Berson and Fonsh/My Turn: Inaccurate, unfair portrayal

As former members of the board of directors of Tapestry Health we are disturbed at Daily Hampshire Gazette article’s insinuation of impropriety and malfeasance during Leslie Tarr Laurie’s 40-year tenure as CEO of Tapestry Health.

With deep regret we resigned from Tapestry, an organization to which we had dedicated years and even decades of our volunteer time, at the same time that Leslie did. We did so in response to a radical change in the board operations and governance, and as an expression of our desire not to be complicit in a proposed agency budget that we viewed as unnecessarily austere. Until now we have chosen to refrain from any public comments, but we feel compelled to publicly correct the inaccurate, misleading and ahistorical representations made by the article published in The Recorder on April 23.

∎ Regarding the “series of annual losses” referenced in the article: This is inaccurate. Tapestry has, in fact, achieved a budget surplus for at least the past three years. In fact, Tapestry’s net liabilities have continued to decline annually as a 1990 state debt has been incrementally paid down. In addition to a cash payment of more than $500,000 made to the state, Tapestry has provided more than $1 million in free services to indigent clients.

∎ In relation to “Laurie’s compensation package,” cited in the article, Tapestry’s long-standing audit firm registered no concerns related to the authorization or documentation of the CEO’s compensation or contract. A new audit firm, selected for the first time this year, submitted a different opinion after our departures. Regardless, it is in fact the case that the CEO’s compensation and contract have absolutely no bearing on the current fiscal issues facing the organization. It is misleading, at best, to suggest they are related.

∎ The article offers no evidence of the actual financial strain of a “top-heavy administration,” yet suggests that this burden is now being addressed by “eliminating three positions (and) reducing hours of some employees.” This is an inaccurate characterization of the staff cuts that actually occurred. These included the reduction of an already part-time grant writer and a reduction in the only development staff person. These cuts — none of which represent a “top-heavy administration”— actually jeopardize Tapestry’s ability to end the fiscal year with a surplus, particularly because more than $175,000 must be raised annually from private donors. Grant writers and development staff are crucial to this task.

∎ The fiscal issues now facing Tapestry are indeed difficult and complex. If The Recorder (and Gazette) is interested in the history of these difficulties, it would do well to consider the economic and political context of sustaining a progressive, committed and multi-faceted human service organization during one of the most dire economic crises this nation has faced, and under the sustained political assault of conservative forces determined to marginalize and punish women and the working poor.

∎ It would also do well to consider the immediate context. The Tapestry board members and the interim CEO/CFO who remained after our resignations rejected what we advocated and believed were viable alternatives to staff cuts and other austerity measures. Despite the challenges that Tapestry, like many other human service agencies, faces today, we believe in Tapestry’s mission of services and advocacy and look forward to many years of continuing good work in western Massachusetts.

We conclude by noting that on April 27 in Washington, D.C., Leslie Tarr Laurie was awarded the Cory Richards Award for her leadership, dedication and skill in the cause of women’s and reproductive health. This is certainly also worth recognizing here in western Massachusetts.

Mark I. Berson is an attorney in Greenfield. Judi Fonsh, who has a MSW, is a Leverett resident. This piece was also signed by former Tapestry board members Sam Topal, MD, of Northampton, Ruth Fessenden of Montague, Joyce Bernstein of New Marlboro and Michelle Joffroy, PhD, of Northampton.

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