With the resignation this week on March 20, 2012, of Kitsap Humane Society (KHS) Public Relations & Development Director Abby Ouimet, the organization has lost three of four directors in less than two months.
Ouimet’s resignation came on the heels of that of Animal Welfare Director Stacey Price, who resigned from KHS less than a week earlier, on March 14. Both women were highly regarded by the community and their peers for the innovations and commitment they brought to the organization, and both left citing irreconcilable differences with the Board of Directors, which they outlined in a 14-page letter issued by their attorney on February 27, 2012. They along with KHS donor and volunteer Heidi Wakefield, who also initiated the letter, called for numerous changes at KHS, including the reinstatement of former Executive Director Sean Compton, the resignations of Board Members Karyn Kline and Hazel Bellinger, and investigation of alleged misconduct by the Board.
In the wake of Compton’s departure, which Ouimet calls a firing, other staff members have left KHS too, adding up to an exodus of approximately 10 percent of the organization’s employees, as well as an unknown number of volunteers and donors. Since Compton left KHS in late January, the organization’s Board has been nothing short of besieged with questions and accusations.
I spoke at length yesterday with Interim Executive Director Eric Stevens, who responded to my email with a prompt phone call and a profuse willingness to talk. He joined KHS on February 15, leaving his position at The Bloedel Reserve as their Fundraising Development Director. Stevens has an extensive background working for respected nonprofits as both an Executive Director and an Interim Executive Director.
To help with management and reorganizing at KHS, Stevens has hired on an interim basis Robin Simons, who he told me also has long-time experience working with nonprofits both locally and nationally. Both Stevens and Simons reside on Bainbridge Island, where Sean Compton also lives.
Stevens acknowledged that “the Board’s silence has likely fueled more questions, and that has been unfortunate.” He explained to me that he sees three main “buckets” of issues facing the KHS Board:
- The need to expand and diversify itself;
- The need to change its relationship with staff, adding more visibility between the two; and
- The need to investigate allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement among some of its members.
To address these issues, Stevens believes the Board “has to step aside and have outside input.” To that end, he helped select a company to perform an internal audit of KHS and, as he put it, “separate fact from fiction.” Stevens and the Board interviewed 4-5 firms to perform the audit. They turned down a local firm they were about to hire after discovering a conflict of interest in which a board member and employee of the firm knew each other personally. Ultimately, they ended up hiring a company in Bellevue, Berntson Porter & Company, to conduct the audit, which is scheduled to start next week and take approximately 60 days.
Stevens explained that the purpose of the audit is to determine whether there was wrongdoing by the Board, either illegal or unethical, and to provide recommendations for improvement at the Board and management level, which the organization is obligated to put into practice. He said, “As soon as the audit is completed, KHS will share the results with the media and public.”
In the meantime, Stevens said he is working hard to “help the Board and organization navigate.” He pointed out that there is value in an organization being challenged, and he asks the community to “be patient and reserve judgment” until the results of the audit are complete.
“Day to day, the shelter is still operating—intakes, adoptions, and surgeries. . . . I am most concerned about the animals and staff,” said Stevens. When I asked him about the current morale at KHS, he said morale is low but added, “We have a passionate, dedicated, talented staff. While morale has been hit by all the turmoil and change, we are also asking staff who are here to be ‘part of the solution’ and bring everything they can to make Kitsap Humane Society a stronger place going forward. I have confidence that with the support of our staff, volunteers, donors, board, and community, we will move forward, and continue to be (as we have been) one of the outstanding animal shelters in the U.S.”
Stevens went on to say that he believes the Board is taking constructive steps right now to improve things at KHS. Board Secretary Rosemary Shaw is poised to replace Karyn Kline as Board President, effective March 24, 2012. The current 8-member Board is looking to expand to 15 members and says it is actively recruiting new members. But Stevens cautioned that it would be premature and injudicious to remove Board members before the audit is complete.
For Abby Ouimet and Stacey Price, change at KHS did not come fast enough. In an email to Stevens announcing her resignation, Ouimet said she felt she had been “targeted” since sending the attorney letter. She continued, “I like to conduct myself with integrity, honesty and sincerity when asking people to invest in our mission. Sean and Stacey made that easy. Ever since Sean was let go, it’s been a battle field. I have had several phone calls and meetings with many of our supporters and they all have expressed the same concerns and outrage that I have passed onto you, yet the Board has done NOTHING to talk to these people or treat them with regard. I find that unacceptable.”
About Ouimet, Stevens told me, “I could see that Abby was conflicted; it was affecting her work,” adding that he respected her decision to move on. That sentiment was made clear in tense email exchanges between Stevens and Ouimet before her resignation.
For her part, Ouimet told Stevens in her resignation letter that she felt she could not “work effectively with [him].” She concluded by saying, “I wish KHS success and hope the mission does not change. With the exception of the last two months, this was my dream job and I am grateful to Sean for the opportunity.”
This Saturday, March 24, 2012, KHS is holding its annual public Board meeting starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Silverdale Community Center at 9729 Silverdale Way NW. The meeting place and time were changed to accommodate more public participation. It will begin with a public forum, before which individuals may sign up upon arrival to speak or ask questions. To submit comments or questions in advance, members of the public should contact Eric Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact KHS at www.kitsap-humane.org.
Photos courtesy of Eric Stevens and the Kitsap Humane Society.