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Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

SOURCES chief on unpaid leave

Board calls for investigation of management issues

By William Kincaid
CELINA - The executive director of SOURCES, a non-profit anti-poverty organization serving Auglaize, Mercer and Van Wert counties, has been placed on unpaid administrative leave pending an investigation into management issues.
Debra Farrell, who has served as executive director for more than 20 years, was removed from her position Sept. 4. On Tuesday, eight of the 15 members of the SOURCES board of directors met behind closed doors for more than two hours; Farrell was not at the meeting.
Board treasurer Tammy Barger would not allow the newspaper into the meeting, saying directors were discussing matters "confidential at this time."
After the meeting, attorney Bryan Niemeyer, who was retained by SOURCES to assist with the investigation, released this statement:
"Certain issues regarding the management of SOURCES were brought to the attention of the board of directors such that the board felt it was in the best interest of the organization to place Debra Farrell on an indefinite administrative leave pending the outcome of an independent investigation. In the interim, SOURCES will continue to run its operations for the benefit of (the counties)."
Niemeyer would not comment on the nature of the investigation.
No official interim director has been named.
Niemeyer said a board member was given authority to serve as a liaison between the agency and the board and to sign documents. He declined to name the board member appointed to that role.
Farrell said she was never told by board members what allegations or issues they were investigating. She said she has been hurt by how the situation unfolded.
"I have worked there for 50 hours a week for 20 years and that is not just a job to me," she said. "I feel I have been treated very badly and very unfairly."
Farrell said her biggest concern is the operation of the agency and the people it serves.
She said she has more than 20 years of personal evaluations and other documents positively reflecting her years of service that are free of blemishes, incidents and grievances.
On the morning of Sept. 4, Farrell said three board members and Niemeyer told her she was being placed on unpaid administrative leave pending an investigation. She believes they may be looking into allegations made in what she calls a retaliation letter written and delivered to them by an upset former employee who resigned after being written up.
SOURCES provides residents with housing and utility services, home weatherization and rehabilitation, transportation and assistance with various emergency needs. According to an audit for the fiscal year ending March 31, SOURCES had $2.17 million in revenue - $1.75 million from grants - and $2.05 million in expenditures.
The board of directors determines personnel, organization, fiscal and program polices and authorizes all program proposals and budgets. One-third of the members are elected public officials or a representative of their office; one-third represent the poor; and the remaining members represent business, industry, labor, religion, welfare, education or other community groups.
Whether the SOURCES board of directors constitutes a public body that must, in accordance with Ohio Sunshine Laws, hold meetings open to the public remains uncertain.
If the board is a public body, the board must conduct open meetings and take a vote to go into an executive session to discuss personnel issues. No decisions could be made behind closed doors; the decision to place Farrell on leave should have been done in an open, public session.
At the very least, the decision to conduct the meeting in private goes against SOURCES' policy. Its website states that board meetings are open to the public.
Farrell claims the board had at least two closed meetings to discuss personnel issues.
Following Tuesday's meeting, Niemeyer told The Daily Standard that SOURCES was not a public body and did not have to follow state sunshine laws. Later, he issued this statement: "It appears ... that SOURCES, while not a public agency, may be subject to the sunshine laws as a community action agency, which is a limited exception that makes certain private nonprofit entities subject to the sunshine laws in certain circumstances. I am still researching this issue, but it appears that the sunshine laws may indeed apply to SOURCES."
The Daily Standard contacted an attorney representing the Ohio Newspaper Association about the issue and his judgment is pending.
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