LORAIN — On the heels of domestic and voting disputes, Robert Gilchrist was fired as the leader of the agency Tuesday by the Lorain County Community Action Agency board of directors less than three months after he began work on Aug 1.
“Nobody doubted your ability to do the job, but there were too many extra issues involved,” board member Ron Nabakowski told Gilchrist after a 9-2 vote by board members in favor of the firing. “The agency’s had such as difficult time in the past. It’s got to get its reputation back.”
The domestic dispute involved a Sept. 30 argument between Gilchrist and his then-girlfriend, Sandra Marrero, over text messages and calls she had received from an ex-boyfriend. Marrero, who told police Gilchrist twisted her wrist, initially asked that he be charged with assault but later changed her mind.
Gilchrist, who said he never touched Marrero, told The Chronicle-Telegram that she set him up. No charges were filed.
The voter fraud dispute involved allegations Gilchrist voted in the wrong polling place in the last four elections while Lorain’s service director. Gilchrist said if he voted in the wrong polling place it was because of confusion on his part after he moved.
“A stupid mistake,” is how he described it. That complaint remains under investigation by the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
Gilchrist’s problems were the latest controversy that has dogged the poverty-fighting agency.
- On July 28, William Locke, former agency executive director, was accused of harassment in a wrongful firing lawsuit filed by Holly Neely, former agency senior services coordinator.
- On July 12, Vince Urbin, former agency community service director, quit after pleading no contest to charges of soliciting a prostitute.
- In 2008, Elizabeth Young, former agency assistant director of housing, was sentenced to three years’ probation related to her stealing federal taxpayer money slated to help poor people pay their heating bills. Young used the money to pay her utility bills.
- In 2006, agency department heads were accused of cronyism, nepotism, misuse of money and inflating Head Start enrollment figures.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but the bottom line is we’ve got to look out for the agency,” board member Bob Weir told Gilchrist. “The agency’s been through so much and had such a hard time.”
Vassie Scott, one of two board members to vote against firing Gilchrist, contended the decision was premature. Scott said no decision has been made regarding the fraud complaint.
“I wanted to be a little more patient, until we had more facts,” he said.
“I apologize if this was a waste of your time,” a visibly pained board chairman Tim Howard told Gilchrist after the vote. “I thank you for your services over the last couple of months.”
Howard said after the meeting that Locke would serve as interim executive director during the board’s candidate search. Howard said he’s hopeful a new executive director will be hired by year’s end.
Gilchrist said after the meeting that he respected the board members’ decision, but didn’t agree with it. Gilchrist said Howard — the 3rd Ward city councilman who worked with Gilchrist when Gilchrist was service director — had told him he would get a chance to speak to board members, and he was disappointed he wasn’t give the chance.
“Obviously, a decision was made before I walked in the room,” Gilchrist said, noting a typed press release announcing the firing was prepared before the vote. “And based on what? I voted in the wrong polling booth.”
Gilchrist said the assault and fraud allegations against him were unfounded, but he had a slim margin for error given past transgressions by agency employees.
“I voted at the wrong polling booth,” he said. “Put it in comparison. I didn’t embezzle funds. I didn’t solicit prostitutes while on the job.”
Despite his experience, Gilchrist said he remained committed to remaining a public servant.
“I’m here as long as the community wants me,” he said. “I’ll be a public servant until I die. That’s my passion.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.