Top two executives resign from Women’s Shelter Program of SLO County

The executive and deputy directors of the Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County both abruptly resigned their long-held positions Monday amid a third-party investigation into undisclosed concerns raised by employees about work conditions, a shelter spokeswoman said Thursday.

Citing personnel confidentiality, the nonprofit organization declined to release details about the resignations of Executive Director Marianne Kennedy and Deputy Director Jason Reed. Reed, however, blamed the shelter’s board of directors for creating a “climate of chaos and distrust” that led to the resignations. He would not elaborate.

The shelter has hired Spokes, a San Luis Obispo-based nonprofit that provides training, consulting and resources to nonprofits, to help transition to new executive and deputy directors. A shelter spokeswoman said an interim executive director is expected to be appointed next week.

The shelter’s services will not be affected by the shake-up, said Robin Mitchell Hee, spokeswoman for the shelter and one of 12 board members.

“Everything is OK,” Mitchell Hee said. “We as a board are not concerned about the future of our program or the continuing of services for our clients.”

The Women’s Shelter Program, with an annual operating budget of about $2 million, was founded in 1977 and provides services such as 24-hour crisis hotline, legal support, counseling, relocation and transitional housing, as well as an emergency shelter. It employs about 30 people.

Mitchell Hee said Kennedy had been with the organization for more than 30 years, most of that as executive director. Reed had been with the shelter for 11 years, though Mitchell Hee did not know how long he had been second-in-command.

Mitchell Hee said the situation began when several employees approached the board of directors in mid-May with “issues and concerns” about Kennedy, Reed and “work conditions.”

“After the board heard what they had to say, they thought it would be prudent to hire an independent human relations fact-finder professional to (investigate),” Mitchell Hee said. “Before the investigation was complete, (Kennedy and Reed) both submitted their resignations to the board.”

Mitchell Hee said the investigation was expected to take about two weeks and was halfway finished when the pair resigned. The investigator was scheduled to interview shelter employees this week, she said, adding that Kennedy and Reed expressed disagreement with the board’s decision to hire a third-party fact-finder.

“We are sorry this upset them, but we did what every prudent board would do, and having a neutral, impartial fact-finder is following professional protocols,” Mitchell Hee said.

That investigation is now effectively complete, and the board is looking to fill the two vacancies. Mitchell Hee said the issue did not involve legal wrongdoing and that no law enforcement agencies had been contacted.

San Luis Obispo County Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said Thursday he was not aware of any criminal investigation and did not believe his office has been contacted regarding Kennedy or Reed.

Shelter board meetings are held monthly and are not open to the public. Mitchell Hee said the salaries for the two positions are confidential.

Kennedy could not be reached for comment, but Reed on Thursday defended his former boss in an emailed statement to The Tribune. Reed praised Kennedy’s 30 years of service with the shelter while calling the circumstances surrounding her resignation “deplorable.”

“(Kennedy) was directly responsible for growing the nonprofit organization from a humble, shelter-based program to a multimillion-dollar agency offering innovative and responsive services to local domestic violence victims,” Reed wrote. “In my almost 11 years at the agency, I personally had the honor and pleasure of working alongside her. I have never witnessed, nor experienced, a more competent, compassionate and strategic executive director in all my years in the local nonprofit sector.”

He continued: “Some unfortunate actions of the agency’s board of directors created a climate of chaos and distrust within the organization, which made it impossible for the agency to continue operating in a functional manner. To witness these developments has been unsettling to say the least.”

After emailing the statement, Reed did not respond to further requests for information. Mitchell Hee, however, disputed Reed’s contention.

“We strongly disagree with (Reed’s) opinion that anything has occurred that would adversely affect the Shelter’s ability to function fully and professionally,” she wrote The Tribune in an email Friday. “ … We are also sorry that (Reed) has decided to make an internal matter public and that he chose to malign the efforts of the board to best understand the concerns raised by our valued staff members.”