May 25, 1995 in Nation/World

Turmoil Entangles Girl Scout Council Leaders Face Questions About $100,000 Deficit, Unionization Of Employees, Canceled Summer Camp

By The Spokesman-Review

Leaders of the Girl Scout Inland Empire Council face a tough job tonight: Calm dozens of angry volunteers demanding to know why they went $100,000 over budget last year and how they plan to make it up.

And once those questions are answered, the mothers and grandmothers from this 18-county council will want to know more.

Is the council, which covers Eastern Washington and North Idaho, at risk of being disbanded? Why do Girl Scout staff members suddenly feel the need to join a union?

Perhaps most disheartening of all, the regional turmoil has prodded national Girl Scout officials to back out on sponsoring a summer camp in North Idaho for girls from around the world.

A top Girl Scout official from New York City headquarters will be here to help sort through the problems.

Troop leaders and volunteers who have worked with Girl Scouts for decades say the growing dissent is an embarrassment to the non-profit organization, which includes more than 4,400 girls and 1,500 volunteers.

“The management style of this council is deplorable,” said Molly Pearson, who has been involved in Girl Scouts for 29 years.

Darla DeCristoforo, a South Hill troop leader, said Girl Scout board members are too secretive and aren’t taking volunteers’ concerns seriously.

“There’s just a myriad of messes we don’t have answers for,” said DeCristoforo.

But President Judy Frigon said any problems have grown far out of proportion.

“We have a communication problem - I will admit that,” said Frigon. “And we need to take care of it.”

Frigon, who is serving her sixth year as president, said she never has seen so many volunteers so interested in the organization. “Wow! Somebody’s waking up and finally paying attention.”

Tonight’s special meeting will focus on finances and why volunteers haven’t been able to get annual reports which should have been available last fall, Frigon said.

Recent figures from Girl Scout accountants reveal a deficit of more than $100,000 - the largest in at least a decade. A computer crash is blamed for the long delay in making that information public.

“There are some unexpected things that happened,” said Frigon, who plans to discuss details at tonight’s meeting.

Among the unexpected happenings was a drop in cookie sales - a big moneymaker for Girl Scouts. Sales went from $396,412 in 1993 to $370,573 last year, records show.

Scout officials also will try to dispel a rumor that Peggy Pruitt is in town from Girl Scouts USA because the region may lose its council, Frigon said.

The turmoil was a factor, however, in a recent decision by national Girl Scout officials to pull their support for Roundup, a 1996 summer camp planned in North Idaho, said Frigon.

“If the girls are going to travel here from all over the world, we’d want to make sure we gave them the very, very best experience. At this time, we feel we’re really diluting ourselves and unable to do the best we can.”

That news only made a bad situation worse, said Chris Parker, a Girl Scout manager in Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s not a very good example for the girls,” many of whom already were saving money for the camp, said Parker.

The discord was compounded this spring when two staff members were fired abruptly by Executive Director Judy Edlund, said volunteers.

Brusan Wells, an 11-year employee, said she was given 30 minutes to clean out her desk a few days after warning Edlund that employees had lost confidence in her management abilities.

That incident, coupled with the firing of a registrar, prompted nervous staff members to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said an employee who didn’t want her name published for fear Edlund would fire her, too.

“We feel she’s going to clean house - make us reapply for jobs and then not hire us,” she said.

Volunteer Jackie Brown-Fairbanks said Girl Scout officials have denied requests to meet with board members about morale and communication problems, despite a “letter of no confidence” signed by 170 volunteers.

But they have plenty of questions about finances, in the meantime.

“One of the Girl Scout laws is use your resources wisely,” said Parker. “They didn’t do that.”

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