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Financial crunch forces South Whidbey Commons director cut
Facing a dire financial situation, the board of the South Whidbey Commons cut the executive director position held by Cheryl Sagmeister last week.
The loss was followed by an exodus of three other part-time paid staff members, who quit in protest of the board’s decision. Linda Henderson, the Commons board president, said money was the determining factor, not Sagmeister’s performance.
“The board made an agonizing decision because the Commons’ financial picture has been very, very tough,” Henderson said. “We just could not afford to have an executive director position at this time.”
“There’s been a lot of sleepless nights about this from board members, all concerned. It’s the last thing any of us wanted to do,” she later added.
Sagmeister could not be reached for comment for this story.
For the past few months, board members for the Commons have worried about its financial stability. Work on the road and underground utilities along Second Street in front of the cafe hit the shop hard, they said, and that has not changed since work began in mid-January.
Sagmeister was hired as the first executive director of the commons, a hiring that was originally thought to signal a step toward growth of the small nonprofit. It may have been an over-reach on the part of the Commons board, however, given that they were not anticipating a hit to business during the construction like the one Henderson said it sustained.
“It was just the timing,” Henderson said, later adding: “It got clearer every month. We were operating with too much overhead.”
Henderson confirmed that three paid part-time employees quit, including an AmeriCorps representative. All three positions are now filled by trainees of the Commons’ learn-to-work program that gives students an opportunity to get a first work experience in customer service, brewing coffee and making cappuccinos.
“We’ve hired them and they seem to be working out well, happy to have a paid position,” said Henderson of the new employees.
The South Whidbey Commons, other than its mortgage and some of its supply contracts, does not have any debt. Henderson said the board was not considering taking out a loan to pay for any operations at the time and that the Commons would remain open for the foreseeable future.
“Having made this move, we can afford our cost structure,” she said.
The Commons returned to its operations manager-board of directors format, hiring a former Commons trainee Katy Wilson-Albert to run the day-to-day business at the cafe.