Hundreds turn out for community rally addressing Second Story Women’s Centre



With files from Carley Mullally. This is a developing story.

The Lunenburg Fire Hall was at capacity on Friday for a community meeting on the status of Second Story Women’s Centre.

The abrupt closure of the counselling and support centre in early March was a source of significant concern for locals, evidenced by the outpouring of support of more than 200 attendees who showed up to share what the centre means to them and support staff who recently resigned.

More than 200 people were present over the course of the meeting and following outdoor vigil. (Photo: Carley Mullally)

Second Story’s staff resigned in February. The resignations of eight staff members followed a seven-month period where their attempts to resolve concerns they shared with the nonprofit’s board of directors were unsuccessful, including a mediation process with a third party.

Audience told board ignored staff reports of overreach until staff resigned

Helen Lanthier, a former co-chair on the Second Story board of directors, was one of the community supporters who presented at the meeting.

Lanthier, speaking on behalf of the resigned staff, remarked that the board had repeatedly overreached into operational matters.

Lanthier said the organization’s performance review policies were not followed, and the staff felt the board’s behaviour increasingly became more hierarchical and less feminist.

It was remarked that some staff who resigned have already moved on to new employment, and none of the staff who resigned would return while the current board is in place.

Staff who resigned were present. They were applauded after being asked to step into the centre of the meeting room by a presenter saying, “Your sisters and allies would like to honour you.”

Following the presentation, attendees marched to the Second Story building nearby. A minute of silence was followed by the pinning of purple ribbons to the building and a performance by the musical group Mirth.

Staff had ultimately resigned after their request to the board to step down was denied. 

Nicole Robson was Outreach Coordinator with Second Story until her resignation in February. Previously communicating with The Barnacle via email on behalf of resigned staff, Robson wrote, “The decision to resign was not an easy one for any staff, all of us loved our jobs, and we’re passionate about the work [Second Story Women’s Centre] did, however the relationship between the staff and board was damaged beyond the point of reconciliation.”

In an interview with the Halifax Examiner, former board member and volunteer Stacey Godsoe offered detail on what staff experienced on behalf of the staff.

Godsoe told the Examiner that examples of board overreach “included things like requesting services of staff after business hours and trying to change hours without staff input.”

Godsoe also alleged unprofessional treatment of staff, “including ‘multiple threats of legal action’ whenever a staff member questioned a request that appeared to be unusual or not within the centre’s guidelines.”

A meeting was organized by 26 members of Second Story on March 2 that dissolved the existing board and appointed a new board, but this change was reversed by a special resolution passed on March 8 by the board that had been dissolved in the March 2 meeting, that described their perspective that the March 2 resolution did not comply with organization bylaws.

In a release from the board of directors on March 30, the board announced: “We have been working with the Department of Community Services and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women (our primary funders) and, as a result, we have recently hired a Governance Consultant to help guide the organization forward in a fair and diligent manner. This includes assisting in organizing a special members’ meeting in accordance with the Society’s bylaws on April 14th at 6 pm.”

Board passed resolution at special meeting on March 8 without notice to membership, members confirm

The board of directors for Second Story is Janice Bower, Elizabeth Durnford, Vanessa Eyre, Charlene Flint, Jacqueline MacDonald, Deborah Summers and Linda Wentzell.

Documents obtained by The Barnacle from the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks show the board passing a Special Resolution at a March 8 meeting.

For a non-profit in Nova Scotia to pass a Special Resolution, the resolution must be passed at a meeting based on a vote by at least three fourths of eligible voters at a meeting where the membership has been given sufficient notice to attend.

Additionally, Second Story’s bylaws indicate they must give notice to their membership at least seven days prior to a meeting:

“Notice to members is required for general or special meetings. The notice must:

(a) specify the date, place and time of the meeting,

(b) be given to the members seven (7) days prior to the meeting,

(c) be given to the members by e-mail, telephone, and/or other electronic means,

(d) specify the nature of business, such as the intention to propose a special resolution, and

(e) the non-receipt of notice by any director shall not invalidate the proceedings.”

But it appears that Second Story members were not made aware of this meeting, which would mean the special resolution passed at the March 8 meeting does not meet the standards of either the Societies Act or Second Story’s own bylaws.

Anne Weeks, a former board director and current active member of Second Story, tells The Barnacle she never received a notice for the March 8 meeting. 

The Barnacle has confirmed with three other active Second Story members they did not receive a notice for this meeting.

