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SHARON Crisis agency workers say they haven't quit



Published: Sat, August 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The agency's hot line is functioning but its emergency shelter remains closed.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Staff members of a domestic abuse and crisis intervention agency who walked off their jobs Tuesday say they haven't quit.

"We did not resign. We decided to stop services until the board meets with us," said Candace Blake, direct service supervisor for Alternatives for Women -- Advocacy, Resources and Education (AW/ARE).

Blake was one of 11 of the 14 staff members who chose to withhold their services after the agency's board of directors failed to show up at a meeting Monday to hear their concerns.

The move shut down AW/ARE operations, including its crisis hot line and its emergency shelter. The hot line has since reopened with remaining staff members and volunteers, but a board spokeswoman said the shelter remains closed.

However, the agency can place women and children in need of shelter in facilities elsewhere, the board member said.

Staff members' account: Blake said staff members went to the agency's office in Coolspring Township outside Mercer for the Monday meeting but no board members showed up. Instead, the staff found a note saying he board would meet with them next Thursday.

The staff members met again the next morning and penned a letter to the board saying they need to meet with the board immediately to voice concerns about breaches of policy and procedures, including compromised confidentiality, unclear communications and undependable leadership and direction.

The letter also accused the executive director, Leah Koon, and the board of failing to meet the expectations of the community and the various coalitions that support and fund the agency.

It said the staff would stop work until those issues are addressed, and Black said Friday that the staff is still waiting to hear from the board.

Koon is not working. She went on a medical leave Monday.

Board leader: Donna Barton, board president, said Tuesday that when she got the letter, it was her impression the staff members had resigned.

Barton said the board was already in the process of restructuring the agency and had planned a board-staff retreat to discuss that issue before the work stoppage.

Blake said she is concerned the board may not be operating within the limits of its own bylaws. The board has 12 seats but there are two vacancies and the staff has learned that two or three other board members have resigned, reducing the number of board members to seven or eight.

Bylaws say it can't operate with fewer than eight, she said.

The board has scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at the First National Bank of Pennsylvania building in downtown Sharon




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