My name was listed in a diatribe about the Mabel Tainter's handling of the termination of Steve Renfree as executive director. As a Board Member, an attorney and a human being, I want to clear some things up.
On December 9, a sexual assault was reported as having occurred at the Mabel in the middle of the night by an employee. That employee was NOT Steve Renfree. Steve was contacted by the police and notified of the event. He contacted Marni Waznik, the board president, who urged him to immediately contact the board and appropriately deal with the employee. Unfortunately, Steve did not heed Marni's request and did very little for ten days. In that time, the Mabel continued to employ this person and allowed them unfettered access to the theater. The employee was not questioned about what happened until the Board took it into their own hands.
On December 19, the Board of Directors had their regular meeting. As mentioned, I am on the Board and was present. Marni Waznik had to push Steve Renfree to tell the board what happened regarding the sexual assault. Steve didn't want to tell us and seemed concerned with protecting the identity and privacy of the employee. When forced to admit an alleged sexual assault occurred at the Mabel, Steve said that such descriptions as sexual assault might be “titillating” to some. The alleged victim was never mentioned, as Steve failed to gather any information about her. Public safety did not figure into his responses. Out of Steve's presence, the Board voted to end his employment at the Mabel upon his return from vacation.
On December 20, Steve Renfree left on vacation. He told us to contact him if necessary. Incoming Board President, Andrew Mercil and I, met with the employee who confirmed that he was not spoken to by any agent of the Mabel regarding the alleged sexual assault. I contacted the police, who filled me in on the situation and, in turn, I passed information to the Board. Steve was contacted and told to meet us promptly upon his return.
The investigation continues and may be months before it is complete. I am in contact with the police as to the ongoing investigation.
We decided to do press releases to maintain transparency with the public and let people know that the Mabel takes safety seriously. The Leader Telegram took the situation and did something different: they created a poorly worded article and conjured up a photo of Steve off the internet. No one on this Board is happy with the article or the Leader Telegram.
Yesterday, a well crafted post attracted a lot of attention on FB. It slammed the Board for firing Steve Renfree. I get it. No one enjoys firing anyone and no one enjoys being being fired. Termination of employment is a difficult and emotional thing. That said, I stand by my decisions and the decisions the Board has made thus far. Managers who are responsible for the safety of others owe it to those people to take precautions in circumstances like these. Their concern should not only be for the due process rights of the alleged perpetrator, but also for the well being of their employer and the public whom they serve. Burying one's head in the sand is not an option. Protecting a potential offender is not the priority.
I have two daughters who regularly spend time at the Mabel. I hope they will look back and remember their dad as someone who stood up for the little guy, didn't care about popularity, and, most of all, did the right thing even when it was a hard thing to do. In these times, women are being encouraged to speak out about sexual assault. Well, someone did and there was NOTHING titillating about it! At the Mabel, we are taking such things seriously and have zero tolerance for anyone who does not.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
CHARLIE HUFF, Menomonie