The only surprise at Saturday’s contentious annual public Kitsap Humane Society (KHS) Board of Directors meeting was how surprised the Board looked as they faced over two hours of fiery public comment.
Upwards of 250 people packed the Silverdale Community Center for their first chance to hear from and speak to the Board since the seismic departure of Executive Director Sean Compton in late January and a subsequently widening rift between the Board and staff, volunteers, donors, and the public.
The Board’s egregious omission of KHS volunteers from the list of stakeholders it thanked during its introductory remarks started the meeting off with angry outbursts from the crowd and did little to allay the perception among many that Board members continue to be tone deaf to their community.
Newly appointed Board President and long-time Board member Rosemary Shaw looked stricken throughout the event, apologizing repeatedly on behalf of the Board for its failure to adequately communicate with its stakeholders after Compton left and during the tumultuous two months since then, in which two more key KHS directors quit. “I apologize for the lack of communication,” said Shaw, adding, “We take your allegations about the Board very seriously. We know we need to rebuild your trust.”
KHS Public Relations & Development Director Abby Ouimet resigned from KHS last week, preceded by the resignation of Animal Welfare Director Stacey Price less than a week earlier. Both cited dissatisfaction with the Board’s unresponsiveness to a 14-page attorney’s letter they initiated with donor and volunteer Heidi Wakefield, in which they accused the Board of misconduct and requested the reinstatement of Compton.
The Board and its new Interim Executive Director, Eric Stevens, have arranged for an independent audit at KHS, due to begin this week. They also have pledged to bring on new Board members and improve communication and transparency with staff and other stakeholders.
These steps have not swayed the decision of major donor Nicole Boand, who has withdrawn plans of a $500,000 donation to KHS. In a letter read by a representative of Boand at the meeting, Boand said she had decided to donate the money after being impressed with Compton, but she has since changed her mind because of his departure and the Board’s lack of explanation for it. Boand said, “It has been nearly two months since Rosemary Shaw said she will get back to me regarding Sean Compton’s departure.”
An audience member responded with a shout to the Board: “Half a million dollars wasn’t important enough for you to pick up the phone and call her?” to which Shaw responded, “I owe her an apology, and I owe her a phone call.”
In Boand’s letter, she also questioned why certain Board members were exempted from term-limits that were enacted at KHS in 2009, allowing a maximum of two three-year terms. Shaw explained that the Board had wanted to allow for continuity, but she said that in hindsight Board members should not have been grandfathered in.
Numerous staff and donors spoke in praise of Compton, citing his genuine love of animals and his innovative programming. One described in tears how he was working to socialize a feral cat, who he kept in his office. When one person asked directly if it was a possibility for Compton to be reinstated, the Board answered an unequivocal no. When asked to explain why, they cited a legally binding confidentiality agreement that the Board and Compton are required to abide by as the reason for their lack of explanation.
Dan Hagen echoed the remarks of other audience members when he asked the Board to step down. “I just don’t think you get it,” he said. “We’re sitting here watching the Humane Society with expectant eyes for something to change.”
Others present at the meeting praised and defended the Board. A few thanked them for their unpaid public service and reminded the audience that their hands were tied by their confidentiality agreement with Compton.
New KHS interim manager Robin Simons praised KHS and its Board, explaining that she has worked for dozens of nonprofits for many years and that she thinks KHS is the best she has seen. She cited its open admission policy of taking any animals combined with its low (6%) euthanasia rate as being exemplary. “I started out thinking it was Sean who was responsible for the achievements here, but what I figured out was that the Board had that ethic before Sean came.”
KHS veterinarian Jennifer Stonequist, who received widespread applause when she stepped up to the podium, said, “I want to take a second to look at the present.” She listed the many successes and strengths of the organization, reminding listeners that KHS is still moving forward and asked supporters to stay with them. “We are still going to need you to make our vision a reality,” she said.
After the conclusion of public comment and minutes before the meeting was forced to end because of another scheduled event in the hall, Interim Executive Director Eric Stevens delivered final remarks. Although rallying his professionalism, it was evident that Stevens was rattled by what he had witnessed at the meeting.
“Now we have an ethical obligation to do an audit, whether the entire Board steps down or stays,” he said. “At every other organization I’ve worked with there was more and better communication between staff and Board—that needs to happen here.”
Stevens continued, “I know right now the future of this organization rests in this room. I think it can be constructive, but it also scares me, because things have already blown apart. I’m not sure the organization can take any more.”
Read our previous articles about the KHS shakeup:
Photos by Julie Hall.