June 3, 1995 in Nation/World

Girl Scout Leaders Say Fired Worker Behind Ruckus Unidentified Ex-Employee Blamed For Inciting Rebellion

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:ethics

As a top Girl Scout executive, Peggy Pruett hears her share of camp songs.

But the New York woman cringed when Girl Scout volunteers broke out in song to protest a speaker at last week’s torrid gathering of the Girl Scout Inland Empire Council.

“I’ve seen a lot of raucous meetings,” said Pruett, a visitor from Girl Scout USA headquarters. “This was pretty bad. These people seemed to have an ax to grind and they were going to grind it.”

So they were nothing like the friendly, smiling Girl Scout faces people typically see when swinging open their front doors to buy Thin Mints.

The council’s attorney and parliamentarian wanted to end the meeting shortly after it started, so appalled were they by the volunteers’ rowdy behavior. The interruptions, the smirks, the angry accusations dragged on until nearly midnight.

What went wrong? Is this Girl Scouts Gone Bad or just a big, big communication problem?

After weeks of wanting to keep the turmoil “in the family,” Pruett and top Girl Scout leaders in Spokane have decided to talk.

The whole blown-out-ofproportion mess, they said, started just after a council employee was fired and furious about it.

She retaliated by riling up a small group of volunteers, who then spread anger and rumors through the 18-county council, which serves about 4,400 girls and 1,500 volunteers, said board president Judy Frigon.

Volunteers have rapped council leaders for everything from a financial deficit to sluggish cookie sales to poor leadership. Girl Scout staff members joined a union, fearing they’d be fired, too.

For legal reasons, Frigon said she can’t identify the employee or why she was fired. “Because she was dismissed by the executive director, they want us to dismiss the executive director.”

Pruett, too, has news for the volunteers, who desperately hoped she’d side with them: “We, Girl Scouts USA, will stand behind the board.”

Pruett also wants to put into perspective the council’s deficit of about $93,000 last year.

Adult Girl Scouts need to scrape up more money themselves and quit relying so much on the girls’ cookie sales, said Pruett. But, she added, “there are lots of councils worse off than they are.”

Pruett shared her opinions - and admonishments - with the volunteers before she left.

She might as well have slapped them in the face, the women said.

“We were really hoping they’d come in and be a mediator,” said Julie Taylor, a Girl Scout manager in Post Falls. “They were very closedminded.”

The scandal did peak in late March just after Executive Director Judy Edlund fired her top assistant, Brusan Wells, who was open and popular with volunteers, said Taylor.

“A terminated employee, the (financial) statements are six months late, and we have a big deficit - it sort of hit all at once.”

Volunteers have been unhappy about the council’s finances for several years, she added.

Wells, 43, said she couldn’t have whipped up such a frenzy had she tried.

“I may have been not happy with the way things were done, but by golly, can one disgruntled employee have this much power? I don’t think so.

“When do they stop pointing all these fingers and knuckle down and take responsibility as a board of directors?”

Among the rumors spread throughout the council is that last year’s deficit is a huge disgrace, said Frigon, also a computer consultant at Washington State University.

It is the biggest deficit in the operating budget in at least a decade. But Frigon said the council has nearly $300,000 in reserves to make up the difference.

The council doesn’t hang onto too much money because organizations like United Way won’t donate more unless it’s spent on the girls, said board member Dorothy Spoerhase.

The deficit is easy to explain, too, said Frigon. Cookie sales were unusually low. Federal subsidies for camp food were cut in half. And depreciation of buildings and equipment makes up nearly half the deficit, she said.

The council’s accountants noted in their audit they couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of last year’s records because of the condition they were in.

That’s only because the Girl Scouts’ computer system and backup system crashed, said Frigon.

The accountant, Michael McFarland at MacFarland & Alton P.S., was out of town and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Now, Frigon said, she’s ready to move on and will soon meet with volunteers on a new committee to straighten things out.

Both sides do appear to agree on one thing: Nearly every woman interviewed ended the conversation with the same sentiment.

“Let’s get back to the girls,” said Frigon. “That’s what we’re all here for.”

, DataTimes


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