Lamb out, Barlow in as president of Philomath Community Services

The months-long power struggle at Philomath Community Services appears to be over, with a new slate of officers taking the nonprofit’s reins from controversial President Jeff Lamb.

Marti Staprans Barlow was elected to the top leadership position Wednesday night during a board meeting at Philomath City Hall, bumping Lamb from the post he has held for six years.

Other officers elected Wednesday were Pam Stauber, vice president; Tina Thurman, secretary; and Michele Kellison, treasurer. Thurman replaces Lamb’s wife, Debbie Thorpe; the other two positions were vacant.

Rounding out the nine-member board of directors are Scott Ramsey, Gabrielle Mahoney, Bill Seagren, Kimberly Hart and Mike Crocker. Barlow, with two years’ service, is now the only person who has been on the board more than a few months.

Barlow told the Gazette-Times on Thursday that Philomath Community Services was moving toward enacting a number of reforms recommended by a consulting firm hired by the previous board, including implementing new policies and procedures, staggered terms for board members and limiting the terms of officers.

“We’re just trying to empower the program managers to give them the autonomy they need to make the decisions to run the programs that they have been doing all along,” she said. “The board will not be micromanaging the program managers.”

Wednesday’s vote caps a tumultuous year for Philomath Community Services, an umbrella organization for five nonprofits that provide food, clothing and other emergency assistance to needy families.

Internal conflicts burst into the open in October, when a number of disaffected program managers and volunteers held a public meeting to air their grievances with the board.

Lamb came in for the harshest criticism, including allegations of dictatorial behavior, verbal abuse and financial improprieties. Lamb, who has been involved with the organization since its genesis more than 30 years ago as the Philomath Community Food Bank, has consistently denied all those claims.

Meanwhile, after receiving several complaints, the Oregon Department of Justice put the organization on notice that it was monitoring the situation.

Following months of turmoil, Lamb backed a transition plan that would have allowed him to be re-elected as president one more time before handing control of the organization to Barlow in the first half of this year.

But that proposal was shot down during a contentious board meeting early last month, prompting Vice President Don Gist to resign in protest. Barlow’s election as president during a follow-up meeting Dec. 18 was called into question after Lamb claimed Gist’s resignation had been rescinded, raising doubts about the meeting’s validity and prompting Barlow to call new board elections this week.

“Most of us were elected twice,” she said Thursday.

Sara Power, a longtime Community Food Bank volunteer and an outspoken critic of Lamb’s actions, said she’s satisfied with the steps being taken under the new board’s leadership.

“Marti and the rest of the board have been extremely receptive in listening to what the program managers have to say,” Power told the newspaper. “The programs need to be the focus, not the politics.”

Lamb declined an interview request Thursday, but he offered his views on the upheaval at Philomath Community Services in a 600-word guest column printed that morning on the Gazette-Times’ opinion page.

While he lamented that the organization’s difficulties had garnered press coverage rather than being settled in private, he said he was stepping aside and asked his supporters to give their backing to Barlow.

“I am not willing to take PCS over the community cliff by demanding I be allowed to continue my community work for PCS,” Lamb wrote. But, he added, “it is a bitter pill to swallow when you are told there is no place for you in the house you helped build.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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Special Projects Editor

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

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