The entire board of directors and dozens of local chapter leaders with the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) have resigned en masse after founder and President Jeff Berger rejected demands to step aside amid an ongoing controversy regarding governance, censorship and incendiary comments.
The resignations began Wednesday with NAGLREP’s chapter leaders, Mainframe Real Estate founder and CEO Sean Frank told Inman. Frank — who was a chapter leader in Orlando, but was speaking on his own behalf — said the resignations came after the “last glimmer of hope has been extinguished” for reforming NAGLREP. The chapter leaders are also encouraging their entire membership bases to similarly walk away from the organization.
“It looks like everybody gave up hope today,” Frank said.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many local leaders were part of the mass resignation, but Frank estimated it could be as many as 40 or more.
By Wednesday afternoon, the entire public-facing board of directors had joined the chapter leaders. In a Facebook post, board member Eric Axelson explained that “we are saddened to say that we can no longer in good conscience retain our positions in light of the ongoing actions or our NAGLREP Founder.”
“We have notified Jeff Berger that we are resigning our positions effective immediately,” Axelson, who was speaking on behalf of himself and two other board members, continued. “This action is in support of more than 75 percent of chapter presidents who have indicated they are resigning their positions.”
Axelson added that the board could not “condone the language that was used and the divisive actions that have occurred.”
Frank similarly expressed deep disappointment with the decision to resign, saying that NAGLREP’s mission of advocating for LGBT rights and equality is important. But he added that local leaders felt they had little other choice.
Berger, however, told Inman in a Wednesday evening phone interview that his organization remains strong and that he had already talked to some potential replacements for the departing chapter leaders. He also said that he was not worried about NAGLREP’s survival because “we’re just doing great things and we’re going to continue to do great things, we just hit a speed bump.”
“This is one cloudy day,” he said. “It may rain for a couple of days, but the sun is going to shine again for NAGLREP.”
The resignations are a response to a controversy that began last month when some NAGLREP members had concerns about Berger’s Facebook comments suggesting the public was being “duped” about the coronavirus, among other things. Those members eventually began digging into NAGLREP’s governance and discovered Berger’s wife and mother were officially listed as board members — while the board on the organization’s website did not appear on government non-profit filings.
Robert Peterson, one of the then-NAGLREP members who looked into the issue, told Inman “the documents raise some very significant questions that need to be answered,” adding that “in my view it’s a misrepresentation that Jeff has never addressed.”
The controversy escalated when Berger deleted questions about the issues from Facebook, and kicked questioning members — including Peterson and others — out of NAGLREP’s Facebook page and website. He later severed ties with brokerage Engel & Völkers — the brokerage where Peterson works — and made several incendiary comments to Inman, all of which appears to have inflamed the situation.
Speaking to Inman Wednesday, Berger said that the controversy boils down to him being bullied, but he also apologized “to anyone who I might have let down by not speaking professionally.”
“My choice of words was very unlike me,” he added. “And I apologize.”
The apology followed a similar mea culpa Berger made during a video conference call Tuesday — the audio of which Inman has obtained — with dozens of local chapter leaders. Berger said during the call that he was willing to relinquish some control over NAGLREP, and specifically outlined a plan for the organization to hire an “operations director” who would also serve as a spokesperson.
“I don’t want to be the spokesperson for NAGLREP anymore,” Berger said during the call. “It’s stressful. I’m not handling the burden well.”
Berger reiterated on the call that he believes he has been bullied, and said he has lately been stressed and depressed.
However, a number of local chapter leaders on the phone call appeared to push for more fundamental changes. And when one participant pointedly asked if Berger would give up the role of president, he responded that he would not.
“No I am not willing to give up the president’s seat,” he said. “This is something that I built from the ground up.”
Berger’s comments on the call were not enough to assuage the concerns of NAGLREP chapter leaders.
In a letter that they sent to Berger — and which Inman has also obtained — more than 30 leaders said that “a public relations disaster has occurred that is beyond measure and it has compromised the future of the organization.” The letter additionally states that NAGLREP members are “in disbelief” and that Berger’s “language, tone, and hasty actions have dismayed the membership.”
“Without your immediate departure from your role, we will lose the support of the members, sponsors, and major industry allies that you have built over the years,” the letter continues. “We are very saddened by the recent developments. We believe so much in what you have created, but we no longer believe you are the proper leader at this time.”
Berger responded Wednesday morning in an email to the chapter leaders, saying “my answer is no.”
“I am not resigning as president from NAGLREP, an organization I founded and shared many successes and achievements with you all,” Berger added in the email. “If you prefer to resign as chapter president, then NAGLREP reserves the right to install a new president for it’s [sic] local chapter.”
The resignations began in the hours after Berger sent his response.
Berger told Inman he was “disappointed” when he got the letter demanding that he step down. But he also argued that NAGLREP is consumer-facing and a resource for homeowners looking for LGBT real estate agents, meaning that “by no means will the effectiveness be diminished” by member departures.
A number of former NAGLREP members disagreed, telling Inman Tuesday and Wednesday that discontent and resignations represented an existential threat to the organization. Frank, for example, characterized the situation as NAGLREP having “imploded” and said it “is done and there is no substitute to replace it.”
Octavius Smiley-Humphries, a team leader and NAGLREP chapter vice president in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, was also among those who resigned Wednesday. Like everyone who has spoken to Inman regarding the controversy, he expressed disappointment and said the resignations are being made “with heavy hearts.”
Smiley-Humphries also said that while he initially tried to stay out of the fray, he eventually felt the need to speak up because “what has unfolded in NAGLREP in the last 10 days is in direct conflict with who I am as a person and how I built my business.”
“From what I know, the people who genuinely, truly care about this organization have made an exhaustive attempt to salvage it and to reach out and connect with Jeff in a way that would be beneficial for all of us to remain members and chapter leaders,” Smiley-Humphries added. “Those efforts fell on deaf ears.”
Read the chapter leaders’ full letter to Berger here:
Update: This post was updated after publication with additional information and comments regarding the controversy.