Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province installs administrator for shelter after feud

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After a bitter and public feud, the province appointed its own administrator Friday to take over operations at Manitoba's largest women's shelter Friday and was accused of political revenge.

"... I am of the opinion that the health and safety of individuals are threatened and, further, that Osborne House Inc. is in breach of the service purchase agreement," deputy minister of family services and labour Jeff Parr said Friday. He appointed a former Osborne House director, Marlene Bertrand, as the provisional administrator.

The shelter's board was dissolved, and one of its newest and most prominent members cried foul.

"Call and ask the Winnipeg police if Osborne House is an unsafe place to take battered women," said board treasurer Ken Lee, who was chief financial officer for the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba until Sept. 20.

"Ask if they've ever received a complaint that women are endangered there. There's no safety issue there -- none," Lee said Friday.

Lee, an accountant, has only been on the board of Osborne House for 14 days. He said he believed the actions of the province had nothing to do with the safety of shelter clients and everything to do with political revenge.

Lee suggested the NDP government had planned for the last two years to take over Osborne House as payback for its CEO Barbara Judt standing by then-Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen in 2011 when he promised $5 million to build a new shelter. She has been embroiled in a public battle with the provincial government over funding and operations at the shelter that operates with $1.6 million annually from the province. Lee said the takeover by the province was to "put these guys in the penalty box."

Bertrand said there was no such plan, just an effort to get the shelter running right.

"I have been working with Osborne House for 18 months," said Bertrand. The goal wasn't to take over the shelter but to address concerns laid out by independent consultants, said the 67-year-old former director of the province's family violence protection branch, which ran Osborne House more than 20 years ago. External consultants have provided advice and direction during that time, she said. They've criticized shelter operations and alleged incomplete records, insufficient counselling, safety concerns in the workplace and a toxic work environment where staff are "divided into camps."

Their concerns haven't been addressed, so the board is gone and Bertrand is in charge, the province said in a news release.

She went to the shelter Friday afternoon and said staff were enthusiastic and want to move on as a team.

"People spoke up, had lots of ideas and plunked them on the table," Bertrand said.

Staff wanted to know what is expected of them, about protocols for protection planning for women when they leave the shelter, and what kind of training they could get to update their skills, Bertrand said.

The public feud shouldn't shake people's faith in shelter employees, she said.

"What I want to assure them is there are caring staff that have the skills and abilities who want to be there and do the work."

The rift between Osborne House and the government became public Aug. 22 when the shelter exposed deputy premier Eric Robinson's comment on "do-good white people" in criticizing the shelter for a burlesque-show fundraiser.

On Thursday, chief executive officer Barbara Judt announced she was taking a medical leave and criticized the provincial government on her personal Facebook page: "What the NDP have done is despicable. They carry on like thugs and are proud of it. You know, we have been trying to get the funding shortfalls addressed for years now and of course, no response. This speaks volumes of how they make our sector a priority. Disgusting."

She also posted a letter from the board of Osborne House to the deputy minister accusing him on her personal Facebook page, saying she would be replaced by a management committee of two staff members and a board member to oversee day-to-day operations until she's able to return to work.

The province decided Thursday night to put a special administrator in place.

On Friday, Judt didn't respond to a request for comment but shared her thoughts on her Facebook page.

"We are finished," Judt said "... the NDP have shown us that they had a plan all along to replace the board and myself."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2013 A11


Updated on Monday, October 7, 2013 at 12:49 PM CDT: Corrects description of Ken Lee.

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