After an emotional response from the community, leaders at the Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ and Girls’ Club this week defended their recent decision to abruptly fire two longtime employees of the Edgartown Second Hand Store and dismiss the store’s staff of volunteers.
On July 14 Joseph Forte, president of the board of directors, and board member Kelly Hess visited the store and fired manager Darlene Kelly and assistant manager Penny Townes. The store was immediately closed.
Peter Lambos, executive director of the boys’ and girls’ club, told the Gazette this week the store is tentatively slated to reopen on Aug. 1.
The close sparked a wave of outrage around the Island and in letters to both newspapers. “The firing of Darlene Kelly, Penny Townes and volunteers by the boys and girls club board members in such an unfeeling and unprofessional way is beyond my compression,” wrote Lorraine St. Pierre in a letter to the editor published in today’s Gazette. “I am totally baffled as to why this happened the way it did to such dedicated people.”
In a letter sent to the Gazette this week, Mr. Forte defended the board’s decision.
“At the heart of the matter was the total unwillingness of our store employees to operate the store as the board believes it should be operated, and their opposition and hostility to the suggested changes which board members recently proposed,” he wrote.
Mr. Forte suggested that Ms. Kelly and Ms. Townes had threatened to launch a campaign to rally for public support if the board did not leave them alone and let them run the store the way they wanted to.
“The board, composed of a cross section of the community who work diligently for the success of the club, could not accept their attitude. A number of matters have since come to light which reinforces our decision to terminate the store’s staff,” he wrote.
Mr. Lambos this week said the board knew the decision would be unpopular considering how well-liked and respected Ms. Kelly and Ms. Townes are around the Island. But he also said in the end they felt they had no choice; profits were down and the two women were rigidly opposed to any changes.
“The bottom line is there was insubordination that could no longer be tolerated. This operation has to make money and it was making less than it did [before]. The board offered suggestions and an evaluation process, but they would not take any direction from the board,” Mr. Lambos said, adding:
“I don’t think people who have reacted so emotionally understand the other side of the story.”
He said the last straw was then Ms. Kelly and Ms. Townes started to solicit letters of support from the community and threatened to go public with their dissatisfaction.
“They had almost assumed a position of ownership of the store . . . Ms. Townes came before the board and explicitly told us those changes were never going to happen,” he said.
Mr. Lambos said Mr. Forte and Ms. Hess meant no disrespect to the employees, but felt a change was needed immediately.
Mr. Lambos said while the board does not regret its decision, he personally regrets the fact that the public outcry has drawn focus away from the store’s goal: raising badly needed money for the boys’ and girls’ club programs.
“People get fired every day, but there aren’t letters to the editor and a big deal in the newspaper. We tried to keep this an internal matter, for the sake of the young people we help, but now it’s something everyone is talking about,” Mr. Lambos said.
He said he received a call from a regional service director of the boys’ and girls’ club who said he had received a telephone call from someone complaining about the changes at the store. But he said the Island club has autonomy from the parent organization and has the authority to make personnel changes.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Ms. Kelly said she took some comfort in the outpouring of support for her and Ms. Townes, but said she was limited in what she could say about the matter.
“What’s done is done . . . I just want to put it behind me now,” she said.