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Tenant Resource Center board to pursue mediation with Brenda Konkel over termination

November 28, 2018

At the urging of Tenant Resource Center employees and volunteers, the Madison nonprofit’s board voted late Monday night to enter into mediation with the executive director it fired last month, Brenda Konkel.

Last week, the board of directors rejected an appeal by Konkel contesting her Oct. 26 firing, citing financial mismanagement as the reason behind her termination. But to the surprise of board members, a resource center employee made a motion at a meeting of center members Monday to bring the issue before an official mediator.

Board member Jim White said, though, that the TRC would likely not be in a position to be able to afford potentially costly mediation.

“The problem here about keeping TRC afloat is big, and unless the people in this room want to get together and decide on an amount they want to fundraise among themselves, I don’t see how TRC can take on any of the burden,” he said to those gathered at the center inside the Social Justice Center, 1202 Williamson St.

The board ultimately decided that mediation will be led by a TRC volunteer, to avoid the cost of hiring an outside mediator. As part of the mediation approach struck Monday, board members and Konkel agreed to a “moratorium of negative commentary in the public sphere.”

Konkel, a former Madison City Council member and who announced earlier this year she plans to run for mayor in 2019, had been with the center since 1991, becoming executive director in 1995.

Prior to the move to consider mediation, the board explained its position behind firing Konkel and took questions from past and current volunteers and employees along with supporters of Konkel, who were largely critical of the board’s action.

The board cited several financial issues, such as failing to pay staff health insurance that threatened the loss of coverage and a continuing balance of past-due bills, that played into its decision to terminate Konkel.

In a series of posts on Konkel’s Forward Lookout blog Sunday, she defended her tenure at the center, said the board presented shifting explanations on the dismissal and challenged the alleged financial mismanagement issues.

“And what is so profoundly disturbing about that is not only did they not give me information before they fired me, or do an investigation that involved me or try to take any corrective steps with me, they also didn’t give me the information so I could defend myself in the appeal,” Konkel said in a blog post.

Board treasurer Joanne Brown said there is about $30,000 in past-due bills the center owes as of Nov. 2. Additionally, Brown said there were two occasions when the center was beyond its grace period to pay for health insurance. The board was not informed when Konkel received final notices of termination, she said.

As of early November, the center owed about $14,700 to its health insurance provider, which has since been cut to about $12,000.

“We’re not going to be able to accomplish our mission if we can’t pay the bills and keep the doors open,” said board member Michael Donnelly, who has served on the body since 2009.

Donnelly said he believes Konkel had the best interests of the organization at heart, but added “if someone has enough problems in doing a job, they can still do significant harm.”

Edward Kuharski, who worked with Konkel on the Occupy Madison “tiny house” village to house the homeless, criticized the amount of unpaid bills as small compared to the TRC’s annual budget of about $800,000.

“It sounds like the scale of the problem is rather small,” he said. “You’re making a mound out of a molehill financially.”

Given Konkel’s long tenure at the nonprofit, Kuharski said the board should have pursued corrective action instead of termination.

[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. The original version misstated the identity of the mediator selected by the board. The person will be a TRC volunteer.]

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