Tensions were high at the Aug. 13 meeting of the German Village Society board of trustees in the wake of resignations by three employees – the equivalent of 75% of the organization’s workforce.
During the meeting held in the German Village Meeting Haus, the board and society executive director Delilah Lopez jousted with audience members about the hiring process and redefinition of duties for the three positions.
Most of the discussion centered on the recalibration of the historic-preservation advocate post, formerly held by Nancy Kotting, who, along with Chelsey Craig, the manager of business relations and events, resigned Aug. 1.
A third employee, Jena Wilson, the development and marketing coordinator, resigned in late June, leaving only Lopez and an assistant to handle staff duties.
The new job titles being considered are manager of engagement and events, director of mission and partnerships and development coordinator.
The manager of engagement and events will develop and lead strategies to increase engagement with the society, lead annual events and expand the organization’s individual membership and volunteer base, according to the job description.
The director of mission and partnerships will be responsible for the "relationships, education and oversight needed to preserve the historic fabric in the German Village neighborhood," which will include supporting property owners, the German Village Commission and city government in assuring compliance with and understanding of processes and standards, according to the job description.
The director also will serve as a general historic-preservation resource to the society and will be responsible for renewing partnerships and creating new relationships with business and corporate partners, the description said. One of the specific roles listed was: "In partnership with the executive director, lead and implement the development of the event sponsorship plan for (the German Village Society,) including annual business solicitations, corporate sponsorship and corporate/business proposals, as well as in-kind goods and services provided by partner businesses.
The development coordinator will be responsible for tracking and updating the donor and finance/accounting databases, as well as the society's web and social-media platforms, server and hardware, according to the job description.
Several members of the audience, composed of many former board members, said they took exception to combining fundraising with historic preservation, which they saw as a direct conflict.
Lopez said the director of mission and partnerships, the position in question, doesn’t involve competing interests. She said the society needs to raise money while preserving the historic nature of the village.
But audience members said it raised the appearance of a quid pro quo: asking for contributions from the very businesses that could be seeking favorable treatment, such as a zoning or parking variance.
Joshua Zimmerman, president of the board, said those decisions aren’t made at the board level but by the German Village Commission, an architectural-review board.
That did little to placate the audience members, who said they saw the combined duties as counter to the board’s mission – historic preservation without the presence of impropriety.
“I think you’re setting someone up to have a difficult time,” resident Jill D’Antignac said.
As for the hiring process for the three positions, Lopez said she was not inviting community members help. She said she and the society’s executive committee would handle the hiring process.
That didn’t sit well with Katharine Moore, a former executive director of the society.
“They have taken it upon themselves to completely rewrite the job description of the historic-preservation position,” Moore said.
Lopez said earlier this month she hopes to have the positions replaced as soon as possible and by the end of the year at the latest.
As for the recent resignations, the society, in its regular email address to members, sent out this dispatch in regard to the Kotting and Craig: “The board authorized an exploration by an HR (human resources) professional upon hearing concerning reports regarding the German Village Society staff. Interviews were conducted with the staff, some board members and other stakeholders to gain insights into the reports and bring light to any issues. The HR professional recently provided an oral report of his findings to the board in an executive session. A plan was subsequently developed to address the concerns and ensure that GVS will operate at a high standard in support of our mission of being Caretakers of a Legacy. All actions you see being taken are consistent with the recommendations from the HR professional.”
Lopez would not disclose the findings of the human-resource professional, saying only that it was to “flush out rumor and what was fact.”
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