Revised: January 2019
By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston
|Jimmy Jones to replace Jon Reeves at MWVCAA|
According to MWVCAA's HR Director, Helena Haytas, Jones was chosen from a field of 30 minimally qualified applicants, 8 of whom were given a personal interview, 2 of whom -- Jones and Sheri Boelter of Billings, MT -- became finalists. Sources say the search committee wanted to stop the process at that point and recommend Jones, but the BOD insisted the process continue as planned, with a second interview and a community "Meet and Greet."
Jones is not your typical social worker. He's an academic who found a calling later in life than is perhaps usual. His main strengths in this competition were his incumbency and his dedication to the work of The ARCHES Project, which he took charge of in March of 2017, immediately thereafter becoming involved in a scheme to use state homeless assistance funds to purchase a large office building on Commercial Street, and turn it into a "resource center."
|Complaints trigger scrutiny...|
It's not particularly reassuring that an agency with financial and regulatory issues would short-list two individuals who've been credibly charged with engaging in sharp practice in pursuit of their professional goals. However, it's possible the search committee didn't know about the complaints against Boelter. The committee did, however, know about the purchase of the Commercial Street property. Asked why the BOD should overlook his conduct in that purchase, Jones responded,
I do not think they should. I was two months into that job and given a task to execute so I executed it. We were less than 90 days from losing $500,000 so it was executed clumsily and with a great deal of optimism, when a healthy dose of skepticism would have better served us. That plan was approved by OHCS and we have cobbled together the renovation costs, just not with the speed we hoped.
Call it optimism, or call it willful blindness. Whatever you call it, it's not a desirable characteristic in an executive director, certainly not an executive director of a multi-million dollar, quasi-government agency. Consider what's happened to MWVCAA over the past three years, as Jon Reeves (and the BOD) have "optimistically" failed to provide a "healthy dose of skepticism" in the conduct of its financial affairs.
So, is there any reason to hope that Jones as E.D. will be willing to control his "optimism"? Maybe. In his closing remarks to the community last week, Jones said he had had no intention of applying for the position of E.D. when he "moved over to the main office" as Interim.
But, working over there, I came to believe, over time, that our agency had struggled...And I came to believe that most of the things our agency had struggled with I understood and could fix going forward. So, the best way to protect my work...and the people that I serve, in the end, I decided to apply for this position.
Admitting publicly that "our agency has struggled" and needs fixing, when the agency itself has never done so*, is a good sign, even though it was also optimistic, even risky, considering the competition had not been decided.
*The institutional blindness is so profound that the search committee didn't even inform Boelter of ODE CNP's recent "serious deficiency" determination against the agency.
Below is the complete statement issued by the Tumbleweed board in March 2015, as published here (8KPAX, 3/20/15)):
The Tumbleweed Board of Directors has done a thorough investigation into allegations regarding our Executive Director, Sheri Boelter. Our volunteer board has spent hundreds of work hours investigating these allegations, including interviewing former and current employees and reviewing data. Yellowstone Youth Crisis Network conducted its own review of our files based on these accusations and found everything to be in order - except that it appeared that data on youth homelessness was actually under-reported. The board found no evidence that any staff member had been directed or encouraged to inflate data about at-risk and homeless youth. We found no evidence (and are aware of no claim) that anyone has misappropriated any money or that any discrepancies in data affected any grants. Appropriate actions have been taken from our findings, and we have used this opportunity to improve some policies, including policies on how data is reported and updated. All other actions taken by the board will remain private in order to comply with employee privacy rights. The board continues to believe Sheri Boelter to be the right person running Tumbleweed, and she has the support of the board going forward. We are ready to return our focus to supporting Sheri and her staff in serving the runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth of Billings. As the board investigated these allegations, one conclusion we have reached is that the need is real and is under-served in our community. We are in midst of major renovations to our facility, paid for in part by the 2014 banquet, to expand our drop-in center services and hours. We will welcome the community to an open house to see our new drop-in center and the continued work of our program when construction is completed.
For more about the assertion that, notwithstanding the statement of board support, Boelter left "under a cloud", see Kemmick, E. "Boelter is out as director of Tumbleweed Program" (31 December 2015, Last Best News) and Brouwer, D. "As Tumbleweed board stands by director, questions still remain." (19 March 2015, Billings Gazette).