The organization director said the situation was handled badly and she and the office secretary were treated poorly.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Columbiana County Farm Bureau trustees and officers intend to explain a change in management, including the closing of its office here, at the group's annual meeting tonight.
President Lucille Huston said the board voted Aug. 27 to contract with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation for organization director services, and closed the county office Sept. 1.
The county farm bureau annual dinner and organization meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Trinity Friends Church on U.S. Route 30 in Lisbon.
Although the change leaves Nancy Cope, organization director, and office secretary Renae Unkefer unemployed, Huston said the board and other officers hope members will view the change as a positive one.
Resignation dispute: She said the board had planned to make the change Oct. 1 but voted Aug. 27 to close the office Sept. 1 because Cope and Unkefer resigned. Huston said the board has prepared a severance package but declined to elaborate until members know about it.
Cope said she and Unkefer did not resign. She said she did send the board a letter dated Aug. 23 in which she expressed concerns about the board's plans and presented a suggested severance package.
"There is no resignation here," Cope said Wednesday. She said that in her letter to the board she referred to the loss of her job and Unkefer's as "involuntary separation without cause," and "that doesn't sound like a resignation to me."
Allegations: Cope noted in the letter she has heard some members' allegations that she did not present reports to the state in a timely fashion, did not attend organization director's meetings, and cares more about her position as a Salem City Council member than she does about her farm bureau position.
The allegations are unfounded, Cope said, and noted she has attended a majority of organization director's meetings during her 10-year tenure, and she and Unkefer have submitted reports to the state in a timely fashion.
"We were never made aware there were any problems," Cope said. "The board did not give us an opportunity to discuss this. We were just told that if the board decided to make this change, we would lose our jobs. If there were problems, the board members should have come to us."
Cope said before considering a position on city council, she made certain there would not be a conflict with farm bureau meetings. She said she has also made a point of not scheduling council committee meetings that would conflict with farm bureau business.
She also noted that she and the farm bureau have received numerous awards the past 10 years and that county membership has increased from approximately 900 to 2,025 farm families.
Cope said she might elaborate about other issues later. "For now I'll just say that this situation was handled badly and Renae and I treated poorly," she said.
Change reasons: Huston acknowledged there are reasons for the change she would not discuss but said about 99 percent of the reason the board chose to make the change is that the farm bureau trend statewide is for state organization directors to manage county programs. She said Columbiana County is among the few counties in Ohio to employ an organization director at the county level, Mahoning County being another.
Huston said Trumbull County voted more than 20 years ago to have its business affairs managed by an organization director who is responsible for programs in Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties as well, Huston said.