Followup: Words of gratitude from West Seattle Senior Center’s board president and ousted director

August 4, 2014 at 10:15 pm | In West Seattle news, West Seattle people | 8 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Three weeks ago, we reported on the sudden ouster of the longtime director of the Senior Center of West Seattle, Karen Sisson, news that shocked and saddened many community members – one of whom even picketed.

While the center owns its own building and has its own board of directors, its staff/administration is through the citywide nonprofit Senior Services, which would not comment on the reason for Sisson’s dismissal. Less than a week after her termination, the West Seattle board declared it had voted full confidence in her leadership, and its president Dave Robertson stressed that they were pressing for answers.

We’ve been asked what’s happened since then. Here’s what Robertson told WSB today:

As board President of the West Seattle Senior Center, I would like to thank the West Seattle community for its support to the Senior Center and to Karen Sisson. The Board of Directors of West Seattle Senior Center is hopeful that it will be able to amicably resolve issues with Senior Services, and in the meantime, the Senior Center does not want to lose Karen’s talents and experience in helping seniors in West Seattle.

The Senior Center has been an integral part of the West Seattle community for 40 years, and Karen has been Center Director for more than 25 of those years. Karen’s dedication to seniors and to the Center is without question. Her work is phenomenal. As we continue to work on this issue, we thank you for your support and patience.

Since our last followup, we also made contact with Karen Sisson, who had her own words of thanks:

I have so appreciated the support from the community, it is overwhelming to me.

I am also overwhelmed with the loss of my job, working to better the world of seniors in West Seattle. I have always loved my work, the connection to the community and with the seniors individually. It is so rewarding to see what staff can do to change the course of their world.

Above all, I would ask that the community continue to support the Center and its staff during this transition period. Your support of the Center is the only reason it has been so successful. The West Seattle board is strong and has strong leadership under David Robertson, and Nancy Sorensen who actually used to be president of the SS board. They have some very hard decisions to make and i wish them well in that process.

In the meantime, I will volunteer for Aylene the Stop n’ Shop manager, and assist the board should they request.

While neither Senior Services nor Sisson elaborated on the reason given for letting her go, Robertson said in his first public statement that it had to do with an e-mail.

8 Comments

  1. As a volunteer at the Senior Center of West Seattle and as a senior citizen in this community, I am relieved and gratified that the board continues to work on this issue.

    There is no question about the fact that the people of West Seattle and the seniors who live here WANT ANSWERS! Everyone connected with the Senior Center knows Karen’s contribution, knows her worth, knows her value. Apparently the only person who remains ignorant of this outstanding leader’s worth is the person who so dishonorably removed Karen from her post.

    To remove Karen after her years of exceptional service because she expressed disagreement with Paula Houston’s views is an extreme over reaction. One that reflects complete indifference to the needs of the seniors who live in West Seattle and who frequent the Senior Center.

    Where was the due process? Where was the board consultation? Where was the negotiation? Where was the discussion? The willingness to compromise? Where was even the most basic component that is integral to a fair-minded handling of ANY situation? Is ANYONE’s job safe?

    We hope to hear more.. MUCH more.. regarding this situation and what will be done to rectify this outrageous miscarriage. The West Seattle Senior Center needs Karen Sisson’s leadership. It’s up to our board to get it back.

    Jan Jarrell
    Volunteer, West Seattle Senior Center.

    Comment by Jan Jarrell — 7:46 am August 5, 2014 #

  2. Can someone publish an address where we could individually write a letter to express our feelings to the top management even if it’s the one who fired her. I am sure that I wouldn’t be the only one who would like to speak our peace. This just is not fair whatsoever.

    Comment by Vanessa — 2:37 pm August 5, 2014 #

  3. “We hope to hear more.. MUCH more.. regarding this situation”

    Unless it comes from Karen herself, you won’t, and you shouldn’t.

    Discussing personnel matters in public is a serious liability, and a legal no-no. When I saw the first comments about “an email”, I cringed. Robertson, with that comment, exposed his organization to potential legal and financial ramifications – that is why the legally advised HR mantra is “start date, end date, nothing else” in regards to employment information. If Karen wanted to sue the Center because Robertson’s comments affected her standing with a potential or current employer, she would have grounds to do so. If he says nothing…

    I’m sure readers ‘want to know’, but State and Federal courts have consistently found that, without substantive public interest (e.g., they work for the government), public exposure of employment records by the employer is actionable by the employee. It doesn’t matter how newsworthy the case is or how justified either party feels.