Charlene Flint, chair of the board of directors with Second Story, has not yet responded to emailed questions regarding how this meeting was advertised to membership. This is a developing story.

The special resolution at the March 8 meeting nullified the results of the March 2 meeting of membership.

The March 2 meeting was organized by society members supporting the staff experiencing a conflict with the board. The meeting passed two resolutions, to dissolve the existing board of directors and to install a new board of directors. With the passing of the March 8 resolution, the previous board was reinstated.

The March 8 resolution called to nullify the March 2 meeting listed reasons the board perceives the March 2 meeting not complying with organization bylaws, including that “not all of our membership was invited to the meeting and/or had the opportunity to participate.”

Membership meeting called for April 14; board documents state they are unaware of membership count

For the upcoming membership meeting on April 14, organization bylaws indicate members must have attended at least one meeting to vote on any resolutions.

What the board considers to be the membership of the organization is currently ambiguous. 

The special resolution passed at Second Story’s March 8 meeting describes the board not being aware of how many members they have: “As per bylaw #11c, the request for a special meeting requires 50% or 1/2 of the members. When the board checked, our membership listed 56 members; though we do believe there are more members, as our SSWC Facebook page members >1000.”

The resolution does not elaborate on how Facebook page likes may translate into a reflection of membership.

On March 29, board director and organization secretary Jacqueline MacDonald started publishing messages to local community groups on Facebook with a link to a form to register as a member of Second Story, with a message that the board is updating their list of members in compliance with their by-laws. 

The registration form asks applicants to list a membership meeting they have attended, to record whether you are an eligible voting member.

Board attributes staff resignations to their “due diligence process of looking into potential areas of risk”

The Board of Directors for Second Story is Janice Bower, Elizabeth Durnford, Vanessa Eyre, Charlene Flint, Jacqueline MacDonald, Deborah Summers and Linda Wentzell.

The board has not responded to requests for comment by The Barnacle, but shared a message attributed to board chair Charlene Flint on March 30:

“As the Board of Directors of Second Story Women’s Centre (SSWC) our commitment and goal is always the success, well-being, and long-term viability of the Centre and the vital services it provides to the community. 

We are saddened by the recent disharmony between the Board and Community. It is unfortunate the due diligence process of looking into potential areas of risk and irregularities has led to the loss of staff and the temporary closure of the Centre, and we wish to provide assurance that we plan to work collaboratively with the community to see SSWC resume operations as soon as possible.

We have been working with the Department of Community Services and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women ( our primary funders) and, as a result, we have recently hired a Governance Consultant to help guide the organization forward in a fair and diligent manner. This includes assisting in organizing a special members’ meeting in accordance with the Society’s bylaws on April 14th at 6 pm.

The Department of Community services is also assisting us in finding an interim Executive Director, who will lead the day-to-day operations of the centre while recruitment efforts are underway to fill all vacant positions, including a permanent Executive Director. 

We have also hired an independent accounting/investigation firm to gather facts with respect to workplace culture, as well as to provide clarity with respect to historical transactions including payroll, vacation pay, sick time pay, etc., and potentially other administrative concerns.

We are looking forward to the re-opening of the Second Story Women’s Centre and remain committed to its mission and vision.  We acknowledge and thank all former staff for the dedication and care they have provided to the many in need in our Community and are confident that through the above process of remedy and reconciliation, these services will resume in the near future, and will continue on for many years to come. 

The interest and support for the centre is heartening to see and we thank you for your inquiry. 

Charlene Flint

Board Chairperson 

Second Story Women’s Centre”

The board has not elaborated on what they are referring to by a “due diligence process of looking into potential areas of risk” or otherwise addressed allegations levelled regarding overreach into operational matters or fulfilling a performance review policy.

They have additionally not elaborated on their reference to “historical transactions”.

Ed. note: This story was updated 10:05 a.m. AT on April 4, 2023 to correct the number of eligible society members to pass a Special Resolution in Nova Scotia from “three thirds” to “three fourths”.


Comments

One response to “Hundreds turn out for community rally addressing Second Story Women’s Centre”

  1. Many thanks for bringing light to this distressing situation in Lunenburg. So many have been harmed by the current Board’s rigid, intractable style of governance and it’s time the public became aware of the details.
    My heart goes out to the outgoing staff members and of course to the many clients who have been left without their formerly dependable resources.
    Looking forward to further coverage as the struggle continues.

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