CADA board kicks off new members

While the agency’s employees continue helping victims of domestic and sexual abuse, controversy continues to swirl around the Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse volunteer board members.

The controversy started in March after the board fired executive director Valerie Stafford and refused to explain the decision to the community, citing board bylaws and the advice of their attorney.

Stafford said she may take legal action against the board. Her work with CADA has been defended by her peers and agencies she worked with, but some former employees have questioned her management style.

Then recently, two new board members were surprised and upset when they received letters saying they were being kicked off the board by the more veteran members. Moreover, they refute Board Vice President Lynn Wilcox’s version of what was said at an orientation meeting.

Also, the board’s actions may have put a $30,000 grant for a ground-breaking visitation program in jeopardy. But again, a superior court judge and Wilcox have different version of events.

Earlier this year, Oak Harbor resident Al Fragola, former police officer Jim Bailey and Freeland resident Nancy Ray were asked by the CADA board if they would like to join. When they agreed, they each received a letter from the board stating “it is our pleasure to inform you of your appointment as a new member.”

In late March, three new members attended a board orientation meeting hosted by Wilcox and Board Treasurer Jody Fry. The three new members questioned why Stafford had been fired and were critical of the board for the way they did it.

Fragola, a retired human resources professional, said Wilcox and Fry were very evasive and vague about answering the new members’ questions. “I took issue that we couldn’t get a straight answer out of them,” Fragola said.

Bailey said he was told at the meeting that he couldn’t be on the board and continue doing consulting work for CADA, so he decided to quit. Bailey has done an anti-harassment project at the high school and self-defense classes for CADA.

Yet Fragola, Ray and Bailey all say that Fragola made it very clear that he planned to continue as a board member. The conversation, as they all remember it, was that Fragola said he’s going to make it work and Ray said she’ll stay on if Fragola does.

“My recollection was they were both members of the board and they planned on staying,” Bailey said.

Wilcox, however, disagrees. She said both Fragola and Ray left the orientation meeting saying they weren’t sure if they wanted to be board members. She says the board expected to hear back from them about their decision on being board members. When they didn’t hear from them for three weeks, they decided to cut them off the board.

“It’s really a he-said, she-said thing,” Wilcox said.

Moreover, Wilcox says Fragola and Ray stated they weren’t sure they wanted to be on the board because of the media exposure surrounding Stafford’s termination. In fact, Wilcox says it was the News-Times’ “fault” that Fragola and Ray aren’t on the board.

Fragola says that’s far from the truth.

“Media exposure was the least of our concerns,” Fragola said. “I told them that they should have expected publicity when they fired Val.”

Fragola said he’s also concerned that the board apparently had a meeting — at which they decided to kick him and Ray out — and didn’t tell the new members about it.

Fragola said he sent a letter to the board on March 19 stating he was pleased to be a new member and asking to be told when the board meetings are. After the orientation meeting, he sent an e-mail to CADA board President Rosemary Morrison April 13 inquiring when the next meeting was. He didn’t get a response, so he sent another e-mail on April 15 to all the board members asking the same question.

On April 16, Fragola received the letter stating he was no longer a board member.

“I thought the letter distorted the truth. ... I’m concerned that things are being said that aren’t true,” Fragola said. “I think the truth is they didn’t like what they heard from us.”

Wilcox, however, said that it was not an appropriate time to bring in new members. The board can have as many as 12 member, but has been operating in recent months with only five. “It was unfair to bring them on when everything was so hostile,” she said, referring to press coverage and community reaction to Stafford’s firing. She said the three should reapply when things calm down.

In a separate matter, Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill said CADA has dropped the ball on a unique program aimed at making child visitation safer. Churchill and Stafford had worked together on a grant request and received a $30,000 STOP Grant for Court-Related Projects, which is funded by the Violence Against Women Act. The grant was the largest any agency received from the funding source.

The proposed program, Churchill said, may be the first of its kind in the state.

The grant would have funded a supervised visitation program for when one parent visits a child that the other parent has custody of. Churchill said such visitations can be very dangerous, especially when there is a history of domestic violence.

Churchill said the program should have been up and running by now, but it’s not “because of all the problems happening at CADA.”

Since Stafford was fired, Churchill said she can’t figure out who’s in charge at CADA and nobody at CADA returns her phone calls.

Wilcox, however, said she has called Churchill back, but the judge has been away at conventions. She said there is no plan for the program, which she blames on Stafford. She said the plan should have been ready long ago.

In addition, Wilcox said she’s found a better, more sustainable grant opportunity for a visitation program.

For now, Judge Churchill says she’s going to work with another organization to manage the Superior Court’s visitation program.

Wilcox stresses that the day-to-day activities at CADA continue unimpeded by the controversies surrounding the board of directors.

“The employees are knocking themselves out to see that everything is functioning,” she said. “The bottom line is that no services have ceased.”

Wilcox hopes things at CADA will settle down when an interim director is hired. She said Tuesday that the board has its eye on “a very fine gentleman,” whom she declined to name. She said the candidate must meet certain state requirements. If he is acceptable to the state, she expects him to be on board “soon, very soon.”

(News-Times editor Jim Larsen contributed to this story.)

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