Boys and Girls Club board defends dismissals
This week, leaders of the Martha's Vineyard Boys and Girls Club defended their actions, in the face of a furious outcry that arose over the club board's abrupt dismissal last week of two longtime Second Hand Store employees and the temporary closing of the popular Edgartown bargain spot.
In letters to the editor of The Times and emailed comments, fans of the store took vehement issue with the board's decision and with the manner in which it was implemented.
On the morning of July 14, Joe Forte, president of the directors, and board member Kelly Hess fired store manager Darlene Kelly and all present volunteers. They did so at the shop, while customers were present. The employees and customers were then escorted out of the store while a locksmith changed the locks behind them. Several hours later, assistant manager Penny Townes, who has worked at the store as a volunteer and employee for more than 25 years but was not at the store July 14, received a call at her home from Mr. Forte, telling her that the club's board had also dismissed her.
This week, in a letter to the editor (see page 18), Mr. Forte said that the termination of the staff was in response to a "total unwillingness of the store employees to operate the store as the board believes it should." He said the staff had shown "opposition and hostility" to the operational changes proposed by the board.
In response to board efforts to revamp the operation, Mr. Forte said the staff threatened to "create a public campaign" against the board. He said ultimately the board decided that the employees' attitudes were unacceptable.
In a telephone conversation July 22, Ms. Townes denied that the store employees were hostile to the board or had tried to organize a public campaign. "People said they wanted to do petitions, and we asked them not to," said Ms. Townes. "No one in the store, no volunteers or anyone else, had any knowledge of petitions. Joe Forte cited the petitions as one reason why we got fired. We knew nothing of it. I would never do that."
Peter Lambos, the club director, said this week that store employees had told him "face to face" of their intention to begin circulating a petition.
Ms. Townes and her supporters have charged that the board plans to make the store more of a "boutique."
This week, Mr. Lambos said that the store has always had a "high end boutique" section, but that there is no plan to make it bigger.
In the letter published in today's issue and in their comments to a Times reporter, board members have alluded to other improprieties committed by staff, although for the most part, club officials have been unwilling to expand on what they refer to as other "matters."
Asked Tuesday what had come to light in the days following the closing of the store, board vice- president Howard Miller provided little explanation. He said Mr. Forte's reference to other problems in this morning's published letter to the editor was vague, because the board did not want to include details.
"This is not a trial. People have different points of view, and unfortunately we can't tell the whole story," he said. "People should understand that this is an internal situation with employees. We have a lot of dedicated directors who thought out this problem seriously and have lived with the problems over the years. We just finally decided to do something about it."
The Second Hand Store is intended to be a revenue source to support Boys and Girls Club programs. According to financial records requested by The Times, overall store revenue has dropped over the past three years.
In 2005, the store had $157,772 in revenues and $89,551 in expenses, leaving a net surplus of $68,171.
In 2006, revenues were $131,557, and costs were $89,778, for a net of $41,779, down $26,392 from the previous year.
In 2007, operational costs jumped $14,600 to $104,378. At the same time, the store brought in $132,978 a slight gain from the previous year but because of the higher operational cost, the store only netted $28,600.
"Revenues have not been as high as in some years, but that wasn't the most important factor in our decision," said Mr. Miller. "We would like to make a profit, but the most important factor is that we want to have employees that are responsive to the entire community. We serve everyone, residents and non-residents. The club serves all types of people, and we try to treat everyone equally. They were not as responsive to everyone who uses the store."
Asked to comment on the revenue slide, Ms. Townes pointed to the economy. "I did see a drop, but I credit that with the economy," said Ms. Towns. "People have to try and sell their unwanted stuff at the flea market and EBay. People need to make money these days with everything so bad. I still think those numbers are a little off and truly believe they are not down that much."
Mr. Lambos said he thinks that the former employees may have lost sight of the store's role in financially supporting club programs for young people.
"We provide a service to the greater community by providing an inexpensive place for people to shop, but in reality the Second Hand Store is there to bring in money for the kids at the club," said Mr. Lambos. "And it's not just Island kids who come here. They may be 'wash-a-shores" but they are involved in the programs. Most of the people who wrote in don't have their kids down here. There is a large group of people not born here that use our program and use our store. That's what this is about, a desire from those down at the store not to recognize that fact."
Mr. Lambos said he hopes the store will shortly be open again for business. "We have resumes rolling in, we have the place reorganized and we've started painting," he said. "We hope to open in about a week, but August first at the latest. We have been able to open up lots more floor space now. It really is starting to look good in there now".