The top two administrators at Miami-Dade County’s privately run child welfare agency stepped down Monday amid long-simmering tension among members of the group’s board of directors and the agency’s leadership team.
A little before 10 a.m. Monday, the president and chief executive officer of Our Kids, Jackie Gonzalez, submitted her resignation, citing what she called a years-long campaign of meddling by “a small but vocal group” of board members. Two hours later, Our Kids’ vice president and chief operating officer Barbara Toledo sent a resignation letter to Gonzalez, mentioning the same hostilities. Toledo is a 25-year veteran of child welfare in Miami who had been at Our Kids almost since its inception.
Gonzalez joined Our Kids in September 2014, after spending 13 years at the Children’s Home Society of Miami, rising to the post of executive director. In her three-page resignation letter, Gonzalez said her tenure was rocky from the start, as a contingent of board members began to “undermine” her authority less than two months after she began.
Gonzalez’s dispute with members of the board “reached a crossroads” this weekend, she wrote, when a member of her management team disclosed a series of private meetings among board members and members of Gonzalez’s staff.
“I absolutely respect a Board member’s right to disagree with the CEO; to vote against the recommendations of the CEO; to question the CEO’s performance based on factual data; and/or to vote to remove the CEO,” Gonzalez wrote. She said she could not tolerate board members launching a whisper campaign that accused her of financial wrongdoing, and working to undermine her leadership.
“I can no longer in good faith work with Board members who engage in such behavior without concern for the well-being of the organization or my team’s ability to properly serve this community,” Gonzalez wrote. “The environment they have created for me and my team has become intolerable, and I have no viable choice but to resign.”
In her resignation letter, written as an email, Toledo made it clear her decision was based on Gonzalez’s departure, and done under “extreme duress, due to the actions and clear direction that a certain faction of our Board of Directors continues to take this organization.”
She added: “It is clear to me that despite our best efforts and accomplishments for the children and families we serve that they will continue to make it impossible for me and our management team to function in our jobs effectively.”
The drama notwithstanding, the past two years appear to have been fairly tranquil ones. The sniping that had long characterized the relationship between Our Kids and the Department of Children & Families, with which it contracts, had significantly subsided. A $10.6 million budget shortfall in September 2014 had been turned into a $3 million surplus, Gonzalez wrote. And DCF leaders have been hailing Our Kids’ programs as among the best in the state.
“You should be extremely proud of the work the Our Kids staff conducts day in and day out under the most difficult of circumstances,” Gonzalez wrote.
The Our Kids board chairman, Keith Ward, said he met with both women Monday and tried to persuade them to remain at the agency, which also oversees child welfare in the Florida Keys. Ward said the two administrators retained the support of the majority of the board.
The acrimony, Ward said, will not be the greatest impediment to finding new leadership. “My concern is finding competent people. There are just so few people with the kind of experience Jackie has and Barbie has and who want do this kind of work. It burns you out. You are constantly concerned about the next tragedy, and where it will come from.
“It’s been a difficult day, but we’ve got to go through it,” Ward said.