is something that, if you wanted to, would destroy a person on many levels.  To even suggest it is the worst kind of tactic I can think of.

Let’s also look at the circumstances as to why the other 2 left or weren’t  directly involved:

One left because they wanted to be paid for their work, and none of us got paid for our work.  They knew that, they asked, I said it would be nice and maybe it’s something to discuss in the future once we’re stable, but  at this time we can’t offer compensation and so they quit.

The other had complaints against them from attendees and I was not going to put them in a position to allow that to happen again.  They were “verbally aggressive with me” is not something that you like to hear.  They can still work on things behind the scenes (which I think is more than most con runners would allow) but they should not be in a position of high stress that forces them to interact with the attendees.

With the tone and delivery of this message, it was like I had just walked into a bears den during the spring thaw.  My fight or flight mechanism kicked in immediately.  But, as I have stated before, because of everything else going on in my life I didn’t have the fight in me.  I literally said “I do not have the mental fortitude to deal with this”.  Nobody else in the chat was coming to my aid, nobody wanted to point out the good that was happening.  They sided with Susie and I felt alone.  And so, I chose flight.  There were some “no, don’t do that…I’d be sad if you went” but it’s what happened next that really drove home that they weren’t interested in me staying.  They..got..to..work.  They did more work in the 15 minutes of me saying I would leave than I have seen over the course of months if not years (some exceptions apply, mostly around drama).  But there were spreadsheets and drafts of announcements and everything else to see me off quickly.  These actions just added to the thoughts of “They really don’t care if I’m here or not…they..they wanted this”.

During this process I started to back up my email account and delete it, I had years of work that was mine and it was not something I wanted others to have.  That and there were some personal things attached to the account that I would prefer others not to see (my Android was attached, so a lot of things were accessible..that’s all I’ll say).  And that is where I had hoped it would remain..deleted and I could maybe work with them to get them information, at my discretion, that they may need sometime in the future once things calmed down.  But they chose to reactivate it and go through everything.  That’s not really the issue, the issue is Michael (the current ED) LIED about who was doing it and what was being sorted through.

Immediately after I left I lost it.  I felt disconnected, abandoned, alone…I just watched everything I worked hard for vanish in a blink of an eye.  The money I invested to start the convention, gone.  I sold everything I own, cashed in every bit I had to create this show.  And now, people who didn’t give 2 shits about me or the meaning behind it all were now in charge.  I fell into the deepest depression that I’ve ever felt in years (the last time was after a very abusive relationship ended).  I tried cracking jokes, I tried putting on my tough face.  But inside I was dying.  And I started to self actualize that in the real world.

There was also a sense of guilt that came shortly after.  A sense of guilt of what I wrote in my “resignation” letter.  It was false, it wasn’t what I was feeling it didn’t speak to the truth (some things are true, I did need to focus on my health).  But really I had hoped that with proper organization I could remain on with HavenCon to see it become what it should be, what I always wanted it to be.  To help it grow and reach more people that needed a Haven.

I wrote a Facebook post not long after explaining to my friends and family what had happened.  The support I received helped me little by little to get out of my darkness…and, ok, the furries helped too by providing an escape (which is why I love the fandom).

After a bit I found my fight again.  Some folks expressed that they didn’t want to support the show with the way things had happened and thought I should try and reclaim it.  But to be honest, I don’t want the event back.  I don’t want the foundation back.  But I did decide that, what I do want is the name.  The name I created and grew over the past 5 years.  I don’t want people who did minimal work with maximum gain to use the name I created, nurtured and..just..felt at my very core.  I don’t want people who can, even vaguely, imply sexism against a person who opened up their world to someone who isn’t even a member of the community to have control of a space where this should not be acceptable.

And so, I chose to trademark the name HavenCon and all associated assets with it (images, domain, etc) and approach the current leadership in an attempt to resolve this amicably.

I sent an email on June 25th that I would “give them” the foundation (web domain, etc) in exchange for returning HavenCon and the assets to me. I asked them to respond with a decision within 3 days, and the response sounded more like a brush off (“We sent this to our lawyer, you’ll hear back next week”).  It was not an attempt to open dialog as I had expressed my intent to do.  They instead immediately went on the defense.

And so I chose to take action.  I own the domain havencontx (this one) and decided that I would no longer allow them to use it.  Which included email.  I shut everything down (suspended the accounts, nothing was deleted) and began the process of reclaiming the other accounts I created back before any of them came on board. THEY don’t have 4 years of emails (most of them haven’t even had an email for an entire year yet), I do.

It was not my intent to use these accounts, at all, but then I saw their “strategy” on how to deal with me.

That strategy is nothing more than a smear campaign.

“You left them with a ton of debt!”

They are claiming (no dollar amounts) excessive back taxes and other bills left unpaid.  Both are true!  We had bills and all of that fun stuff.  But again, I think perspective is important.  Taxes were being handled and extensions were being filed once the Treasurer was hired and we received our determination letter for the IRS so we could apply for exemption with the state of Texas.  Those taxes amount to (last I checked) roughly $1300.

