After more than an hour spent discussing ongoing issues regarding the Cody Senior Center board and its employees, it appears little has changed or been solved regarding the future of the facility.
“I wish it had been more productive,” center member Jo Luper said of the meeting. “I wish they could come up with an answer to keep the animosity at a lower level.”
Most of the more than 100 attendees of the Friday meeting were split into two camps. One was in support of board president Terry Hinkle and the center getting an audit, and the other was against Hinkle, asserting he bullied and verbally abused employees and other members of the board.
On Wednesday, Senior Center employees made it known they were walking out from their jobs on Friday if the entire board was not rescinded.
The threat was not carried out.
“The talk about the walk was just to get the attention going,” Senior Center member Mike Ellingson said. “This has been the right response here. There are issues here.”
Board member Gib Lehman said he has collected a list of claimed abuses against Senior Center staff members.
“That hostile environment ends now,” Ellingson said, adding that he has also fielded similar complaints from employees.
This statement drew outrage from some members of the audience, demanding an example and berating Ellingson’s claims as hearsay.
“It just really astounds me that none of us knew,” board member Loretta Lavier said. “You staffers and people in higher up places, you are good actors because I didn’t have a clue this was going on except with my own eye(s), I knew that something was wrong and people weren’t happy.”
About the only undisputed claim that came from Friday’s meeting is the center’s members care deeply for the future of their facility and have a great amount of pride in its’ existence. The facility offers many different activities for senior citizens throughout the year.
“This is a fantastic place,” Luper said. “They have programs, meals, cards, it’s amazing. I love it.”
Hinkle and others lamented comments and actions certain critics made that they think will have a negative effect on the center as a whole.
“I don’t know why they would jeopardize funding for this center, bad publicity, I don’t understand that, I probably never will,” Hinkle said. “I hope we can all work together.”
In the recent Senior Center election Hinkle and Buddy Valentine were voted in, drawing ire from fellow board members Stephanie Weed and Lehman.
Many defended Hinkle and Valentine on Friday.
“Some of the members of the board are not satisfied with how the elections turned out,” Senior Center member Otis Smith said, comparing their actions to CNN’s news coverage. “Do not resign. You have a very good board. Terry Hinkle is very conscientious.”
Former board member Katie Brass said some “inappropriate” financial “discrepancies” were found recently that she and others want cleared up.
“We’re trying to make sure things are in order,” Brass said.
Bonnie Emmett, Senior Center director, said she has nothing to hide as far as her management of the facility’s financials and vehemently denied stealing any money. She said she is open to an audit as long as it’s performed by a third-party auditor and has the support of the Wyoming Department of Health and Wyoming Department of Transportation.
“I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not misusing funds,” she said. “I am tired of being accused of this and acting like I’m hiding something.”
The Hinkle detractors agree with Emmett.
“I’m OK with that (audit),” Emmett said. “What I’m not OK with is that (Hinkle) has self-appointed a committee that should not be the ones holding an audit.”
Hinkle drew criticism for organizing an audit committee, made up of hand-picked senior center members he chose, to inspect finances.
“When accountability begins or an audit is called for, it’s sometimes easier to call that person a bully than to produce it,” Senior Center member Judy Frisby said.
An in-house financial review was unanimously approved by the board in October but Emmett said it is illegal to provide receipts to the general public.
The Senior Center has undergone two different audits in the past three years, regular inspection of the financials by a third-party accountant and past board president Pia Brauser.
Many spoke in support of board secretary Buddy Valentine at the meeting. A Cody police investigation is still ongoing regarding an alleged threat that was made to him shortly after being elected to the center’s board.
“Everything he has gone through is complete (expletive deleted),” employee Misty Dohse said. “I’ve known that man for many years. He’s never been anything but kind.”
Valentine recently voluntarily recused himself from having the power to sign off on the Senior Center checking account.
Emmett and Dohse were the only two employees to speak on Friday. Dohse also accused Hinkle of bullying.
“We took a stand for what we believe in,” Dohse said. “I have no regrets about that.”