CADA board under fire after firing director

Observers and people involved with the non-profit group Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse say they are concerned the current board of directors may be mismanaging the agency.

Board members recently fired long-time executive director, Valerie Stafford, but won’t give a public explanation. Stafford said she’s looking at possible legal action, but really is only concerned about the future of the organization she’s worked so hard to expand.

“I’m moving on, and am looking forward to doing lots of new things, but CADA is facing a rough transition,” she said. She added that the board offered to let her resign with severance pay if she would agree to remain silent about “matters regarding her employment,” which she did not agree to.

CADA Board Vice President Lynn Wilcox said it is board policy not to discuss personnel matters, even though CADA’s programs are largely funded by state and federal grants. (A state agency would be required to disclose such information.) Wilcox refered to the board of directors’ by-laws.

The actual confidentiality rules, however, seem to apply only to information about clients, not personnel. Wilcox said the board does not see it that way.

“It’s not that we’re hiding anything,” she said. “It’s just out of respect to people who have worked here.”

Board President Rosemary Morrison said, curtly, that she’s “not going to discuss that.”

Former CADA Board President Diane Robbins said she was “appalled” to hear about Stafford’s termination.

“Valerie Stafford is the heart and soul of the agency,” she said, adding that there were “power struggles on the board” before she left.

Another concern about the direction of the board is the claim that the board told CADA staff they can’t talk to the media or anyone else about Stafford leaving. Staff members who asked that their names not be used say morale is low and they are scared.

The five board members have been largely uninvolved in the agency up to this point, according to Stafford. She said the board members provided very minimal input or support, have not initiated fund-raisers and have allowed board membership to fall to an all-time low of five. Also, they have not been involved in the group’s finances in the way they should. They refused to allow CADA to pursue a grant to buy a larger shelter, she said.

At the same time, Stafford has received statewide and even national recognition for the programs she created at CADA, such as Island County Domestic Violence Task Force, the Domestic Abuse Response Team, elder abuse program, children’s interview rooms, child advocacy program, the recent documentary filming at Oak Harbor High School, and many others.

“Leaving at this time was not my choice and I believe that terminating me without notice or cause was an irresponsible decision by the board of directors,” Stafford said. “Unfortunately, the recent developments appear to have more to do with politics than providing high-quality services to the community.”

Wilcox explained that the board members told the staff not to discuss Stafford’s leaving, and to direct questions to board members, because the staff “does not know anything.”

Yet the fact that the board had direct contact with staff members, and that Wilcox was at CADA Thursday, may violate the agency’s own policy. Personnel Policy 8.1 states, “Employees are prohibited from contacting a member of the Board of Directors regarding agency issues or concerns. The Board wishes to maintain this boundary to promote the professional operation of the agency.”

In other words, the board is supposed to be a non-biased, policy-making group without input in the day-to-day operation of CADA.

As to other concerns about the board members, Wilcox would only say “we’re doing our jobs.” She would not comment on a host of harsher rumors circulating about the politics of the board.

CADA, which started in 1979, offers a variety of free, confidential services to children and adults, including shelter, counseling and therapy, support groups and legal advocacy. CADA also provides community education programs and technical assistance to other agencies and professionals.

Stafford, who was CADA’s director for nearly eight years, has earned the respect of volunteers and officials in criminal justice and state agencies.

Bev Emery, the managing director of the state Office of Crime Victims Advocacy, said Stafford’s leadership has brought nationwide attention to CADA. She said Stafford’s Domestic Abuse Response Team, for example, is “a really innovative program between law enforcement and domestic violence advocates.”

Emery pointed out that Stafford has been on the state Sexual Assault Services Advisory Committee for three years.

“She has always been very professional, very creative and very responsive,” Emery said. “She has always been quite successful in getting additional and creative funding.”

County Prosecutor Greg Banks echoed Emery’s sentiments.

“I was shocked and disappointed to hear she was leaving,” he said, adding that nobody from the CADA board inquired with his office about Stafford’s performance.

“We had a great working relationship with Val. She’s done a great job for law enforcement and prosecution,” he added.

A law enforcement official, who wished to remain anonymous, said it seemed ironic that a members of an agency dedicated to preventing abuse would, in turn, “abuse” Stafford in this way.

Stafford said she believes the real reason behind her dismissal stems from two employees who resigned last year and afterwards voiced complaints about the “stressful work environment.” The ex-employees are said to be friends of a board member, who allegedly discussed agency issues with them without authorization and in violation of the organization’s personnel policy.

The board investigated the complaints last year, but Stafford said they did not request information or documentation from her pertaining to the complaints, or ask for her “side of the story.” She said she was never informed of the scope, status or results of the investigation, nor did she have an opportunity to respond to information that was collected. In fact, she said the board never discussed the matter with her again after October 2001.

When the board fired Stafford at the March 1 meeting, they were was six months late in completing her performance evaluation. Up until then, Stafford said the board had only positive and supportive comments about her management of the agency.

“In the years I have worked at CADA I have never received anything other than superior performance evaluations,” she said, “and during that time have worked successfully and productively with more than 25 board members.”

For now, Wilcox said the board may get an interim director from “another agency” and will start advertising for a permanent director next week. Because of requirements that come with state grants, the director will need to have certain qualifications, including a minimum two years of counseling experience with domestic violence programs and at least 50 hours of domestic violence-issue training within the last three years.

Emery said Stafford will be hard to replace.

“It’s a difficult field,” she said. “It’s hard to replace people like that.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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