More than 100 Cape Henlopen Senior Center members have signed a petition asking the center’s board of directors to fire Leslie Boehlert, the center’s executive director.
Some center members and employees say Boehlert lacks the interpersonal communication skills an individual must have to run such a facility.
Members and employees say Boehlert frequently uses profanity and often denigrates those she speaks to.
As the population of the Cape Region continues to grow, so too does membership in area facilities serving senior citizens. The center serves more than 1,000 members.
To become a Cape Henlopen Senior Center member, an individual must be 50 years old and pay $20 per year. The membership fee helps cover the cost of numerous activities and programs such as an art group, book and drama clubs, bridge, mah-jongg, pinochle, Scrabble, hobbies for men, quilting, a yarners group and Wii bowling.
Other activities and programs are available for a small fee.
Meeting with state elected officials
In early July Boehlert asked Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf and Sen. Ernie Lopez to meet with her and Patrick Canan, president of the center’s four-member executive board. Richard Blazovsky is board vice president, Robert McDaniels is treasurer and Cheryl Snyder is secretary.
“They said it wasn’t a big deal. They said it was a small group of members who were upset,” Schwartzkopf said.
He said he finds it ironic that something that supposedly isn’t a big deal required a meeting with a state senator and state representative.
Schwartzkopf said he reviewed the board’s bylaws and quickly saw they are being violated. Section 4 of the bylaws specifies the board shall include nine to 11 members; the board’s roster lists the names of 16 people.
“That’s a violation right there,” Schwartzkopf said.
Canan and Boehlert have also proposed eliminating the need for two authorized signatures on center checks. Schwartzkopf said the two-signature method protects each individual and the center.
At a mid-July meeting of center members, the topic of a salary increase request Boehlert made came up; several people said the board has approved the request. Before her request, Boehlert’s salary had been $47,000 and it has been increased by $3,000 making it $50,000 a year. She started as executive director in February 2013.
Several members asked what Boehlert has done to merit a salary increase; there was no clear answer.
Two employees, Linda Bonville and Bernita Hackney, have worked at the center for several years. Both attended the mid-July meeting. Both receive a salary of $32,000 per year, plus benefits valued at $9,500. Both women said they had not received a pay raise in several years, until 2013. Both are black.
Canan said the previous board vetted Boehlert before he became a board member in February 2013. He said Boehlert found center employees didn’t like operational changes she asked them to make and were generally uncooperative with her.
“What we’re dealing with is a small group of people who don’t like change,” Canan said in a telephone interview. He said he sent an email to all board members telling them to refrain from attending the first of the two public meetings. He said it was not board-authorized, and board members should not attend unauthorized meetings.
But board Vice President Richard Blazovsky and board members Rehoboth Beach Police Department Chief Keith Banks and Richard Faull did attend the meeting.
Canan said the board has spent substantial time dealing with friction between Boehlert and insubordinate center employees and between Boehlert and complaining center members.
He said Bonville, the center’s bookkeeper, refused to tell Boehlert how the center’s financial books are set up. Bonville denies the charge.
Hackney prepares the center’s newsletter, and at the July meeting she said Boehlert told her she no longer wanted the calendar of bus trips to run in the publication.
“I told her our seniors like the bus calendar; it helps them make plans,” Hackney said. She said later, discussing a similar problem, Boehlert exploded and angrily used the f-word.
Hackney said despite what she was feeling, she maintained composure and Boehlert hurried into to her office, slamming the door behind her.
Asked if he thought Boehlert’s behavior had been appropriate, Canan said she was angry with the uncooperative staff and frustrated about being unable to make changes she thought necessary.
He said Boehlert realized that she should would ultimately be held responsible for any problems the center might encounter.
Center’s budget under review
Canan said Robert McDaniels, board treasurer, is revising the center’s budget format to make each entry clear. He said previous treasurer Robert Soule had no budget experience, and the center’s budget has become as complex as that of a small corporation.
He said when Soule would be asked questions about the budget, he would tell people to see Bonville, the center’s bookkeeper.
Canan said the board held a budget committee meeting July 23. He said committee meetings are closed to the public. “It’s just a lot of boring numbers,” he said.
The center’s bylaws state a closed executive committee meeting may be called in accordance with applicable laws, statutes or regulations to conduct business properly designated to such purpose.
Editors note: This story has been corrected to remove inaccurate reporting about the meeting Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf attended with Boehlert and Canan. Schwartzkopf said a representative of John Carney's office attended the meeting, but Boehlert's father, former New York State Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, did not. In the interest of accuracy, those sentences have been removed.
The story also now reflects that Linda Bonville and Bernita Hackney said they had not received raises for several years, but they said they did receive a raise in 2013. Bonville also denies refusing to show Boehlert how the books are set up.
The corrections also reflect the newsletter is produced by Hackney and not Bonville and clarify that it is the bus calendar, and not the calendar of events that Boehlert asked be removed from the newsletter.
The timing of Boehlert's outburst was also clarified.