The other owed amounts are:
Music License – this is something that needed to be discussed with AV as there were questions regarding even needing it.

Kindful – This was our new donor management system that I paid for a few months ago, which BTW, never got used as I was waiting on the current ED (Michael) to set up quick books with it so we could put it to good use.  I also thought this would be auto billed to my personal bank account (I offered to pay the first month to get us started).

I’m not sure of any others off the top of my head, but all told the total amount outstanding doesn’t (or barely) breaks $3,000.  Whereas they want to make it sound like it’s 10s of 1000s of dollars.  Even still, this was money I was actively working on raising before my departure.

They also fail to acknowledge that there wouldn’t be a year 5 if I hadn’t paid the remaining balance owed to the current hotel.  The “benefactor” that was doing donation matching was me.  I put in $800 of my own money to help pay that off.

“So what are you going to do now?”

Currently I am waiting on the (long) process of the trademark clearing and then I will issue cease and desist letters.  I had hoped they would respect my wishes (as they recently said they were going to do) but instead they have doubled down and created more accounts using the havencon name vs creating accounts with a new name.  I know it all takes time (BELIEVE ME I KNOW lol).  But for me actions have always been louder than words.

Anywho..that’s a big chunk to take in, and I know there is more, but it’s time for me to venture out to the real world again (boooo).

If you have questions, please post them in the comments, I will always respond openly and honestly.

Have a great weekend everyone!

-Shane

 

 

Founder Response

To our Haven Family:

It’s been a tough 67 days.

67 days that we wish we could have spent engaging with all of you, our dear Haven Family.

67 days we that we wish we could have spent wholly devoted to planning our 5th annual convention.

67 days we wish we could have spent crafting new Haven events for you in the real world.

Since HavenCon’s founder and former executive director, Shane Brown, voluntarily resigned his position 67 days ago, we have been working to uphold the mission we were founded to fulfill: building a haven for LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized geeks in both the virtual and real worlds.

 

*Yes, I left, but I did so under major mental duress.  I believe that my actual words to you all after the confrontation with Susie was “I do not have the mental fortitude to do this”.  I suppose you all have the transcripts, I do not, but I do recall that.

And it was the truth.  After Susie stated that basically everyone at HavenCon disliked me, that I had to change, that I had to do this that and the other or she would leave and that would look bad.  I had no fight left in me.  When I had fought to keep things going and dealt with more than enough just to get to where we were.  To sacrifice everything I had to create this show and keep it going for even 4 years…No, I wasn’t going to fight in that moment and no, I was not in my right mind.

After this all occurred I felt lost, abandoned, I had the wind punched from my guts and everyone stood around as I slowly collapsed.  There were platitudes (the “golly gee I’ll be sad if you go”), but that is all they felt to be.  Nobody reached out to me personally to talk to me, it was all left to the foundation chat room.  And after seeing conversations from the other side, I can see that was the intent for some time.  To goad me into a reaction that you all knew you could and take over knowing that I wouldn’t have a fight.

Also, maybe petty?  I founded HavenCon and those tenets were carried over into the foundation as I formed it.  This just seems like an example of erasure. Like, I didn’t start this whole thing before I even knew most/all of you.

 

Our committed team of volunteers – who do not have the luxury of working on HavenCon full-time due to career, family, and educational obligations – have devoted hundreds of hours to clean up past-due taxes and previously-ignored contractual commitments while simultaneously charting a new and sustainable path forward.*

 

*I would like to know what the previously ignored contractual commitments were besides maybe the music license (which is it’s own thing and needed discussion) and Kindful, that I’m actually surprised wasn’t auto-billed.  I have actually been waiting for that to hit since it was attached to my personal bank account. I would also like to know the exact $$ owed on the taxes. We all knew taxes were owed, and multiple times Michael Sawyer had stated he could and would help with financial items.  But those things never came to be, thus, the need to bring in (under my recommendation) outside help in the form of A. Soliciting Advise from Susie’s brother who is an accountant and B. Hiring Nicholas as the Board Treasurer as he had experience and worked for both the IRS and state of Texas.  He was also the first to bring to me the concern of the tax issue.  Sadly, I delayed in replacing Michael with Nicholas.  But, as I understand it, extensions and other exceptions were available to us to get us to a good standing.

Additionally, there was the matter of needing the proper documentation to file for tax exemption with the state of Texas.  One piece of information being the Determination Letter from the IRS, whom I called and sat on hold with for awhile and updated everything so we could get that letter sent.  It is now publicly available.

You all love to elude at the problems *I* created, but not the solutions I began to implement.  You seem to want to paint yourselves as the Heroes of HavenCon, but fail to acknowledge that you were all a part of those problems either through inaction or otherwise during the multiple years of your involvement.

