Renew Board Members Face Calls for Resignation, Reform

Sep 19, 2018

Members of Renew’s board of directors had several heated exchanges during a tense open board meeting Tuesday. 

Five of the six board members received two letters Sunday asking for their resignation and outlining accusations of lack of transparency and not holding suspended Executive Director Cheryl Beene accountable. Beene is under investigation by the district attorney for the handling of finances while at Renew, which provides assistance to victims of assault and domestic violence through a 24/7 hotline, a safe house, counseling and more.

 

The first letter, signed by newest board member Dena Guttridge, described failures to meet responsibilities and can be read here. The other, signed by former and current employees and members of the public, listed grievances and can be read here.

 

Terrie Williams, Sharon Souza (not present Tuesday), Martha Robinson, Orly Lucero and Roy Lane all received copies of the letter. Accusations include lack of fundraising effort, conflicts of interest, and inappropriate remarks by Lucero and board President Williams.

 

The letters received few direct references during Tuesday’s meeting. In an unusual move for open meetings, an opportunity for public comment was not presented. Instead the 20 attendees spoke up whenever their comment was relevant to a point of discussion — channeling the letters’ contents many times.

 

As the board replied to comments and continued with the agenda, attendees remained stern in appearance.

 

Jay Wood, executive director of Southwest CareNet, volunteered to study and present financial feasibility to the board. He warned the room of the risk of funders withdrawing from Renew.

 

“As an organization, how do you also address concerns that are embedded in the community?” Wood asked.

 

Rose Jergens, executive director of the Four Corners Child Advocacy Center, added to Wood’s outlook.

 

“A bookkeeper, auditor and treasurer should be required” as three new, separate positions, Jergens said. “I’m really concerned of funders deciding to pull.”

 

Williams and Robinson agreed they were open to growing the board. Guttridge added that six applicants are under review and bylaws permit up to 15 board members.

 

At least two former safe house managers were present and spoke about the necessity of Renew remaining in the community.

 

“It has to stay,” former safe house manager ArDella Martinez urged through tears. “You guys let it go.”

 

“We didn’t let it go,” Williams defended, pushing to move the conversation forward.

 

Soon after, Williams opened discussion on a civil complaint by a recently fired employee. Williams then identified the former employee as Annie Seder, who trained staff at the organization. Guttridge, interjecting quickly, asked if Seder had given permission to be identified publicly during the open meeting. Seder was in attendance and clarified her name should not have been announced, prompting an apology from Williams as Guttridge stared at her in disbelief.

 

As Renew’s only trainer, Seder was responsible for having staff meet a required number of training hours as set by the state. Under a Colorado statute, trained employees at organizations like Renew are privileged to protect sensitive client information from subpoenas. Until another trainer is hired, new employees cannot meet this requirement.

 

Seder’s complaint consists of a discrimination claim she hopes will be resolved in mediation with a third party. No further details were provided to the public.

 

Williams then asked for a motion to vote on a request from employee Stevie Broome to have a mental health day — an action Guttridge and a few attendees said was not necessary. The organization’s policy treats mental health days as paid time off and does not require board approval.

 

Lane said it was overdue to adjust the policy to convert mental health days and add to the total PTO allotted to provide discretion for employees. Attendees agreed.

 

Unprompted, Lucero, who also serves as mayor pro tem for Cortez, addressed his inappropriate remark mentioned in one of the letters. He apologized at the meeting for, according to the letter, asking if an employee’s sleeping half-Navajo child was sent “to the park with the rest of ‘em?” Lucero’s remark referred to a stereotype of alcoholism and homelessness in Navajos. The letter said the child was sleeping due to high blood sugar levels.

 

Term limits, another contentious point in the letters, were brought up at the meeting. Multiple attendees rallied around the need for “new blood” enforced through proposed term limits. Lane was the first to respond.

 

“I’ve been on the board 10 years,” Lane said, who is also a member of several other boards. “And that’s probably nine years too long.”

 

Lane said fundraising for multiple organizations also “bit me in the butt a few times” since repeated visits to funders under different titles proved difficult. Additionally, as Cortez police chief, his conflict of interest prevents him from engaging certain duties expected of board members that require confidentiality with clients.

 

As the meeting’s length approached 90 minutes Williams called for adjournment. While attendees murmured, Guttridge protested, “We’re not finished yet.”

 

Mid-motion, Lane said he had a 1:30 p.m. meeting and left his chair before the adjournment vote was finished.

 

Williams stood up as she was engaging an attendee challenging the meeting’s sudden adjournment. She replied that it was time to go “sign your paychecks,” eyeing several current Renew employees in the room.

 

As attendees filed out Robinson — seated next to Guttridge and Wood — turned to the two holdouts and smiled, “What can I say?”

 

The board’s next meeting has not been announced.