“This place is dying”

Cary Ashby • Jul 21, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Local residents are questioning the direction of the Enrichment Centers for Huron County and dismissal of executive director Roxanne Sandles.

Sandles attended the board of trustees meeting Thursday, despite the trustees dismissing her exactly one week earlier for reportedly not meeting unspecified “expectations of the board.” She had been the executive director since September 2016. Trustees president Janice Knadler and vice president Ellen Simmons, when interviewed last week, declined to provide specific reasons for the dismissal.

“The only thing I can say … is I have had a target on my back for a very long time,” Sandles said after the meeting. “From what I’ve heard today, (it’s been) since the day I started, but I guess felt it more about a year-and-a-half ago.”

Knadler, during the meeting, was asked about the search for a new executive director. She said the process was under way and that center employees Chris Holliday and Elizabeth Young were handling the activities following the resignation of Lisa Gleisner, who wasn’t allowed to have an exit interview. Gleisner worked for the center for nearly six years.

Gleisner, who attended the trustees meeting, accused board member Tom Fries of telling people Sandles shouldn’t have been the executive director and of “bad-mouthing Roxanne to the seniors.”

“That shouldn’t be out there,” Gleisner added.

Fries didn’t directly deny the allegations, but said he would resign as a trustee if that was what Gleisner wanted. Knadler said it’s not up to Gleisner to make that decision. 

When questioned by the Reflector during the meeting, Knadler didn’t identify accountant Kaye Spoerr as the interim director. However, afterward she mentioned Spoerr’s new job title for the purpose of a photograph. 

Sandles said she didn’t “have an opportunity to see any of the comments that were made” during her peer performance evaluations or “review this latest appraisal by subordinates to even refute some of the lies I have heard since then.”

Melissa James, former director of the Huron County Chamber of Commerce, told the board she realizes this is a difficult time for the Enrichment Centers. Referring to Sandles’ performance evaluations, James said she doesn’t understand how the situation could go from there being no markings of unacceptable and/or things that Sandles needed to improve upon in her job to being “fired at a moment’s notice.”

“You’ve put yourself in a precarious position,” said James, who described Sandles as being friendly and “involved” at the senior center. 

“You had the right person in the (executive director) position. … What happened is your employees squeaked. And that’s unfortunate.”

Sandles, the last person allowed to speak during public participation, told the board “you did not want to hear my side of the story” and stressed there are always two sides to everything.

“You didn’t want to hear the truth,” she added.

Jeff Bertram, of Norwalk, who retired from the U.S. Army, was one of many people who spoke during the public participation segment of the meeting. He said he can’t imagine his colonel releasing him from his job just because his subordinates didn’t like him.

Simmons, who serves as the president of the personnel committee, said dismissing Sandles “was done with a lot of regret and a lot of consideration.” When someone asked Simmons if the decision was based on performance reviews, Simmons said “partially,” but didn’t elaborate.

Sandles was dismissed for unspecified “leadership and teamwork” issues that board members had discussed with her, Knadler said. When someone asked her to elaborate, the board president also said it’s not appropriate to discuss confidential information.

David Dean, of New London, asked the trustees what their overall plans are for the Enrichment Centers. The agency has locations in Norwalk and Willard.

“This place is dying,” Dean said. “Nobody is running the place.”

Knadler, in response, said the centers are proceeding with “business as usual.” She noted there are activities planned for August and previously scheduled trips will happen.

Sandles smiled when the Reflector asked her about the many positive things that people said about her during the meeting and said she was “very encouraged.” Several people told the trustees they’ve “never seen anybody who cared for the seniors like Roxanne did” and called her a “breath of fresh air” for the agency. Others praised Sandles for her dedication to the seniors and the relationships she created.

“I am in awe of the support I have seen here tonight and I am excited for everybody (who) was here,” Sandles said.

About 35 people attended the meeting. Many attendees had to stand because there weren’t enough seats available. The trustees held an executive session after the completion of the public participation, but didn’t specify the reason. The board took no action.

The board of trustees includes: Fries, Knadler, Simmons, Marilyn Dillon, Jim Grover, Ben Kenny, Roger Miller, Patricia Moffatt, Jane Nottke, Bonnie Scheerer (secretary), Ralph Seward, Sharon Wingert and Nancy White.

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