IT CAME AS a surprise–even a shock–to many of us. Doug Russell, the highly respected executive director of Room at the Inn and this community’s leading advocate for the homeless, was terminated.
It seemed to come out of the blue, totally unexpected. And unfair, as well. After all, the man wasn’t making a ton of money, he was working his butt off, and he was doing it on behalf of some of the most unfortunate in our society.
So what led to the termination?
Room at the Inn has always operated on a shoestring budget, less than $200,000 a year, and the feeling among board members was that Russell didn’t have the skills to increase their financial support.
Any hint of financial impropriety? Absolutely not. The feeling was just that he just wasn’t communicating well enough with them–and for an organization that is constantly scraping about looking for money, the board felt that was a flaw that couldn’t be ignored.
The vote to terminate Russell last week was unanimous.
Further, board members say Russell had been told previously that his performance had fallen short of their expectations. They wanted improvement. They didn’t see it.
At the board meeting that eventually resulted in his termination, several volunteers showed up to voice their concerns about RAI and Russell.
“He is a solid individual,” Sonderegger says. “He did his level best at this job, but we need to improve.”
“He is a kind man with a big heart,” board chairman David Payant adds. “He’s an excellent public speaker. He was an outstanding representative of Room at the Inn.”
That wasn’t enough for an organization that’s chronically underfunded and sometimes faces criticism from the police and downtown merchants. And not nearly enough for an organization that hopes to one day raise enough money to buy a permanent shelter for the homeless in Marquette.
The search is on for Russell’s successor. No timetable. It could be someone local or out-of-state.
But it’ll have to be someone who knows how to raise money, who communicates well with the board and with volunteers, churches and other organizations, who can handle criticism within the community, who has a big heart….and who will not be getting rich at his job.
As for Russell himself, he didn’t want to comment for this story. He feels no need to defend himself or engage in a dispute. On Facebook after his termination, he wrote: “…Life goes on, the mission continues, and we move forward knowing that love is all around us…”
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