    Comment by forgotmyname — 2:38 pm August 5, 2014 #

  4. Excuse me, @Forgotmyname, but this is NOT a personal matter. This situation couldn’t possibly GET more public! It had and continues to have a profound effect on the lives of the most vulnerable citizens in our community.

    We ALREADY know enough to understand why Karen was let go and how completely arbitrary and utterly wrong that decision was. We know on what basis it was made… she DARED to voice an opinion different from the CEO’s.

    What we want now is for our board to tell us that they are going to fulfill their mandate, do what is right for West Seattle’s senior citizens, and bring Karen back to the job for which she has demonstrated outstanding ability and unswerving loyalty.

    No one is asking them to break the law. We’re just asking them to do what is right for our seniors. And about that we DO want to hear much more!

    Comment by Jan Jarrell — 3:33 pm August 5, 2014 #

  5. Jan, it is a personnel matter, but you obviously have personal investment in it. That is clouding your understanding as to why, although you want answers, Senior Services isn’t going to give them to you. Right or wrong, regardless of fairness or not, if Senior Services releases details of Karen’s termination they can be held legally liable. That is why they are not calling the media and saying “this is what happened…”, and it is why, even though you may think full disclosure is somehow your right, you’re not going to get it.

    Comment by forgotmyname — 5:46 pm August 5, 2014 #

  6. We need Karen Sission at the senior center. It is a complex multi faceted organization that needs her expertise. We want Karen back.

    Comment by A Senior — 6:26 pm August 5, 2014 #

  7. Jan continues to make some great points about this issue. @forgotmyname we all understand your point about Senior Services and HR policy. The three previous stories and comments on this issue elaborate on the questions and calls for action. When an individual’s employment termination affects an entire community negatively that community has a right to comment and make an appeal for action to the board that oversees the organization (Senior Services in this case). Here are a few examples of previous comments, questions and appeals worth reiterating.
    -
    First question: What can the West Seattle Senior Center do? Some options have been mentioned such as investigating the possibility that the West Seattle Senior Center could sever ties with Senior Services. That is a question that Dave Robertson and the rest of the West Seattle Senior Center Board of Directors could give an update on. They could also give an update on what response was received from the Senior Services Board of Directors when the West Seattle board gave Karen Sisson a unanimous full confidence vote (assuming they sent some formal correspondence on the issue). “Pressing for answers” is nice but how about pressing for action or taking action? West Seattle Senior Center Board of Directors, we are looking to you to take action.
    -
    Second questions: Why is the Board of Directors for Senior Services not intervening? Why are they not inquiring into why the new leader of a non-profit that serves seniors was so intimidated by an email that brought up questions concerning potential changes to senior centers that she immediately terminates a leader with such long and distinguished service as Karen Sisson? Why does the board of Senior Services let this and other blatant disregard for the organization’s mission and its employees by Ms. Paula Houston, CEO of Senior Services, continue unchecked? Not taking action gives the business of protecting a leader’s ego priority over the business of serving seniors.
    -
    Third question: What can we do? We can write and call John Norden the Chair of the Senior Services Board of Directors, and West Seattle resident, to express our dissatisfaction with the disregard Ms. Paula Houston has shown for the West Seattle Senior Center and the larger mission of Senior Services. We could also encourage the Senior Services board to investigate what effects the new executive leadership has had on the volunteers and staff at Senior Services. The leadership failure in the handling of Karen’s termination is not likely to be an isolated incident; it is just the one that made the news. Vanessa showed great initiative by picketing on July 17th. Writing all the board members is also a great idea that might inspire some of the board members (of both boards) to do the right thing and show some leadership of their own. A few email addresses were posted in past comments, it would be a big help if someone could give us the rest so our concerns can be conveyed. I searched for more with no luck.
    -
    Last question: Will the Senior Services board reach out and post their email addresses here so they can get some honest feedback from the community, staff and volunteers they were appointed to serve and provide leadership for?
    -
    I’d like to reiterate my appeal to the Senior Services board. “Take action before the ability of Senior Services to perform its mission is permanently damaged. Check out Senior Services Mission, Vision and Cultural Competence statements at http://seniorservices.org/WhoWeAre.aspx Do you think the new CEO or her actions embody these?” Do yours?

    Comment by Seattle Senior — 11:02 am August 6, 2014 #

  8. In support of bringing Karen back as Senior Center director of West Seattle please join us in collecting signatures at the West Seattle market at the junction on Sunday August 10th at 10:30 am. I have already collected many signatures and want to give people a “voice” to show support for Karen that will be shared with Senor Services Board as they review this situation. Hope to see you there!

    Comment by WS Supporter — 8:02 pm August 7, 2014 #

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