By BERNIE BELLAN It started with a phone call to our office Monday morning, August 22. Call display said “private name private caller”.
The person on the other end, whose voice I couldn’t identify, told me that Elaine Stern, longtime program director at the Gwen Secter Centre, had been dismissed from her position. This person also said that there had been some rather nasty in-fighting taking place within the centre’s board. I knew that Karen Grant had resigned as president, but I was also told that Rae Margolis had resigned as vice-president. I was also told that executive director Marilyn Regiec’s decision to retire had something to do with meddling from certain board members. That was it – no further information, but certainly enough to whet my appetite.
I immediately sent out a series of emails to various individuals, including Marilyn Regiec. Regiec was the only individual to respond to my query, in which I asked her whether it was true that her decision to retire was not voluntary. In her response, she wrote, in part: “I really don’t have any comment on this except to say my decision has been in the works for a while.” In a subsequent conversation, Regiec suggested that I not read anything more into her comment. She reiterated that she had been contemplating retirement for quite some time.
On Tuesday I contacted someone I knew on the board who I thought would give me some honest answers as to what had been going on. That individual said that there had been some nasty in-fighting within the board, that the board was short three members, and that a board meeting was scheduled to take place Tuesday, August 30, at which more fireworks were expected to occur.
Next, I did what journalists often do these days to try and elicit more information: I posted something to The Jewish Post & News Facebook page: “Turmoil at Gwen Secter Centre: Surprise departures of staff, resignations from the board - angry fighting within the board. Read more in the Aug. 31 issue of the JP&N.”
Within a short time that post had been viewed by over 600 individuals. While no one came forward with new information beyond what I had already heard, I was told by more than one individual that I was on the right track. One individual, who commented on my Facebook post however, was upset with what I had posted. (Although I will not divulge that person’s identity, she did post her comment for everyone to see on our Facebook page.)
Here is what she wrote, in part: “First of all, board meeting attendees are all aware that whatever takes place at meetings is not to be discussed beyond the confines of the meeting. Whoever approached you doesn’t realize that the so-called ‘information’ given to you can seriously undermine the reputation of a wonderful facility that means so much to me and many dozens of others. “Secondly, the “angry division” he/she described does not exist!!! Every issue has those who favor and those who oppose. Important matters are put to a vote, and a minority vote in opposition does not translate into ‘angry division’, unless you are the unknown traitor to board confidentiality who went to the press looking for....I don’t actually understand what he/she wanted to achieve. As I have already stated both when we spoke, and on Facebook, I attend meetings and have neither witnessed nor heard, nor seen evidence of the situation you describe. “I would hope that you will re-think your position of printing innuendo and sour grapes which could result in damage to the centre. “If it is the individual I suspect, I personally dissuaded that person from ‘going public’ months ago against the top board positions at that time.”
Whew! What had I stumbled into as a result of that Monday morning phone call, I wondered?
Then, I received a series of messages telling me that what had happened to Elaine Stern was absolutely disgraceful, but this person couldn’t say anything more – at this time.
So, I contacted one of my sources to try and find out exactly what had happened with Elaine Stern. I was given an explanation for Stern’s termination and, without revealing what that explanation was, on the surface it seemed ridiculous. When I sent a draft of this story to someone else who is close to the scene, with the ostensible reasons for Stern’s dismissal included in that draft, I was told those supposed reasons didn’t make any sense. As a result, given the lack of corroboration as to why Elaine Stern was dismissed, I have decided to withhold conjecture as to the reasons.
Elaine Stern, understandably, has not responded to my requests to comment on what has transpired. My source says that she is likely going to go forward with a suit against the centre, arguing that she was unfairly dismissed. Under the circumstances, therefore, it would be inadvisable for Stern to comment on anything that has transpired.
The Gwen Secter Centre has an annual budget over $600,000, but the bulk of its finances stem from various grants it receives. With a membership approaching 300, however, it serves a vital role within not only the Jewish seniors’ community, but the seniors’ community in the north end at large. Now, not only will it be losing an executive director who was extremely successful at obtaining grants for the centre, it has also lost the individual who was responsible for organizing programming there.
But, as is the case with so many organizations, it appears that a teapot has turned into a tempest. As much as some individuals would prefer that Gwen Secter be able to wash its dirty linens in private, the cat’s out of the bag now. (How’s that for a series of metaphors?) Stay tuned for further details.\
Post script (added Sept. 2): There was a meeting of the board of Gwen Secter August 30, but no further developments re the Elaine Stern situation are reported to have occurred at that meeting. We are informed, however, that a petition is circulating among Gwen Secter members calling for a general meeting at which time the board would be asked questions about what has been going on. As of Wednesday of this week 64 members had signed that petition. There is no report yet that a general meeting of the membership will be called.