Board needs to be accountable after Vernon Science Centre manager fired: former employee - InfoNews

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Board needs to be accountable after Vernon Science Centre manager fired: former employee

The Okanagan Science Centre.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/The Okanagan Science Centre
March 17, 2020 - 7:30 PM

The firing of the Okanagan Science Centre executive director raises questions about the accountability of board members in not-for-profit organizations, says one former employee who resigned in protest.

News broke March 12 that Okanagan Science Centre executive director Jim Swingle had been let go after more than five years of service. Four part-time staff members promptly resigned over the matter.

"I was disgusted they fired Jim (Swingle)," Gabriel Newman told "I personally want the board to be accountable for their actions."

Newman said he was frustrated by the board who offered no explanation as to why Swingle was fired.

"Who does the board report to justify their actions?" Newman said.

Swingle told he wouldn't comment on the reason for his dismissal or whether he was going to fight it or not. Swingle said he wanted to thank the staff at the Science Centre and greatly appreciated their support.

Newman said he could see no reason for Swingle to be fired.

"To me, this has less to do with how the Science Centre is being run and something to do with the relationship with Jim (Swingle) and the board," he said. "Because of a personality conflict, the science centre is going to spend the next five years with high staff turnover, loss of funding, because most boards don't actually know what the (executive director) does."

Newman said there was lots of positive work being done at the Science Centre.

"So when somebody is fired that's a major concern that that work is not valued," he said.

Looking at the Science Centre's finances it does appear the centre was running well. With revenue at $450,000 and expenses at $422,000 as reported in June 2019, figures from the Canada Revenue Agency show the centre financially afloat. Figures show a deficit in 2015 and 2016, but since then the Science Centre has been in the black. The Science Centre receives $162,000 government funding and brings in almost $300,000 on its own.

In an email to Okanagan Science Centre board member Ryan Irving confirmed Swingle's dismissal but said in the circumstances he was limited in how much information he could provide.

Irving didn't answer when asked why four staff members had resigned or whether relations between the board and staff were poor, and instead said, "the remaining part-time and all full-time staff have remained with the Centre."

Newman said from prior involvement in not-for-profit groups over the last 20 years, disputes between management and board members, take years to rectify and lead to high staff turnover and often a loss of funding.

"I'm old enough and I have the luxury to not have to be part of that awful process again," he said. "I've been there it's not pleasant."

Newman said he had been working part-time at the Science Centre since October 2019 and had previously worked with the centre multiple times over the last 12 years.

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