• Trevor Greenway

Accusations fly at Wakefield centre AGM

David Park isn’t happy about the way former director-general Blair Mackay was fired from the Wakefield community centre and he made sure the 40 people attending the AGM on Sept. 22 knew how he felt.


Park told the crowd that director-general Mackay, who was hired in December of 2021, never got a chance to do what he was hired to do, which was to bring more regional arts and culture events to the centre.


The board fired Mackay as director-general in mid-July and hired Carly Woods as interim community coordinator for a six-week contract throughout the summer.


Park, who was roommates with Mackay when he lived in Wakefield, accused then centre president Irene Richardson and board member Sally Swan of harassing Mackay on the job.


“I, unfortunately, got to hear some of the things that were happening day to day,” said Park in a passionate speech during the question period. He was directing his comments towards Richardson.


“My impression is that you and Sally Swan harassed this man; you came every day, you were volunteer board members, had nothing to do in a sense with the general operation of the centre, and then you fired him in a most unrealistic way, an extremely unfair way, just up and seemingly fired him, which was only ratified, as I understand, some nine days ago by a meeting of this board. I don’t understand how this sort of thing goes on. This is not about the future. Good-intentioned amateurs should leave it to professionals. Blair Mackay deserved a chance to do what he was here for.”


Park pushed even further and confronted Richardson, saying she “misrepresented” the centre in an interview with the Low Down in June of this year, in which she said there were no imminent plans for the MRC des Collines to take over the centre and turn it into a cultural hub. Park said he sees it differently.


“[Mackay] came in with the understanding that he would be working towards cultural activities and towards the future of this centre, which had all been loosely agreed upon a year before that, when we had a retreat,” said Park. “I’m afraid that the idea of future planning for the centre was misrepresented a couple months back in an article in the Low Down by the president and another article when Blair Mackay was hired.”

Those articles spoke about how there was discussion with the MRC about turning the centre into a regional hub, but Richardson said those discussions died over the pandemic. She reiterated much of the same to the AGM crowd Sept. 22.


Richardson explained some of the troubles the centre had gone through over the past three years: the multiple opening and closings of the centre due to pandemic restrictions; staffing problems; and moving fundraising and other events online. She redirected the conversation to focus on the positive and spoke of all the grant funding the centre has received and how donors can now receive a charitable receipt through a new partnership with the Ottawa Community Foundation.


“So, I think we did pretty damn good, to say that we went through the two-and-a-half-years, we survived COVID,” said Richardson. “We applied for a lot of grants, built relationships with the federal government, the provincial government… there’s money in the bank, we have staff, we have a great board, we’re moving forward.”


The Low Down reached out to Swan for comment, but did not get a response by press time.


But the drama didn’t end there. Theatre Wakefield member Claude Laroche pressed board member Woods on why she was allowed to step off the board during the summer to take a paid position to fill in for Mackay’s absence, only to “magically be reinstated” on the board.


“So, was this a resignation of convenience or was this a real resignation?” asked Laroche. “Or did she actually never resign, and was she a board member and was she being paid while being a board member in contradiction to the bylaws?”


Woods explained that when Mackay was fired and nobody stepped up to bring summer and fall programming to the centre, she agreed to step off the board to take the paid position. She did not attend board meetings during that time and had always planned to return to the board once her six-week contract was up.


La Roche wasn’t satisfied with her answer and quipped, “So, you’re agreeing that it was a resignation of convenience? So, anyone could randomly decide that ‘Oh, for six weeks, I won’t be on the board, and I am going to take a position at the community centre and get paid for it in contravention of the bylaws.’”


Woods responded with a sharp reply.


“You could look at it like that, but I also gave up a paid summer off to step in and do something for my community,” she said to a round of cheers from the audience. “My goal has always been to be a board member and to help out the centre and our community as much as possible.”


Long-time Wakefield area resident Ruth Salmon said that the centre has had “systemic” problems since it opened 10 years ago. Salmon said she feels the board has some work to do — from communication problems to a lack of community outreach from the centre’s committees. She suggested training for board members to learn the proper role of a board member in a community context.


“I think there is a real disconnect that has been systemic over the 10 years between the board and the membership, and I think the board would be very well advised to put a lot of energy into community outreach and the buy-in from the community because that’s what I think is missing,” said Salmon on increasing community engagement. “The heart of this centre doesn’t have the buy-in from the community.”


Board member Hélène Giroux tried to calm the room, adding that the centre had been “grappling” with what the future could look like in terms of programming and events. She told the crowd that a more robust committee is being formed to look at future opportunities and guaranteed that the community would be engaged.


“It’s been a bit of a challenge to get our act together again, so I beg for a little bit of understanding in terms of what we have done over the last year,” said Giroux.


Following the heated discussion, Park returned to the mic and nominated himself to return to the board. Board members cheered him in, including Woods, who said, “We need people.”


The community centre filled all board member seats during the AGM.


The new volunteer board consists of Helen Giroux, Kathleen Lauder, Carly Woods, Andrea Rowe, Pam Ross, David Park, Peter Gillies, Lindsay Farley, and Vicky Carlan.


The Wakefield community centre is entirely volunteer-run and, although the centre does receive funding from La Pêche, much of it goes towards maintaining the building.