 

Coincidentally, one of the things we have been working on is rebranding, out of respect to Shane’s request at the very end of June that we stop using the name HavenCon and deliver “all associated assets” to him. He gave us 72 hours to comply to his request that we do so.*

*I stated I would give you 72 hours to give me a response, the response could have been “ok we’re doing this but there is a lot to do” as I also stated in my original email https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DhsstEyV4AADopb.jpg:large

I stated that I was attempting to start a dialog regarding this and I acknowledged that there would be work involved. I was met with what felt like a brush off.  The response came across as “we’re going to talk to our lawyer first and see if we have to comply” rather than “we agree and will work with you to make this happen”.

 

Also, if you were intent on turning these things over and stop using the name and images (that is the core of the dispute here), why did you move forward with creating new accounts with the same name thus creating more tension and conflict to my IP infringement claim.  Your actions here are speaking much louder than the words.

There is also a lack of “paper trail” here.  I do not see any forwarded email to anyone other than those within the foundation, and none of those is a registered legal representative.  So as of your response, unless it was dictated verbally or printed and sent, there was no outside party involved on your side.

 

We asked for additional time to do our due diligence to determine what assets we could legally transfer to him. *See above

 

 His response was brief but severe. In a matter of hours, he had seized control of our Google Suite accounts (and has subsequently deleted all associated accounts, meaning we have lost 4+ years of emails, documents, and other vital records that we are legally required to maintain as a 501(c)3 organization).

*Yes I “seized control” of a domain that I own.  No I did not delete anything, I suspended the accounts while I awaited your response so I could provide you with Foundation specific items per appropriate data retention policies.  Which you would know if you had taken the opportunity to open a dialog.

The foundation is less than a year old and therefore documents, emails, etc prior to that time do not apply.

And while we’re on the topic of emails, why did the current executive director feel the need to lie to me about who was managing my email account before I regained control?

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DhszSyWU0AArrKX.jpg:large

 

If he’s willing/able to lie about something as trivial as this, it raises concerns.

 

With control of our email accounts, he was able to commandeer of some of our social media accounts, and many of you are currently witnessing the outcome of his actions.

*Accounts I created prior to the foundations inception.  I’m simply working to ensure that your narrative isn’t the only perspective people see after seeing some of the things you wanted to “expose”.

 

The core issue at hand is that the HavenCon name and assets aren’t ours to give. Legally, these assets don’t belong to individuals: when HavenCon was incorporated as an official nonprofit organization, all these assets became the property of the organization itself.

*The non-profit is the It’s Your Haven Foundation, the event is titled HavenCon.  There is no DBA, there is no legal entity of HavenCon, it exists solely as a name of an event that the foundation (eventually and recently) hosts.  However, as I have stated, I have filed the TM in my name and in the interim have documented prove that I am the creator of HavenCon, the name, images, other “assets”.  This is the core of this dispute.

 

We had hoped that our main challenges this summer would be setting up diversified funding streams and developing new programs and events. Instead, we are forced to spend our time defending HavenCon from its founder while also trying to repay thousands of dollars in back taxes and upholding contractual obligations to many businesses, some that we were aware of, and some that we weren’t till we started receiving past due notices.

*How’s that idea document of mine working out?  I’m glad to see you all incorporated many of those ideas into what you are currently working on.  Petty, sure, but again, you guys don’t get to play Hero when riding off the work of someone else.

 

We didn’t want to air all this publicly. We’ve been quiet lately because we wanted to be able to share good news and solid answers rather than confusions and frustrations. Since that’s no longer possible, we ask for your patience as we get back on solid ground. We are all fully committed to you, our Haven community, and we are committed to doing business in ways that will keep us thriving and supporting each other years to come. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen overnight – but we will do a better job of sharing what goes on to keep your Haven running.

*I can appreciate this sentiment, it really wasn’t the ideal situation for me either.  But after being made to feel like I no longer belonged, after being forced to contemplate my self-worth and after really listening to those who this show was created for, I chose to stand up and fight for what I created.  The lies, backstabbing, bitchy “Strategy” documents and 1000 other nasty little things that just..add..up… I decided that this name means more than all of that.  And this name, HavenCon was created out of wanting to give to the community when I had nothing else to give.

Many *NOT ALL* of you have shown that you don’t know what it means to give without expectation of something in return.  Whether it’s hanging out and going on vacation with your favorite game developers or trying to rid yourself of some self imposed guilt, or any other number of selfish reasons.  It’s not why I created this show.

 

I explained to you all at our last staff meeting before HC4 as to why I did not want to continue with HavenCon.  I told you that, while I appreciate individuals, I do not trust the collective whole to continue what was created.  And (again not all of you) those people are the ones now in charge.

 

I won’t feel guilty for the decision I made while under the influence of deep depression.  But I also won’t let that dictate what happens now.  And I certainly have learned that everything I see and here from certain members of the current leadership team I have to look at deeper as there is always hidden meaning with a self serving agenda in the background.

 

Thank you for your support, and have a warm and wonderful week.
The Staff and Board of Directors of HavenCon