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Former YMCA Executive Says Problems Remain At Organization

Photo by Christopher Maue

Glenda DeVeaux, a former YMCA interim executive director at the Motino branch in Oceanside, Feb. 2016.

Details of an inquiry last year into the operation of the YMCA of San Diego County found no illegal conduct at the organization. But the exit of a key executive may indicate the YMCA’s troubles remain.

It’s been six months since an inquiry into the operation of the YMCA of San Diego County closed. Details of the findings were kept secret except for this conclusion: there was no illegal conduct.

But the exit of a key executive, Glenda DeVeaux, the interim executive director of the Oceanside branch, may indicate that the Y's troubles remain.

KPBS Investigative Reporter Amita Sharma spoke with Morning Edition Anchor Deb Welsh about this story. Here's that question-and-answer session.

Let’s rewind. What was last summer’s investigation of the YMCA supposed to look into and what did it find?

The consultant hired by the YMCA’s corporate board in July was meant to investigate allegations of forced resignations, mistreatment of minority employees and questionable management practices.

The results of the probe were never released in the form of a report. But in careful language, the consultant said her inquiry found “no financial fraud, no unlawful discrimination and no programs and initiatives inconsistent with the mission of the YMCA.”

And you say just as the investigation got under way last July, another example was about to unfold, illustrating – according to some – why a probe was even needed. What happened?

Upper managers at the YMCA’s headquarters were looking for an interim executive director for the YMCA branch in Oceanside. That branch is called Mottino. They turned to Glenda DeVeaux. At the time, DeVeaux supervised a staff of 250 as associate director of child and youth development for the YMCA. DeVeaux accepted the job.

But she said when she arrived at Mottino, she found it in crisis.

DeVeaux: “The first month I went in, we were behind $50,000 in camp. They needed training. They didn’t know how to do budgets. Take child and youth development. When I got there, the program didn’t have any supplies. They didn’t have any resources. It was the same thing for some of the sports programs. No one was asking the community, `What kind of sports programs are you looking for? How can we meet your needs and why are we doing these programs?'"

How did the Mottino YMCA branch get to this point?

DeVeaux said heavy-handed management had caused high turnover which ultimately led to new staff coming in and they were green. DeVeaux said she got no guidance from supervisors. She said when she tried to tell them what was happening at Mottino, she was told she wasn’t supposed to “get into operations.” She was just supposed to manage the board.

But DeVeaux said the board of management at Mottino already knew of the problems. She said they wanted answers.

So DeVeaux said she again went to her supervisors.

DeVeaux: “I was told you’re not supposed to tell board members what was wrong. You act like everything is fine. You put a smile on your face and you keep moving.”

What happened then?

Just months later, DeVeaux said she was given a poor performance review with no explanations and asked to resign. DeVeaux said she took her case to various executives at the YMCA including Chief Executive Officer Baron Herdelin-Doherty but got no resolution so she acquiesced and quit."

DeVeaux: “It hurt. I had nobody else to go to. I spoke to the CEO. I spoke to the general counsel and senior human resources director and none of them were willing to sit at a table and say, `How can we make this better?’ I’m an example of what happens when you speak up.”

I should add that DeVeaux is a Latina and she believes her experience at the YMCA was partly connected to her ethnicity.

DeVeaux: “I was told I was too direct and people like me could get terminated. I felt like people like me look different. I look different. At one time, I was the highest minority in the executive interim role at the YMCA. I’ve seen multiple minorities lose their jobs for no reason at all. The culture doesn’t allow for minorities to survive."

Sources have told KPBS that around 25 executive directors and other senior managers have resigned or been forced out of the YMCA in recent years. More than half of them were bilingual minorities.

What does the YMCA say about what happened to DeVeaux?

Mottino board members referred my requests for comment to YMCA headquarters in Mission Valley.

A YMCA spokeswoman there declined to respond to DeVeaux’s allegations, saying it doesn’t speak publicly about personnel matters

Board disenchantment with the YMCA’s leadership also appears to be on the rise. In the last year, 12 members, or about one-third of the board at the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA in Encinitas have left. Many of them have said they are unhappy with how the organization is being run. And they’ve said they are upset that the findings of last year’s investigation were never made public other than to say there was no illegal conduct. They view the investigation as an empty promise of accountability.

Several corporate board members overseeing the entire organization have also left. I wanted to learn why but Corporate Board President John Maguire did not respond to an interview request.

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