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Major board and management changes at Castlegar Community Services

Union says changes will be good for employees and credits them with instigating change
Castlegar & District Community Services Society provides a wide range of community supports. Photo: Betsy Kline

There have been some major staff and board changes in the last few months at the Castlegar and District Community Services Society (CDCSS), including the organization’s executive director and homeless shelter manager.

CDCSS is a multi-service agency that operates programs ranging from youth, seniors, family and victim supports to running The Way Out Shelter. It employs about 30 people.

The changes started at the non-profit society’s annual general meeting last September when several new board members were elected at the end of a confusing and at times tense gathering.

During the meeting, society members challenged the way the non-profit society had been selecting who sits on their board.

Nomination and election of directors for 2022-2023 was item nine on the AGM agenda, but an election wasn’t actually intended.

Several board members and the executive director at the time, Kristein Johnson, said the society’s process had always been that the sitting board of directors decided who was going to be allowed to be a board member.

This came as a surprise to many of the members at the meeting and demands came from the floor that the directors be elected by the membership.

CDCSS’s bylaws state that “directors shall be elected at each AGM and shall hold office until the next AGM, when their successors shall be elected.”

An election was then held and four of the six board members listed on the CDCSS annual report were re-elected — chair Tim Turnbull, vice-chair Bernice Kavic, secretary Jane Lippa and Margaret Nickle.

Four new members were elected, including former Castlegar mayor Bruno Tassone and former nurse and labour relations specialist Linda McLaughlin. Carrie Leeson and Peter Freitas were also elected.

Another sitting board member, Karen Leman, was noted as away on a six month leave of absence.

Since the AGM, Turnbull stepped down from his spot as chair, but retained a seat on the board. Leeson and Leman have resigned and Nickle was removed by a unanimous board vote due to lack of attendance at board meetings.

McLaughlin has now been elected as the new chair and three additional members have joined the board in accordance with the society’s bylaws that allow for appointments of mid-term replacements — Leanna Kozak, a Selkirk College instructor with a masters degree in social work, paramedic Kim Tassone and Dirty Diggers owner Chris Popoff.

McLaughlin says the new board has been busy reviewing and updating all of the society’s bylaws and policies and ensuring they are in compliance with the Society Act.

McLaughlin acknowledges the transition has not been smooth and that she has faced some opposition along the way.

Executive director and shelter manager replaced

There have also been some major staffing changes at the highest levels of the organization.

Executive director Kristein Johnson is no longer with CDCSS, but due to privacy issues McLaughlin says she cannot discuss the manner of her departure.

The Way Out Shelter’s director Ray Griffiths is retiring and the organization’s bookkeeper has also left.

The society has hired Rona Park to be the interim executive director until a permanent replacement can be found. Park has been active in the West Kootenay social services sector for almost 30 years. She served as the executive director of Nelson Community Services for many years and recently served as the facilitator for the Castlegar Integrated Services Collaborative.

Former Castlegar city councillor, community activist and Community Harvest Food Bank president Deb McIntosh has been contracted to fill the role of shelter director until it closes for the season at the end of March.

The society has also engaged a contract bookkeeper, but is looking for someone to fill the position.

RELATED: 15% of Castlegar Fire Department calls made to homeless shelter area

Labour issues

CDCSS’s staff representative at the B.C. Government Employees Union Mike Fenton says he is hopeful the changes at the board and management levels will make a big difference for the organization’s employees.

“For five or six years or more, we have had an incredibly stormy relationship with the executive director from CDCSS [Kristein Johnson],” said Fenton.

He said Johnson had led a union de-certification drive at CDCSS about five years ago.

“The Labour Board intervened and stopped that from happening,” said Fenton.

“We have had nothing but problems as far as her not following the collective agreement, assigning people properly to work, and treating people fairly under the collective agreement.”

Fenton said the union reached out to the board about five years ago regarding the treatment of employees by Johnson.

“Our concerns fell on deaf ears. The board of directors was completely loyal to Kristein Johnson at that time and rebuffed all of our requests for meetings and attempts to express our concerns about what we were seeing in the workplace.”

He says that was in spite of the fact that collective agreement issues were leading to some high costs for CDCSS as there were multiple grievances that had to be resolved resulting in thousands of dollars of settlements to “people that were treated poorly” and expensive labour board processes.

“They really supported a very toxic workplace for the last five or six years.”

Castlegar News has made efforts to contact Johnson for comment, but has been unsuccessful.

Fenton said the union was “overjoyed” at hearing a new group of people had stepped up to become involved in the board of directors.

“I am particularly proud that it was a group of our members, employees there, that spearheaded that.

“They reached out to people in the community that were well respected and appreciated and competent and brought them in to help save their workplace.”

Fenton says the new board members have been working collaboratively with the union and employees to bring about changes that were “long overdue.”

“We are now very optimistic about the future of CDCSS based on the changes we are seeing taking place.”

He is also hoping that the reputation of the homeless shelter can be turned around under new management, but realizes it will be an uphill battle.

“We think the community is going to notice a big difference in the accountability and the effectiveness of the agency under the new executive director and the new board of directors.”

McLaughlin says the board has discussed and confirmed their commitment to work within the collective agreement and meet labour standards going forward.

“We feel good as the board going forward,” says McLaughlin.

“We feel we are really well equipped to lead this organization going forward. We see some really positive possibilities. We have really great employees and we want the organization to continue and grow because the employees contribute so much to the community.”

READ MORE: Lifeguard shortage means less swim time at Castlegar, Nelson and Creston pools

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Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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