MACHIAS — Despite an appeal to Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon, Washington County’s primary domestic violence program received word Thursday the department is standing by a Dec. 29 decision to terminate its contract with the state.
WomanKind Inc.’s contract with DHS provides $225,608 or 80 percent of the agency’s annual funding, according to Jeannette C. Talbot, DHS federal grants program manager.
Concannon said Thursday his department is committed to assuring services for victims of domestic violence in Washington County. DHS will put the contract out to bid and ask for proposals within the next few weeks, he said.
The commissioner said he and his staff met with members of the WomanKind collective and interested community members, including Rep. George Bunker, D-Kossuth Township, on Jan. 21.
“Although there was verbal information provided to me at this meeting, I do not see sufficient cause to reverse the original decision,” Concannon wrote in his Jan. 29 letter to Lynne Alciere, the chairwoman of the WomanKind board of directors. “I am, however, willing to extend the contract by 90 days due to the meeting delays caused by weather conditions, which also delayed our ability to start up the RFP [request for proposals] process.”
WomanKind’s DHS contract was to end Feb. 28, according to a Dec. 29 letter from DHS. Prior to that letter, DHS had asked WomanKind to submit a six-month plan to correct “continuing organizational/procedural problems.” WomanKind submitted a plan, but DHS officials said the plan did not acknowledge the agency’s problems and did not propose concrete solutions.
In an interview at the time of the Dec. 29 decision, Talbot said WomanKind was operating with so few staff and volunteers that DHS felt it could not adequately provide services. Only five of the 7 1/2 staff positions were filled and the agency had only four volunteers to run its 24-hour crisis hot line, Talbot said. DHS believes that a minimum of 15 volunteers are needed for hot-line work, she said.
WomanKind had been a center of controversy since the program’s entire board of directors resigned in June. The board resignations were followed by staff resignations and some former staff and board members began registering complaints with DHS.
According to interviews with former board members and staff, many of the problems appeared to stem from WomanKind’s consensus style of management. It means that everyone — board, staff, and volunteers — must reach unanimous agreement on an action. That led to problems with accountability, according to those interviewed, and there was friction between staff and board.
In interviews following the Dec. 29 DHS decision, WomanKind officials maintained the organizational problems were their business and not that of DHS. Despite the allegations by disgruntled former employees and board members, WomanKind was always there to provide shelter, crisis services, and court advocacy for victims of domestic violence, they said.
Among WomanKind’s staunchest supporters is the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Chief Deputy Joseph Tibbetts wrote to Gov. Angus King on Jan. 2, saying he had worked with WomanKind since its inception in 1980. Tibbetts said he’d never called the agency without a response, regardless of the time of day.
Washington County was “very lucky to have the dedicated personnel of WomanKind,” and Sheriff John Crowley shared that belief, Tibbetts said.
On Thursday, Concannon said DHS has received a series of complaints about WomanKind from board members, clients, and other social service agencies over the last year. The concerns grew to the level that DHS began considering pulling the contract because the agency was not seeing the kind of progress or stability DHS expected, Concannon said.
He said his meeting with WomanKind last week included a “very candid exchange of views.”
“I think it is fair to say that no one, on either side of this issue, needs any more assertiveness training,” Concannon said.
The commissioner said several Washington County agencies have expressed interest in the contract, but only on an informal basis. Anyone may bid, including Womankind, he said.
Calls to Womankind on Thursday were not returned.