Family Resources board seeks removal of member who has questioned procedures

Wednesday, October 24, 2007 | 8:36 p.m. CDT; updated 11:35 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — After facing nearly an hour of hostility from fellow members of the Boone County Family Resources board of directors Tuesday night, Steve Tatlow watched as all but he and one other member voted to begin a process to remove him from the board.

At issue are a series of calls Tatlow made to the Missouri attorney general’s office beginning about six weeks ago to ask about proper board practices and the roles and responsibilities of members. His complaints prompted an Oct. 11 letter to the board from Robert Carlson, assistant attorney general, who expressed concern about the legality of the board’s operations and raised the possibility of a formal investigation.

Board members said they’ve grown tired of Tatlow’s repeated attempts to bring up issues concerning bylaws and legal obligations, calling his “conduct prejudicial to the good order and efficient operation” of the agency.

Boone County Family Resources is a public entity that, according to a 2006 audit, provides services to roughly 1,200 people in the county who have developmental disabilities. The agency had a budget of $7.7 million for 2007; $2.2 million of that money came from a countywide property tax levy and about $3 million came from Medicaid. The board of directors is appointed by the Boone County Commission and is largely responsible for overseeing the agency’s operations.

Tuesday’s special meeting was called specifically to discuss Carlson’s letter. Among the complaints Carlson listed are some directors’ concerns that they were automatically appointed to the board of another entity without their knowledge, that they are not receiving all the information they request from Family Resources and that “requestors are pressured to not ask for additional information.”

The public meeting was abnormally contentious. Angry members raised their voices as they accused Tatlow of having an ax to grind. Some even insulted him.

“I think you’re full of crap,” board member Russ Williams said when Tatlow indicated he was only making reasonable requests for information. Williams also accused Tatlow of “sabotage of the board’s operations.”

“I’m personally offended by this letter because it says that we’re not doing our job,” board member Wanda Marvel said of the notice from the attorney general.

Later, she said, “I think you’re a liability. You’re not a team player.”

Board Chairman Bob Bailey also took Tatlow to task: “Why didn’t you call and ask the executive director? Why didn’t you keep it internal? ... If you don’t want to serve on this board, why don’t you just step down?”

In a response last week to the attorney general’s office, Family Resources Executive Director Les Wagner wrote that Tatlow’s remarks to the office are “unfounded” and “call into question (the board members’) diligence and integrity and are disruptive.”

One concern Tatlow raised is his and other board members’ appointments to the board of the nonprofit corporation Life and Work Connections Inc., formerly known as the Boone County Sheltered Workshop. The corporation, created in 1999, provides “on-the-job training wages to older youth as they transition from school to work,” according to Wagner’s response to the attorney general.

Wagner said members are notified by letter of their member status on the Life and Work Connections board as part of their Family Resources orientation packet. He said they’re also verbally notified.

Joan Chenault, coordinator of training and quality assurance for Family Resources, said the Life and Work Connections board has not met in “the past couple of years” and that no meeting minutes exist.

Bailey made similar comments at Tuesday’s meeting after Tatlow asked whether, as a member of the Life and Work Connections board, he should have been informed of meetings.

“There aren’t any,” Bailey said, because “there wasn’t any business to take care of.”

Bailey said no future meetings are scheduled.

The Family Resources board, in accordance with state law, plans to hold a hearing before voting on whether to remove Tatlow.

He isn’t the only member who’s had some problems with how the board operates, however. Alison Martin, who until Oct. 11 was secretary-treasurer of the board, resigned that position after neither Wagner nor Chenault could provide her with evidence that she was bonded, as required under state law. Martin said she felt her personal assets might be vulnerable without a surety bond.

Speaking in Tatlow’s defense after nearly half an hour of pointed questioning, Martin said she felt uncomfortable with the board.

“I feel very intimidated, and it really bothers me.”

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Tim Hodges October 25, 2007 | 10:32 a.m.

Wow. What is this Board thinking? If this is how they treat one of their own Board members' request for information, how would they treat the public? It seems a gang mentality exists here and Bob "Let's Keep It Internal" Bailey's actions represent the worst aspects of this bullying behavior. Isn't he the head of the Dispute Resolution Center at the MU Law School? If that's what we are teaching then that explains a lot about our society.

If Bob Bailey and CJ Dyckhouse, both lawyers, don't know the law that mandates that public agencies must have at least one annual meeting then perhaps the wrong Board members are leaving.

Tatlow seems to be just doing what he is charged to do--oversee the actions of a very wealthy agency-or agencies-- funded by our tax dollars. Who is running this circus? Les Wagner? What are we taxpayers paying him and what are his credentials?

Mr. Tatlow, I have never met you but I am sure proud of your actions here.

(Report Comment)
morgan cook October 25, 2007 | 5:16 p.m.

Yes, Bob Bailey is director of the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at MU School of Law.

(Report Comment)
c feldmann October 25, 2007 | 8:04 p.m.

This is a fine agency, as I have experienced over the years. This agency is dedicated to serving people with disabilities in a person-centered and dignified way. This nonsense should not, and, likely, will not deter the fine employees of BCFR in providing services to individuals in our community. Our community should support this agency and the good work they do and not fall enamored with scandal, especially one so contrived.

(Report Comment)
Jane Poe October 25, 2007 | 10:10 p.m.

Not sure what the "contrived scandal" is here. It looks like a reporter at a meeting reported on a pretty outlandish meeting. It's amazing she got such a show! What were these people thinking?

Just as importantly, what kind of signal does this send to unpaid citizens who want to volunteer for these quote unquote "boards of directors" and other volunteer service jobs?

All these boards run great agencies but what does that really mean? Look at the Fire Board, all the trouble there.

The employees are paid; the board members are not paid (I assume). Beating up on them serves nothing, IMHO, especially in public or in front of other people (how demeaning....)

If you only deal with the employees and not the board, you'd never see any of this anyway. Hopefully none of the employees will be affected by it or have to see it one on one....

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens October 26, 2007 | 8:08 a.m.

I know Steve Tatlow personally and professionally and I do not feel that he would raise issues for the sake of "sabotage." I do know that if there were indeed some internal issues that was,is or will affect the constituency of this organization, Steve would have an "ax to grind." What I find on several non-profit boards around the county is that they conduct their business without any real input from those that they allegedly serve. I am not implying that "clients should run the boards" of non-profit entities but simultaneously the boards should seek the input of the public that it serves. And by this I do not mean the traditional 'the board meetings are open to the public.' (Try focus groups)

I believe all of this could have been avoided if these people were open and honest from the beginning. What is the purpose of a committee or board that has not met in two years? It also appears that these board members are sending the message that the work of the Life and Work Connections board is irrelevant and that the tax payers should simply support these employees and not bother with assessing, evaluating and potentially improving the work of this group. There will be some I am sure that would argue 'if it ain't broke don't fix it.' And in general I agree. However, if you are not assessing and evaluating, how do you know if it's broke or not? And if it's good, the question should then be how do we make it great? If we serve 100 people, how can we improve to serve 200?

Kudos to Steve Tatlow, Alison Martin and everyone in this county that is committed to solutions and possesses a willingness to "speak truth to power " versus the attitude of the multitude that says "just go along and get along." This is the kind of attitude that keeps Columbia ranked less than #1 in the best cities in the country to live. We will never get there unless we are willing to be open, honest and committed to improving all aspects of what we do in this city.

(Report Comment)

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