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Safety Zone Isn't What It Says It Is

Dear Source:
I am writing this letter to the Source in my official capacity as member of the Board of Directors of the St. John Safety Zone, a fact that is not apparent in the article, Not for Profit (July 15, 2007). Under advice of legal counsel, I have refrained from any public comment on what has transpired, leaving the resolution of this tragic situation to judicial, regulatory, and Federal and local tax authorities. However, the article contains several important misstatements of facts that your readership should be aware of.
1. The first is that the statement that the "Board of Directors" is comprised of the five people listed. The Byelaws of the Safety Zone specify that the Board will consist of a minimum of six directors. This means that there is no real Board.
2. Board meetings legally require a quorum, together with pre-announcements, agendas and minutes. These legalities have not been met on any regular basis, meaning that decisions made by the "Board" have no legal validity.
3. "The Board of Directors replaced founder Iris Kern." The Board did not do so. There was no legal meeting of the Board and, though I am a Director in good standing, I was never informed about the decision even though an e-mail was sent to staff announcing the removal of Dr. Kern which included my name as a Director in approval of the act.
4. I remain a legally appointed Board member, though I have been excluded entirely from its decisions and communications. A Board member may be removed only for "cause." That I am a "supporter" of Dr. Kern is, factually, not grounds for removal, which in any case requires a formal and documented Board meeting.
These facts have very substantial implications, both legal and moral. The rules for Boards place a heavy emphasis on separating operational management from "governance", on ensuring that no Director can use his or her position for personal self-interest, for carrying out formal audits and reviews, and for other aspects of "due process." The facts are disturbing; the "Board" is not legally constituted, has not met its legal obligations, and is violation of many of these rules.
The second set of facts that I wish to draw your readers' attention to concerns services. Briefly, here are some of those facts. Should they be at all in error, Ms Williams can provide the needed data and indeed should do so as part of the "accountability" that was the justification for the firing of Dr. Kern by herself and the "Board."
1. A condition of the agency's major project funding is to provide "24/7" telephone response to handle crisis situations. There are regular reports that the Safety Zone phones are not staffed after normal working hours and that in many instances, there is no contact information for the police to access the Safety Zone.
2. All the grants that now fund the agency operations were obtained by Dr. Kern prior to her dismissal and there has been no new funding obtained since then.
3. Abuse victims are often told to phone 911 and get help from St. Thomas, not the Safety Zone.
4. There has been a clear drop in the number of clients served. According to Ms Williams' estimate the total is "about" 150 a year. It was over 200 for many previous years. There also a number of horror stories circulating about breakdowns in service and failures to respond to clients in need. Those stories may or may not be factual, of course, but what is a fact is that they are in circulation and that it is the responsibility of the Safety Zone to account for its service delivery actions and inactions.
Most of all these facts speak for themselves. They are not exactly encouraging and suggest that far from the agency being in the midst of "growing pains" they are really contraction pains. It should be a real Board of Directors that takes a lead in ensuring governance, management accountability, and adherence to grant conditions and the rules of not for profit organizations, of course.
Peter G.W. Keen
Fairfax Station, Va.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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