Firestorm Hits Saugatuck-Douglas Area Business Association After Popular & Effective Marketing Manager Resigns "Due To Board Members Disrespect, Ineptitude"
In a move that has caused an uproar among many members of the Saugatuck-Douglas Area Business Association (SDABA), popular Marketing Manager Elizabeth Burns submitted her resignation last week citing “the incredible disrespect” shown her by certain “inept and egotistical SDABA board members more interested in their own personal agendas than doing what is best for the organization.”
Burns resigned her position with SDABA in a letter dated March 17, stating that the SDABA board “was acting unprofessional and with a lack of process” when it came to meeting with her on March 16 to conduct a performance review of her work over the past year and a half and discuss compensation.
Burns had been working without a contract for the past five months and had repeatedly asked for a performance review and an increase in her $33,000 salary.
Burns said - and some SDABA board members confirmed - that since she was hired in 2014 Burns has also been using her own equipment and paying expenses for (computers, phone, printer, personal car, etc.) for SDABA work without any additional compensation.
“When I was contacted by this three-member SDABA Performance Review Committee that they were finally going to conduct my performance review, I was happy,” said Burns. “I wasn’t looking for any large raise or anything; I would have been fine with even a small raise to cover all the personal expenses I was paying for.”
Burns said she had also previously asked the board to consider providing her additional in-kind compensation: covering her business’ SDABA dues, ad costs for the SDABA brochure, and placement of an ad on the SDABA business wall.
When that performance review meeting was finally held March 16, it went badly.
“During that meeting, a member of the so-called Review Committee - Jackie Beland, SDABA treasurer - along with fellow SDABA board members Mike Gustaitis, SDABA vice president, and Mindy Trafman, SDABA board member, told me they had no idea what I did for SDABA, even though I’ve been working for them for two years and have led and handled many successful events for the association! That’s how much preparation they did.”
Additionally, Burns said Gustaitis served on the SDABA hiring committee that selected her and helped formulate her job description. He also has been the longest serving board member.
Additionally, the board never contacted any individuals in the community who worked with Burns - including Felicia Fairchild, Saugatuck-Douglas CVB director, or past SDABA President Jim Petzing - who would normally have been contacted as part of any performance review.
“What kind of board member, let alone those on a Performance Review Committee, comes into a meeting with a staff member and tells them ‘We don’t know what you do?’
“At the performance review meeting, I was then told I wasn’t going to be getting any raise at that time, that they wanted to wait until after the upcoming busy summer season and then they’d hold another performance review session,” said Burns.
“It wasn’t a matter of not having the money,” she added. “SDABA has more money on hand than it did last November when they were supposed to conduct my performance review per my contract.
“I was stunned when Jackie Beland said, ‘That’s just not going to happen’ when I asked if I was going to receive a raise and compensation for my personal expenditures to help run SDABA,” noted Burns.
The unprofessionalism of the Performance Review Committee not only flustered, but angered her, said Burns.
“They hadn’t done their homework and thought so little of what I’ve done the past two years they told me, ‘We don’t know what you do. Can you provide us a list of your duties and what you’ve done?’ It was ridiculous and insulting!
“I was so appalled when the association’s vice president (Gustaitis) who has attended board meetings with agendas completely prepared and directed by me, said he did not know what I do. He would basically show up at monthly meetings, pick up the agenda and start reading the topics and then turn the meetings over to me. With the exception of the treasurer’s report, I did everything,” said Burns.
SDABA board members - and Burns agreed that SDABA was willing to give her the in-kind compensation, but no pay raise at that time.
Two days after that meeting, and after she submitted her resignation, SDABA sent Burns a letter dated March 17 that stated, in part, “We are very disappointed in your decision to resign.
“During the performance review that occurred on March 16, 2016, the Review Committee did recognize your contributions to the organization, as well as all the hard work you have done on behalf of SDABA since your initial hiring over two years ago.
“We were surprised by your accusations that the Board was acting unprofessional and with a lack of process, as much preparation went into the review process.”
Burns, an attorney, said she laughed when she read the part of the board’s March 17 letter saying how much preparation the review committee had put into her performance review meeting.
“For God’s sake, the Review Committee members told me they don’t even know what it is I do. What preparation did they do before our meeting? Nothing is what they did. I don’t call that preparation!” she said.
Burns said that letter was nothing more than an attempt by the SDABA Board to cover up its ineptitude and the shoddy way it has handled not only her, but the organization as well.
Burns said that letter, in her opinion, is an effort to try and mislead SDABA members as to what has occurred and is occurring by their board members.
