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CHR Board terminates contract with Executive Director

By Staff | Dec 14, 2011

During the December 12 Board of Directors Meeting for Sanibel Island’s Community Housing Resources, the Board unanimously voted to not renew the contract with Executive Director Nancy-Fash McHenry whose management of the not-for-profit agency has served as a focal point of disputes involving tenants, volunteer committee members and former appointees to the Board who have resigned from their posts in recent weeks.

According to a statement provided by Board Chairman Richard Johnson, during the closed executive session that followed the board meeting, members further decided “to immediately secure an interim Executive Director to oversee day to day operations.” While work at CHR continues through the efforts of administrative staff, Johnson says a search committee has been formed “to seek out and consider qualified candidates” for the Executive Director position. He adds, “normal business operations will continue uninterrupted by this change.”

An independent organization funded by the City of Sanibel to provide below-market rate housing services, CHR’s legacy of service to residents, which includes local workforce, senior citizens and those with medical disabilities, has been challenged by financial issues attributed to larger economic realities as well as inner turmoil among Board Members who either supported, or strongly disagreed with actions undertaken by the now former Executive Director.

In a recent statement by Jill Dillon, Michael Cuscaden, Lynn Ridlehoover and Debbie Friedlund (Board and Committee Members who ended what had been a long volunteer relationship with the organization), it was claimed that the Executive Director had “repeatedly violated the rules” in terms of following policies, matters relating to the transfer of tenants and undermining “CHR’s image of integrity as well as to its fragile financial condition.”

In additional statements, Dillon (former secretary to the board) challenged McHenry’s ability to bolster development goals, saying Fash-McHenry had failed to serve in the way of fundraising which had been envisioned as a “a primary role” of the position.

In making the case, Dillon reported two occurences. The first involved a project with the local chapter of Zonta, an organization dedicated to advancing the status of women through service and advocacy. At the time, the organization reportedly agreed to conduct a fundraiser that would benefit CHR, but the initiative was dismissed by Fash-McHenry.

When Fash-McHenry was questioned as to whether this had actually occurred, she agreed that there had been a discussion with a representative from Zonta about a fundraiser. “The person made accusations about the staff of CHR,” said Fash-McHenry. “I had never worked with an organization who would say such things about a staff that I worked with, and it made my chin fall to the floor.” She said that because she felt so “uncomfortable” she elected not to participate with Zonta.

In a follow-up interview with Zonta, President Barbara Nagle said that since she hadn’t actually participated in the meeting, she could not comment as to what had transpired. She did indicate that CHR had previously benefited from Zonta support. Nagel said that from 2003 to 2011, CHR had been distributed funds of more than $18,000, as was customary in the scope of donations Zonta had made to a variety of organizations.

She said Zonta was preparing to make disbursements of some $54,000 to various grant applicants starting in January of 2012. Nagle added that CHR had not applied for any of these funds.

In a second case, the resigned Board Members challenged Fash-McHenry’s reasoning for ending what had been an agreement with Friends In Service Here (or F.I.S.H.). The local organization is dedicated to helping people in times of need, be it money to help cover rent, medical expenses or virtually any other type of emergency situation.

When questioned, Fash-McHenry said the involvement with F.I.S.H. amounted to “such a convoluted contract” and occasions where tenants would go seek financial help from F.I.S.H. who, in turn, sent bills to CHR for reimbursements which ultimately came out of the organization’s Tenant Assistance Fund. She said this creating further strain on what was already a difficult financial situation.

During a follow-up with F.I.S.H., President Bill Fellows took slight issue with the account, saying the arrangement with CHR “was not a contract, but an agreement” and one that had been in use for a number of years. It had been prompted by tenants who would seek assistance through CHR funds as well as help from F.I.S.H.

As F.I.S.H. support is offered through a 3 hour-long intake process of qualification, Fellows said the agreement was to help CHR by qualifying the tenants who applied for assistance on behalf of CHR, therein relieving that burden from CHR staff. And yes, Fellows said his organization “would have hoped to recover some of that expense through the Tenant Assistance Fund which had been established by CHR.”

Fellows said the reimbursements were never dollar for dollar, “maybe less than half” and “nothing that would have broken their bank.”

He said the help provided to CHR tenants amounted to less than 2% of the total amount of financial help F.I.S.H. has provided to so many people.

F.I.S.H. reportedly received a letter from CHR in October of this year indicating termination of the agreement which had been in place, and despite this, Fellows said his organization will continue to provide aid to tenants “just as we do for anyone who comes to us for help.”

In days prior to this last CHR Board Meeting, Chairman Richard Johnson was asked for his perspective on the cases involving Zonta and F.I.S.H.

“What the Executive Director told you is not true,” said Johnson. He emphasized that the relationship with these particular not-for-profits had been “valued and beneficial” in the past, “and will continue to be so in the future.”

He said it was important that all not-for-profits in Sanibel functioned “in a spirit of cooperation.”

He further indicated the remarks made by Fash-McHenry would be addressed by CHR’s personnel committee.

A housing applicant also took issue with remarks made by Fash-McHenry during the Monday night board meeting. A local healthcare worker and grandmother entrusted with the care of two children, the applicant challenged Fash-McHenry’s assertion of meeting and/or discussing issues with applicants. “I have never seen or met that woman until I came to this meeting tonight,” said the applicant.

Her issues are exacerbated in that she has been waiting in the system for more than a year. While initially informed that she and her grandchildren had been approved for a two-bedroom unit, the application was reportedly stymied after Fash McHenry transferred another tenant into a unit deemed unsuitable because it lacked an elevator and necessitated that the tenant walk up a flight of stairs to enter her residence. That tenant has now been approved to transfer into the unit which had been reportedly planned for by the grandmother.

During the Board Meeting, members ultimately approved a new policy that would provide some measure of priority to needs of existing tenants wishing to transfer over that of new applicants, seemingly rendering the situation with the waiting tenant as moot.

In other Board activity, Member Ray Pavelka reported success in terms of negotiations he had conducted on behalf of CHR involving particular loans with Sanibel Captiva Community Bank as well outstanding debt to other firms.

In the matter of the bank, the loan has been modified and includes measure of cross-collaterazation backed by CHR properties.

In another case involving debt to Roetzel & Andress, it was discovered that $5,000 had been paid to the firm, but reportedly not “booked” correctly, ultimately leading to a reduction of debt from some $73,000 to $68,000. Pavelka said the firm had agreed to a further 25% reduction, which will be written off as a donation, thus bringing the debt down to a little over $51,000.

CHR has until January 23 to make that payment.

Pavelka indicated that pending closings, relating to the sale of units, would ultimately cover this debt, as well as significantly contribute to the loan with the bank and make a marked difference in the overall financial picture for CHR. He was optimistic for CHR’s future.

And optimism was further expressed by former Board Members who had previously expressed concern with the executive management.

Lynn Ridelhoover believes “better functionality” will occur at CHR with new leadership, and she reserved particular praise for Dorothy Donaldson’s recent appointment to the Board, saying, “She is a very smart, very intuitive lady who has experience working in housing in New York, and I think she will be helpful.”

Expressing satisfaction with the CHR’s Board determination to seek new executive direction, Jill Dillon said, “I think this decision will ultimately improve the organization and help mend some of the relationships that have recently become frayed.”