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Problems rife at shelter: audit

Osborne House board lacked control over toxic workplace

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An audit found some board members thought they reported to executive director Barbara Judt -- not the other way around. Judt is on medical leave from the shelter.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

An audit found some board members thought they reported to executive director Barbara Judt -- not the other way around. Judt is on medical leave from the shelter. Photo Store

An audit of Osborne House paints the women's shelter as operating under weak board governance, even to the point of lacking basic information on the hiring of its executive director.

The review illustrates a startling lack of board accountability.

Sources interviewed and documents obtained by the Free Press point to a board that didn't know, or wouldn't say, what it was doing, how it hired the person running the shelter and whether she answered to the board or it answered to her.

The audit, conducted in May 2012 by the agency accountability and support unit of the provincial government, examined the books, operations, personnel and board governance during the three previous fiscal years.

The financial review reported a "toxic work environment" and a lack of board governance. The board didn't meet often enough. Bylaws required monthly meetings, but the audit could only confirm five meetings in 2011-12, for instance.

A former Osborne House board member, Barbara Judt was appointed executive director in January 2010 without the job having been posted, any record of a resumé or the board approving her hire. She also received a 36 per cent raise over the position's funding level, $20,000 more than the $60,300 salary allocated. The audit could find no record of who approved the salary hike.

Judt took medical leave just as the province took over the shelter Oct. 4, dissolved its board and issued a gag order to remaining staff.

The province has appointed a former Osborne House director, Marlene Bertrand, as the provisional administrator.

The audit found no minutes were kept for the appointment of the highest-ranking position in the organization.

The terms of the undocumented offer of employment basically continued from the previous executive director with no comparative analysis of work history or qualifications.

"No board member, current or former, recalls who made the motion and who seconded the motion to appoint the executive director," the audit said.

Once in the job, Judt referred to her position as "chief executive officer" not "executive director."

Some board members asked the financial reviewers if they could terminate an executive director but not a CEO, the report said.

Some seemed to think they reported to Judt, not the other way around, auditors wrote.

"We found no evidence that the board reviews, critiques or approves budgets of monthly financial statements," the audit said. "We were not able to substantiate that the board approved, or was made aware of, terminations, severance payments or outsourced contracts..."

Erica Esselmont, a certified auditor who was a member of the Osborne House board at the time it was audited and when it was dissolved by the province, declined to answer questions.

Esselmont would not comment on problems with board governance and management identified in the 2012 financial review, other than to say the review was confidential, incomplete and didn't include responses from board members.

Debbie Young, a certified accountant who was the Osborne House treasurer at the time of the financial review, also declined requests for comment.

A reporter went to Judt's home Monday. A man answered the door, went back in and returned with a note containing Judt's email address and a request questions be emailed to her. By late Tuesday, Judt hadn't answered, but Esselmont did. In an email she wrote on behalf of the dissolved board, she said Judt was on medical leave and could not comment.

Judt courted the media, inviting reporters and photographers into the women's shelter to report on problems with the aging facility. She said the province did not fund it properly. In 2011-12, she paid a media consultant $12,000, but his role, or the benefit to the shelter, aren't clear, the audit said.

For an organization whose main focus is to provide shelter for abused women and families, the fundraising activities were "questionable," the report said.

The notorious "do-good white people" comment by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson about the shelter's charity burlesque show sparked allegations of racism. (The comment came to light in August and under pressure, Robinson apologized.)

Before that, one event that caused concern was a staged train robbery where masked people armed with water pistols held guests at gunpoint and demanded donations, the report said.

Volunteers "wandering through downtown office buildings asking for donations for Osborne House" was another.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2013 0

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