Mad River Union
MANILA – Having wrangled over the future management of the Manila Family Resource Center for much of the year, the Manila town board was scheduled last night to finally put the issue to rest.
But that didn’t happen. A single board member – Dendra Dengler – refused to support a memorandum of understanding (MOU), between the Manila Community Services District and Redwood Coast Montessori, which would transfer management of the resource center from the utility district to the school.
Even though she’s only one vote on the five-member board, Dengler was able to prevent the MOU from being approved because board members Salena Kahle and John Woolley were absent from the Aug. 20 meeting. Three votes are required for anything to get approved, and with only three directors – Dengler, Jan Bramlett and Joy Dellas – in attendance, a unanimous vote was needed.
There was some hope that a vote would happen, given that on June 18 the board voted unanimously to transfer management of the resource center from the district to Redwood Coast Montessori, which leases classrooms at the Manila Community Center from the district. Supporters of transferring management of the resource center have said that the school is in a better position to manage and improve the program. After the June 18 vote, the next step was for district and school staff to work together to create a MOU to finalize the transfer. The issue was brought up for discussion at the board’s July 16 meeting, during which directors spent about 2 1/2 hours debating the resource center.
At last night’s meeting, the MOU was ready for board approval. Dellas made a motion to approve the MOU, and Bramlett seconded the motion, but Dengler wouldn’t have any part of it.
One of Dengler’s concerns was an inventory of resource center items compiled by district staff. The list includes more than 200 items that apparently belong to the resource center including baking pans, butter trays, bowls, a coffee pot, a meat slicer, folding tables, a hot dog stand, projectors, a baby changing table, dolls, puppets, rugs, extension cords, computers, doors, wooden cabinets and whisks.
Dengler said that some of the assets belong to the district’s former recreation program, while other items belong to the community center.
“I would like to know how these will be sorted out,” Dengler said at the Aug. 20 meeting.
MCSD Manager Chris Drop responded that there’s no easy way to figure how all the different items were paid for in the past, and which grants were used for what.
But Dengler said it was important to know which programs all the items belonged to.
“I mean, I would have to go look at the wooden cabinets to see which cabinets. Somebody has to know, you know, And the two who know it are Bev Prosser and Salena Kahle,” Dengler said. “So I can’t accept this.”
Manager Drop noted that all of these items are staying at the site. “It’s not leaving. Nothing’s moving out of here. The program [resource center] is staying here,” Drop said.
“It was requested of staff to do an inventory and we did the best we could with what was in front of us,” Drop explained to Dengler.
Drop then suggested that the inventory issue be set aside, and that the board just consider the MOU.
“If the assets aren’t approved tonight, if the inventory is unacceptable, I would still encourage you to approve the MOU and we can remove the assets because the clock is ticking with the county,” Drop said.
The goal, he said, is to have the school managing the program at the start of the fourth fiscal quarter, which begins Oct. 1. This would help with the bookkeeping and other financial issues.
“If we keep delaying this, it’s going to get muddier and muddier,” Drop said.
But Dengler had other issues with the MOU. “There’s no performance clause in here,” Dengler said. The MOU doesn’t specifically mention the two rooms that are now used by the resource center, Dengler complained. She also wanted to district to create a recreation commission, which is something supported during the town’s recent “visioning” sessions.
Seeing that Dengler was opposed to the MOU, and with insufficient votes to get the matter approved, Director Dellas suggested that the agenda item be postponed until a future meeting.
“We spent at least five hours during the past two months on discussion [of the issue},” Dellas said. “....I don’t want to sit here and do this again for two hours. That’s not productive.”
Director Bramlett agreed to rescind the motion and tried to end the discussion, but Manila resident and former director Michael Fennell insisted on giving input, and addressed Dengler directly.
“Dendra, I think that you are just putting stumbling blocks in front of this, even though you voted to approve the transfer,” Fennell said. “Now you’re trying to micromanage. You want to count inventory.”
“Your job as a board member is to write policy and to vote on policy issues, not to micromanage and get into inventory,” Fennell continued.
As for Dengler’s concern about a recreation commission, Fennell said “There is no rec program. That’s, you know, that’s a straw man that you’re setting up.”
Fennell then asked Dengler “Did you read the newspaper article,” referring to Elizabeth Alves’ My Side of the Street column headlined “Current events offer lessons in human nature, some encouraging.” (Aug. 12, 2015 edition of the Union and on madriverunion.com.)
“No,” responded Dengler.
“They talked about a director who was destructive, who was really destroying the spirit of this board by constantly throwing roadblocks in front of the rest of the board and that’s what you’re doing. I think they must have been talking about you,” Fennell continued. “And this is going to be your legacy – trying to prevent an excellent program from being transferred. I don’t even know why you’re voting on the community center. That used to be a conflict of interest.”
Dengler has previously abstained from voting on issues involving the Manila Community Center, saying that she may have a conflict of interest because she owns property nearby. However, sometimes she does vote on community center issues.
Addressing the board, Fennell said “I don’t know what you’re going to do with this person, but they are ruining the spirit of this community. This is a beautiful thing that is about to happen, and one person is going to go out on a limb trying to stop it. It’s shameful. It’s really shameful.”
Dengler responded by repeating some of her concerns about the two rooms not being mentioned in the MOU and that the MOU doesn’t have “performance standards.” She also said that her previous vote did not mean she was in favor of the transfer, rather she voted to “consider the transfer.”
Others also urged Dengler to approve the MOU.
Carole Wolfe, the director of the Manila Family Resource Center gave an impassioned plea for approval of the MOU.
“I understand that there are concerns. However, I don’t have those concerns,” Wolfe said.
“It’s been a rough year, but I’m still here and so is the family resource center and I encourage you to let us go forward,” Wolfe said. “I know your fears, but I think it’s going to be even more positive. I really do believe that, and I’m in the middle of all of it. This is my livelihood. This is my professional reputation.”
“I’d like to get busy. I’d like to move forward instead of feeling like we’re still in limbo,” Wolfe concluded.
Carol Vander Meer also appealed directly to Dengler, asking her to approve the MOU. “I really urge you to take a leap of faith,” Vander Meer said.
Dengler responded that two years ago, the board was asked to take a “leap of faith” when it approved a lease with the school. Dengler’s comment created some confusion, with Vander Meer saying she didn’t know what she meant by that.
Dengler tried to clarify, saying “Two years ago when we did the lease, and the school needed two more rooms, and that was going to be the last time they came before the board to ask for rooms or anything else and you stood up and asked Salena and I to take a leap of faith and we took that leap of faith and I’m sorry.” Dengler did not elaborate on this.
Bryan Little, the director of Redwood Coast Montessori, said that the MOU calls for 1,800 square feet to be set aside for the family resource center. This was included in the MOU as requested by Director Kahle, Little explained.
Manila resident Nancy Ihara also asked Dengler to approve the MOU, suggesting that if she had specific issues with the document she could suggest revisions.
But Dengler did not propose any edits or revisions to MOU. It was just a stalemate.
Bramlett directed Manager Drop to coordinate with directors to set up a special meeting as soon as possible with enough directors to get the MOU passed.