Volunteers, board members at odds over Philomath Community Services

PHILOMATH — Simmering internal dissensions have erupted into public view at Philomath Community Services, a nonprofit umbrella agency that provides food, clothing and other assistance to hundreds of people each month through five independent programs.

A group of disaffected program managers and volunteers have called a public meeting for 6 p.m. today at Philomath City Hall to air their grievances and demand new leadership on the board of directors.

Meanwhile, the board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. at the Philomath Community Services building and has invited the program managers to discuss their concerns.

Much of the dispute revolves around the leadership of Jeff Lamb, a longtime supporter of the organization who has served as board president for the last three years. Lamb’s supporters point to his years of service to the group and other community organizations, while his detractors accuse him of verbally abusive behavior toward volunteers, program managers and fellow board members.

Leota Hutsell, the manager of the Philomath Gleaners, claims Lamb loudly berated her early last month for calling a repairman to fix a malfunctioning freezer without getting authorization for the expense.

“He stood right there at the corner of my desk and shouted at me,” Hutsell said, adding that the incident left her rattled and afraid. “I was shocked by that kind of performance from somebody in his position.”

Lamb recalls the discussion very differently. “Was I yelling? No,” he said. “Was there any profanity? No.”

Lamb adamantly denies verbally abusing anyone connected with Philomath Community Services. He believes much of the friction within the organization derives from “turf battles” between individual organizations competing for limited space and resources.

“You’ve got five families living in one house, and you have a board of directors and you’ve got 125 kids (volunteers),” Lamb said.

Matters have escalated in recent weeks.

On Sept. 10, two dissenting board members, Betty Hooper and Peggy Clark, were asked in writing by Secretary Debbie Thorpe, Lamb’s wife, to resign for not being “team players.” Both were later voted off by the other board members.

On Sept. 13, copies of a “letter of no confidence” were presented to the board. The letters were signed by 29 volunteers, including the managers of the Philomath Gleaners, Philomath Food Bank and June’s Kids Kloset.

In a Sept. 20 letter, Kids Kloset manager Carey Oien notified the board she was closing the agency, in part because of Lamb’s “uncontrolled anger and abusive language.”

And a “statement of concern” dated Sept. 25 claims that “verbal abuse and physically intimidating behavior” by an unnamed board member “has created a climate of fear” among some female volunteers.

A majority of board members have rallied to Lamb’s defense, issuing a statement of confidence in his leadership at a special meeting on Saturday. The board also voted to bring in a facilitator to work with directors and program managers and authorized an audit to address suggestions of possible financial irregularities (allegations Lamb and other board members deny).

Vice President Don Gist is one of Lamb’s staunchest supporters. He said he has never witnessed any verbal abuse and insisted the programs are running smoothly under Lamb’s leadership.

He acknowledges his longtime friend’s “abrasive personality” sometimes creates conflict, but he added that no one can doubt Lamb’s commitment to making Philomath a better place.

“He also has so much good in his heart and so much love for the community,” Gist said. “He has been out there working for the good of the community for the 27 years I’ve known him.”

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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