After a week of inner turmoil, | AspenTimes.com
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After a week of inner turmoil,

Aspen Times Staff Report

The Roaring Fork Valley’s primary Latino advocacy organization plans to reopen its doors today after a week of internal strife.

The Asistencia Para Latinos office is still missing an executive director, and three of the board members have resigned for reasons that remain unclear. But one board member described the mood of the organization as “really positive about moving forward.”

“As far as the day-to-day duties go, we’re doing fine,” said board member Lorraine Miller.

Asistencia, located in Glenwood Springs, was expected to open for business again today after having closed down unexpectedly on Sept. 29.

The board closed the office after its entire staff of four people handed in a joint letter of resignation to be effective by Oct. 15.

This mass resignation came in the wake of the departure of former Executive Director Silvia Barbera, who had tendered her resignation months earlier for personal reasons.

According to current and past board members, the board had been considering Barbera’s subordinate, Ann Wesensten, as interim director.

But one board member reportedly proffered a different job description to Wesensten than the board had discussed, which touched off an internal controversy among board members. The offer was withdrawn, and the staff subsequently resigned over an as-yet-unexplained dispute with board members, sources said.

Members of the organization’s board of directors reacted quickly, locking the doors Sept. 29 and issuing a memo to the staffers ordering them to clean out their desks. Over the ensuing week, undisclosed negotiations took place between the board and the staff. The discussions led to the staff returning to work yesterday in preparation for opening the office today.

In the meantime, resignations were handed in by board president Ed Cortez and board members Mollie Beattie and Deborah Schoeberlein.

Schoeberlein said her resignation was over what she called “a coup” by the staff. She accused former board member Smedstad of engineering the staff walkout with a promise that the four staffers would be immediately rehired once the smoke cleared, a charge Smedstad emphatically denied.

Beattie and Cortez could not be reached for comment, and the remaining staffers and board members strove to keep their public discussions upbeat.

“The staff is keeping it positive,” said Wesensten on Monday, declining to discuss the current status of the organization.

Miller said the board will continue searching for a new director, and that the office will be doing business as usual in the meantime.

“It was difficult for everybody,” Miller said of the brief period of turmoil, explaining only that “there was a group of board members that was not authorized to act on behalf of the board, and they did.”

Downplaying what she termed the “unnecessary” closure of the office, she said, “We cherish the staff. We think the staff is a great staff. [The closure] is water under the bridge, and we’re moving forward.”

She reassured the public that “Asistencia is not in trouble. It’s a strong organization with a very strong board of directors.” She said the organization remains committed to its mission of serving both Latinos and Anglos in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Asistencia is what this valley needs,” she said. “It’s really a pity that some instability happened and we got off track for a week. Our door is open and we apologize that we’ve been closed for a week.”

Asistencia’s $200,000 annual budget is funded by a combination of public and private grants and donations, as well as a modest schedule of fees for service from its roughly 3,200 clients each year.

Among its activities is the organization of an annual Latino Festival, which last year drew some 6,000 people, Latinos and Anglos alike.


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