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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Community service and The Saratogian editorial you never saw

Last week, an editorial in The Saratogian said that when the executive director of The Prevention Council of Saratoga County was charged in March with driving while intoxicated, the organization’s board of directors should have gone public, then and there, with what happened and how they were dealing with it.

You never read it. I pulled it off the page before the paper went to print because the story abruptly changed.

Today, I’d like to tell you about the editorial and offer a bit of gratitude to people who serve on nonprofit boards.

First, about the editorial you never saw.

Last March, in a decision that was not made lightly, The Prevention Council board declined the executive director’s offer to resign, placed her on a six-month probation, instructed her to get counseling and prepared a statement in the event the incident, which occurred out of this area, ever became public.

So, when the story about the 3-month-old incident was reported on the TV news June 13, the board released its compassionate statement, which said in part: “The board members agreed that The Prevention Council has always been about helping people, and that worthwhile goal should also apply to its staff.”

That night and over the next day-and-a-half, I reached out to a number of people for mostly “off- the-record” conversations to gather opinions from varying perspectives for an editorial. Some of the people I have known for years and some I have never met, including former and current members of nonprofit boards, including The Prevention Council.

Opinions ran the gamut.

Some were adamant that a DWI arrest automatically disqualifies someone from running an organization whose mission is to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and that relies heavily on public donations.

Others were equally firm in the belief that a second chance was fair, especially since the misdemeanor DWI was pleaded down to a violation of driving while ability impaired, as is typical in such circumstances; it was a first offense, there was no accident, no one was hurt.

In various drafts of the editorial, I went back and forth, uncomfortable with second-guessing the board and only sure that they should have been out in front of the news when it happened, rather than appearing on the defensive three months later.

The publisher, who gets final say on editorials, offered constructive criticism as I kept returning to the drawing board. We agreed: If giving the executive director a second chance wasn’t a mistake, keeping it a secret was.

Finally, I crafted a version approved by the publisher. The news editor fit it on the already late page and sent it to the press.

Two minutes later came a call from the board president and president-elect: The executive director had offered again to resign, and this time the board accepted.

That was the end of the editorial — but not the end of this story.

Countless terrific organizations depend on dedicated staff and volunteers, including board members whose unpaid job can be challenging, time-consuming, gratifying or thankless — or all of the above.

Sure, some people are more effective than others in leadership roles on boards. And sometimes board decisions ought to be exposed, criticized and corrected, especially when the organization is serving the public and using public funds. But most volunteers I’ve come across, even those who’ve come under editorial scrutiny, seem genuinely motivated by the desire to serve their community.

Those are things to keep in mind, whether you’re an editorial writer, an anonymous story commenter, a donor, a taxpayer, or a potential volunteer. I can’t stress enough how important it is to serve the community, even if you take a little unexpected, and arguably undeserved, heat now and then.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your wise and level-headed approach is in contrast with some of your peers in the media. Your careful consideration of what is best for the community first is part of what makes you a treasure. Keep up the great work!

June 28, 2013 at 6:16 AM 

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