by Bob Geary
In time, it may be seen that the way the YWCA's closing was so bungled helped sound the alarm that led to the organization's resuscitation. If so, last night's get-together of board members and terminated staffers at Martin Street Baptist Church — a private meeting — will be seen as an important turning point.
When it ended, both sides pledged that, from now on, there won't be two sides.
"We decided there's not going to be any more 'we' and 'they,'" the board's Maria Spaulding told several reporters waiting outside. For the first time, she said, board members had apologized face-to-face for the way the situation was mishandled. "We can't say enough how badly we feel," Spaulding said.
Representing the staffers, Olivia Robinson also expressed a desire for reconciliation. "Trust is developed when you communicate," she said. Finally, communications were begun, with emails and phone numbers exchanged and a willingness to work together also.
"The ball's in the board's court," Robinson added, but staffers are offering their expertise and experience, confident that any plan to reopen the YW will need to draw on both.
Will the YW reopen in its East Hargett Street building? "I think that is the vision for the community," Spaulding answered. But she didn't express it as her own vision necessarily. Her focus, she said, is on paying off the organization's debts, including back pay owed to the terminated staffers.
The debts may be as much as $500,000, according to board member Deborah Warren, who emerged from the church after Spaulding departed. They are at least $350,000, Warren said. An exact accounting hasn't been done.
The fact that it took three weeks following the closing for the board to meet with staffers is indicative of how dysfunctional the YW's organization structure had gotten. The turmoil that ensued could've been avoided.
On the other hand, the turmoil helped call attention to the YW's woes in a way that a more orderly downsizing doubtless wouldn't have. That's small consolation for workers whose jobs were yanked away on 24 hours notice, along with their health insurance unless they're able to pay for it themselves. It'll be no consolidation unless most or all of the jobs are restored — and quickly.
Paradoxically, what's clear at this point is that reopening the YW, if it occurs at all, will be a hard job, one requiring patience — and urgency. Nothing will happen if everyone waits for someone else to take the lead, and while no one person can bring the YW back, unless a few people step forward soon and take charge of the major organizing effort that's needed, the moment created by the turmoil will be lost.
Community members are organizing. The staffers are organizing. But legally, it's the board that's in charge — and it's the board that must take charge, bring people together ... and get to work.