Farm fires director

"In a move that took some by surprise, the Greenbank Farm Management Group fired the farm's executive director Thursday and appointed a new interim director.Management Group President Charlie Knutila confirmed Thursday afternoon that board members agreed to dismiss Freeland resident Shirley Hendricson from the director's post she has held since October of 1999. The decision followed Hendricson's annual review.Knutila said the decision was a difficult one, but the board believes the farm is at a critical stage where new leadership and new skills are needed.Shirley has done a great job of running the store and coordinating events, he said. But Knutila added that the board felt other parts of the director's job such as public relations, planning and budgeting were not being adequately done. We can't go into the new year without somebody with those skills.That somebody, the board hopes, is Greenbank resident Laura Blankenship, who was named interim executive director Thursday afternoon. Blankenship had also been considered for the post at the time Hendricson was hired. She has been working with non-profit organizations since the early 1980s and has been living on Whidbey for more than seven years.Fund-raising and grant writing is one particular area where the board feels Blankenship will be of great help, Knutila said.The change of leadership was not taken well by everyone, however. The farm's volunteer coordinator Ginny Snyder circulated an e-mail message Thursday calling the board's action misguided and myopic. Snyder defended Hendricson as someone who accomplished a lot while being paid very little and she questioned the board's leadership in terms of fund-raising and community involvement.Hendricson herself said she was startled by the board's decision to terminate her employment immediately.It doesn't allow for any passing of the torch, she said. At the same time, Hendricson said she had a feeling the board might be preparing to take some sort of action.I was pretty sure they were looking for a scapegoat for the situation they're in, she said.The Central Whidbey farm became public property in September of 1997 after being purchased by Island County, the Port of Coupeville and the national, non-profit Nature Conservancy. The farm's agricultural fields, buildings and gift shop is currently managed by the volunteer Greenbank Farm Management Group, under the supervision of the Port of Coupeville commissioners.The farm's overall management is currently being reviewed by the Port commissioners, who have put the Greenbank Farm Management Group on a month-to-month contract. Earlier this month the group asked the Port for money to make needed capital repairs and improvements. With little beyond gift shop sales and donations to pay for both operations and capital projects, the farm has struggled to pay it's own way.Knutila said he hopes the port commissioners see the board's action as a good sign.We hope it will send a signal that we're serious about turning our situation around, he said.Because of the tenuous position of the management group, Blankenship has been hired on only a 90-day contract. She said Friday that one of her main goals will be to get started on the farm's strategic plan, which the management group put together this year. The plan calls for increased recreation events and programs for the community and tourists, as well as more local business opportunities and agricultural tourism.For the past five years Blankenship has been with the Island County program of St. Joseph Hospital's Recovery Center. Prior to that she ran a used bookstore in Langley and was part of the group that started the Coupeville Examiner newspaper.Hendricson said it will be tough to leave the farm.I really enjoyed working there. It has been a fun place to work, she said. "

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