Internal turmoil not over at Scappoose senior center
The Scappoose senior center has placed its executive director on unpaid leave, citing the pandemic and the center's finances.
The Scappoose Community and Senior Center's board of directors has also had significant turnover this summer, following the release of an Oregon Department of Justice audit.
The audit found significant issues with the center's finances and record-keeping under the leadership of the board and executive director Julie Stephens.
Two board members resigned at the center's Aug. 10 board meeting, a month after two new board members were seated.
At the center's annual meeting on July 13, James Jeffery, the only person to appear on the ballot, was re-elected to a new term. Two write-in candidates were also seated: Kay Stuck-Werings, who was appointed board president, and Clara Bell, appointed vice president.
Stuck-Werings said the board unanimously decided to place Stephens on unpaid leave while trying to get the center's finances in order. The DOJ audit found that Stephens was owed thousands in back-pay.
Stuck-Werings said she did not recall who made the motion to place Stephens on leave.
At the same meeting, treasurer Jackie Irvin and Michelle Mollenhour resigned from the board. Three new members were appointed to fill terms: Joanne Rauch, Pam Chase and Paul Layer.
The board voted to enlist legal counsel, pending next steps in the DOJ audit process, according to meeting notes provided by Stuck-Werings.
Stuck-Werings said last week that the DOJ "has not given us specific answers or rules or whatever."
She added, "There is nothing specific. Mainly, it's just 'get your board straightened out.'"
A DOJ spokesperson said that the department wants "to ensure the new board has an opportunity to consider and adopt any appropriate changes."
"We anticipate the transition may take some time," the spokesperson, Kristina Edmunson, said. "We will work cooperatively with the new leadership to address any concerns and we will continue to monitor the situation."
After issuing its audit report of Scappoose Community and Senior Citizens Inc. in early June, the DOJ gave the board until the end of July to respond.
The DOJ received two separate responses: one from the old board and one from the new board, via Stuck-Werings, who told the DOJ that the board members who started before July 2021 had not provided a copy of their drafted response as of July 27, three days before the DOJ's deadline.
In the meeting when Stuck-Werings and Bell joined the board, then-board president James Jeffery said that the board had started to compile information to respond to the board and that he would "get Kay and Clara up to speed."
The response to the DOJ from the old board placed much of the blame on Scappoose Business and Tax, which prepared taxes for the center for a few years; past board secretaries; and various adversarial members.
"Our executive director was too dedicated to paying operating expenses that, without realizing it, she put herself in jeopardy," the old board's report stated, referring to Stephens. "We should have taken action sooner but with all the hatred, confusion and roadblocks along the way caused us not to think more clearly."
The job description for Stephens' role doesn't include any accounting qualifications or responsibilities. The only financial responsibilities are to "provide input" in the board's annual budget process and "execute the budget" adopted by the board.
The old board's report also addressed Stephens and Jeffery's relationship and eventual marriage in 2020. A previous director brought up "the topic of conflict of interest" in fall 2019 but "after a short discussion among board members, it was decided that it wasn't an issue," the report stated.
The issue wasn't brought up again after Stephens and Jeffery were married the following summer, according to the report.
The response also included a letter signed as "Concerned Members," which lists claims against Stuck-Wering, alleging she has a long-standing vendetta against the director. The letter is not signed by any individuals and the DOJ spokesperson said the department had not been told who wrote the letter — although the letter repeats sentences from the board's response almost verbatim.
The "Concerned Members" letter also states that "most of the current board members believe it is a conflict of interest for Kay to be involved in any regard to the past and to this response."
Stuck-Wering declined to comment on the contents of the old board's report, including the letter.
"In summary, we believe direction from the beginning, including not requiring our director to be an accountant (she clearly stated over the years she was not qualified or trained); older, more invested and dedicated volunteers who passed or left; the long pandemic that caused grief and loss of revenue; and individuals who got their feelings hurt because they were not allowed to take over and have held resentment for years now and tried to disrupt the center are the real reasons for our disorganized condition and lack of finances and training opportunities," the "Concerned Members" letter stated.
The old board's response to the DOJ includes a list of 10 recommendations from the 2020-21 board members, which include temporarily laying off the executive director; reviewing job descriptions and guidelines; locating missing minutes and reports of board activity; and hiring an accounting firm.
The new board's response, which Stuck-Werings said was approved by the full board in late July, outlines plans for improving transparency in how the board is run, which could involve attaching a copy of the minutes and financial overviews with the monthly newsletter, and advancing the board's understanding and compliance with legal board procedures.
"??Please realize that my presentation of future plans for the center and the board of directors is an ambitious one and will take time to implement to the fullest as it depends greatly on the membership and their willingness to work with the new board and me personally," Stuck-Werings wrote. "There has been and probably still is a lot of angst in the membership, not only towards me but the previous board."
The board is also considering reducing the number of board positions from nine, because the center has struggled to maintain enough board members for a quorum. At the July 13 meeting, no one raised their hand when asked if they would like to serve on the board. One write-in candidate who received votes declined to take the position.
While many board members have had to resign over the years because of health issues, Sharon Evinger said she knew of five board members who had resigned for other reasons.
"As long as people are resigning from the board because they don't feel like they can get a job done, there isn't anybody ready to jump up and say, 'Oh, let me,'" Evinger said. "If you want a better board, you're going to have to be a better board."
One meeting attendee, Janet Williams, said her impression was that no one would be interested in joining a board "when there's a big investigation that's been going on." But Williams urged people to step up and volunteer to be on the board.
"This is kind of pathetic," Williams said. "We have this wonderful community, full of seniors, a huge senior community, and look where we're at. It's ridiculous."
She remarked, "We need to bring this back to what it was 20 years ago, when people were here, and they were dancing and they were laughing and they were eating and they were sharing stories."
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