A local nonprofit board, divided on multiple contentious topics, is now the subject of a criminal investigation and a possible employee walkout.
Cody police recently confirmed an investigation is taking place regarding an alleged phone call threat placed to a recently elected Cody Senior Center board member. As of Nov. 1, the investigation was still running.
Senior Center board president Terry Hinkle said the caller told board secretary, Buddy Valentine, he would go to the newspaper if he didn’t step down from the board. The Enterprise did receive a news tip about Valentine before starting and covering this story.
“It’s blackmail,” Hinkle said. “Blackmail is a crime.”
Valentine, 68, has become the source of contentious debate among board members and some from the public, because he is a convicted felon. In 1994, he was found guilty in Oklahoma for robbery with a deadly weapon and robbery in the first degree. He was also found guilty for distribution of controlled substances and possession of controlled substances in the 1980s.
At an Oct. 23 meeting, board members Stephanie Weed and Gib Lehman criticized Valentine and Hinkle for not disclosing to other members that Valentine is a felon, prior to him getting voted on.
“Common sense isn’t necessarily common,” Weed said in a phone interview.
But Hinkle and vice president Loretta Reavis said they didn’t know he was a felon prior to the election, though each said they would not have changed their votes in support if they had.
“We’re talking about something from 26 years ago,” Hinkle said in a phone interview. “He’s served his debt to society. When you commit the crime you pay the price.”
Hinkle and a senior center member spoke on Valentine’s behalf at the Oct. 23 meeting.
“I really believe everybody deserves a second chance,” Hinkle said. “Everybody in the United States has made a mistake.”
Valentine is on lifetime parole for his felonies.
Weed, former member Bill Crampton, and board candidate Jimmy Parks all said Valentine was fired from his position as a bus driver at the Senior Center in July because he failed a drug test.
Senior Center Director Bonnie Emmett would not comment on that issue.
Crampton said he had occupied the position for 10-15 years.
“He has nothing but love for these seniors,” Crampton said. “They made special requests for his rides.”
Crampton said he spoke with Valentine before the election and discussed his past.
“I told him the better approach to that would be to say up front, ‘This is my history,’” Crampton said.
Under Wyoming law, Valentine is legally able to serve as a member of a nonprofit board.
As secretary, Valentine is now entitled to sign off on checks drawing from the Senior Center banking account.
“I find it a conflict of interest,” Weed said.
Former board president Pia Brauser and Crampton said never before has the secretary had this power.
“It’s kind of like sending a kid to school with a teacher with a pedophilia connection,” Weed said.
After winning the senior center election, board members must vote in the winning elected officials. At the Oct. 18 meeting, Valentine was sworn in by a 5-2 vote. Weed and Lehman casting the dissenting votes.
After an impromptu meeting held Tuesday, Senior Center staff announced that they will hold a members meeting at 12:30 p.m. Friday during lunch to inform people about what has been going on behind the scenes.
Staff members, Lehman and Weed said Hinkle has been targeting Emmett and going behind their backs for the last year.
“We all know that, we’ve all seen it,” employee Misty Dohse said.
Staff at the meeting said it is their goal to have the entire senior center board rescinded.
“Because of how we’re being treated we’re not going to come back to work,” employee Micki Burbank said. “People are just hearing it, but when they see it, her (Emmett) in tears.”
About 12-14 employees of the Senior Center plan to walk out from their jobs after the meeting. They have already started making plans to ensure senior rides and delivery of food still occurs after they leave.
“Their biggest concern is the members,” Dohse said, tearing up. “We can feed them, we can transport them, we can take care of them until they all decide to get a new board and we can move forward.”
At the election meeting, Hinkle spoke of “evil going on about this board” which he later clarified was in reference to the threatening phone call.
“There was evil spinning into view,” he said.
Lehman criticized Hinkle’s comments at the board’s next meeting, Oct. 23.
“I have never saw such a meeting in all my life,” Lehman said. “Came in and accused us in a hostile manner. Threatened us with litigation and investigation from the FBI with intimidation. I am appalled.”
Hinkle denied Lehman’s charges and said it was someone outside the board who made the threat.
“Nobody made any accusations towards (Lehman) or anybody,” he said.
Hinkle also chastised board members for not following democratic conduct and threatened to adjourn the meeting when Weed and Lehman refused to change the topic of discussion.
“You don’t like what’s happening, you resign,” Hinkle said.
Parks, who teaches a computer class at the Senior Center, was the leading runner-up candidate in the election and would be the next called on to serve if any board member were to resign.
Weed said she was questioned by police about the threatening call, as was the Enterprise. She and Parks both have accused Hinkle of bullying other board members at meetings, purposely keeping loose bylaws that are too open for interpretation and not allowing members to vote on them.
“He’s so adamant about maintaining power,” Parks said in a phone interview.
At a meeting held Oct. 11 Hinkle expressed opposition to letting senior center members vote on certain proposed bylaw changes. This action has now stalled, Weed said.
One initiative Hinkle, also a member of the Wyoming Senior Services Board, does want to see moving forward is an audit of the Senior Center. The facility had an audit three years ago and another last year, but the latter only a desk audit covering basic expenses.
“Historically, when there’s new administration you like to review the numbers,” Hinkle said. “It’s incumbent of the new board to review the finances of the past board.”
Weed and other staff members said Hinkle has formed a self-recruited audit committee without informing some board members, that will meet this Saturday. Weed said he demanded from Emmett copies of the last three years of original receipts from the facility, only four days before this meeting.
“You can’t make copies in that time frame and I believe that is intentional,” Weed said.
The audit request concerns Crampton because he said it could be a costly endeavor and he questions Hinkle’s justification for it. Weed and Parks think Hinkle will use the audit to leverage firing people he doesn’t like. During his 12 years on the board, Weed said Hinkle has been responsible for having four other directors removed.
“We’ve got to get the membership involved to understand what’s going on,” staff member Mike Ellingson said.
In addition to board members reviewing the monthly budget, Emmett and a third-party accountant also regularly look at the numbers. Brauser confirmed she took a thorough look at the finances multiple times in her tenure.
“I’m sad for (Emmett),” Parks said. “I’m sad for the employees of the Senior Center.”
The next Senior Center board meeting is Nov. 27.