She said the board is now trying to prevent SDABA members from knowing what really went on regarding her “performance review” and what is going on behind the scenes of the organization - “including the ongoing efforts of a certain few board members and others who are - and have been - trying to to control the the entire association to satisfy their own egos instead of doing what’s best for the members.”
She cites Beland as the worst offender.
Efforts to reach Beland for comment were not successful before press time.
In a related matter, Burns said she later learned from other SDABA board members - including David Langley, Chantal Nissima and Andra Purkalitis - that they knew nothing about Burns’ performance review being conducted on March 16.
Burns said she even questions whether the board had properly appointed members to sit on her Performance Review Committee.
“According to SDABA bylaws, the full board is the only entity that can create a committee by voting on it. That apparently never happened. It appears there was a violation of SDABA’s own rules,” said Burns.
Langley said the board did talk about creating a review committee last fall to deal with Burns’ employment, but the review never took place. at that time. He conceded the board did not vote to approve the new review committee that handled Burns’ March 16 session, although “I don’t see that as a problem.”
And Burns scoffs at the SDABA board’s March 17 letter asking her to reconsider her resignation, a move done, in her opinion she said, to cover up their ineptitude.
“Yeah, they wanted me back so badly that only two days after they wrote that letter, they meet at a coffee shop and hired Greg Muncey (of Del Sol in Saugatuck) as their new Marketing Manager and agreed to pay him $27,000 a year,” said Burns.
“Greg has been on and off the board three times in the past few years,” added Burns.
Part of the ongoing coverup by the SDABA board, charges Burns, “is that they never informed SDABA members about all that had transpired regarding her situation; they never conducted a proper search for a new marketing manager; and they hired Muncey without anyone knowing it. I don’t think Greg is qualified to meet the essential job functions of that position. In fact, he previously quit as SDABA recording secretary because he couldn’t keep up with doing monthly minutes,” said Burns.
Langley disagrees, saying, “Muncey has helped work on the SDABA brochures for years. He knows what he’s doing and he was willing to help.”
And although Muncey has been telling everyone he has been hired as the new SDABA Marketing Director, a subsequent public notice issued by the SDABA board characterizes his job title as only temporary through summer 2016 until the summer season is over. At that time the SDABA board will decide if Muncey will continue in that position or someone new will be sought.
Muncey also told The Local Observer and others that Saugatuck Mayor Chris Peterson had asked him to take the SDABA job.
However, when contacted, Peterson said she never asked him to take the SDABA position.
“I don’t have anything to do with SDABA,” said Peterson. “He (Muncey) spoke with me and told me SDABA wanted him to be their new marketing manager. I congratulated him and told him I hoped he would be successful. That’s all I said.”
Another issue involving Muncey was that immediately after he was hired, he placed a business for sale listing on the SDABA Facebook page which was for the company he worked for - Del Sol in Saugatuck - which is up for sale.
“That is a complete violation of SDABA policy,” said Burns. “That Facebook page is for promoting members’ businesses, not for personal or for sale of business ads. No one else has ever been allowed to do that.”
SDABA Board Member Langely agrees Muncey should not have done that. “I don’t believe that should have been done…and we will discuss it,” said Langely.
In defense of hiring Muncey without notifying or getting input from SDABA members first and not conducting a search for the best person to fill the marketing manager position, Langely said, “The board is not required to do that. The board is elected to do that job by the members. We are in the middle of trying to get our annual brochure out and we need to focus on that. We needed to find someone quickly…and Greg was available and willing to take it on.”
SDABA Board Member Trafman - who also sat on the Burns’ Performance Review Committee - said she did not feel the board members were disrespectful to Burns during the recent meeting.
“I’m sorry it has come to all this,” she said. “She (Burns) was obviously upset. We did offer her what she had requested (in-kind compensation), but no raise at this time.”
But Burns countered that she was never offered any in-kind compensation during the meeting. “That’s simply not true. It was never offered.”
As a result of all the controversy, several SDABA members - in emails and telephone calls - have raised questions about the SDABA board’s actions and some are threatening to quit the association.
For example, SDABA member Chuck Myers, co-owner of Scooters Cafe & Pizzeria, in a March 21 email to the SDABA board, wrote, in part: “I was shocked to learn that Elizabeth Burns was no longer the Marketing Director and that the Board had already hired a replacement!
“There has been NO information about any of this to the paying members of SDABA.
“The rest of our membership deserves to know what is going on BEFORE they are told by someone else or read about it in the newspapers. These actions SERIOUSLY call into question the actions, credibility and fiduciary responsibility of SDABA and its board of directors.
“Had I known of this prior to mailing my dues check for 2016 I would have chosen NOT to do so and withdrawn from membership and I suspect many others will feel the same.”