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Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Strife at native centre leads to resignations and accusations
Karl Dockstader is concerned about the future of the native centre now that its board is short on members. Supplied

Executive director, three board members step down, new election planned


The board of the Niagara Regional Native Centre is looking for community members to fill several vacant seats, after the resignations of its executive director and three board members just before Christmas.

The members stepped down after board president Lacey Lewis and treasurer Wanda Griffin walked executive director Karl Dockstader off the property on Dec. 16, former director Roxanne Buck told The Lake Report.

Buck, Fallon Farinacci and Olivia Hope then all resigned from the board of the centre on Airport Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

When he was walked out, Dockstader had already submitted his resignation and had planned to leave on Jan. 8. 

In an interview, Dockstader said the board had bypassed him in his role as executive director and interfered with staff.

His concern about being circumvented was voiced at a board meeting in August and was disputed by the board, he told The Lake Report. He would not disclose the nature of the board’s alleged overreach.

The four remaining board members are Bobbi Japp, Wendy Wilson, Lewis and Griffin.

Lewis did not agree to an interview about Dockstader’s resignation.

The centre’s bylaws say the board needs nine members but is allowed to operate so long as a majority of five members are present.

The board had been short two members all year before the spate of resignations in December.

Board policy dictates that it must call a meeting of the centre’s membership to vote on new directors. Members must be given 30 days notice of the election.

The board announced on Facebook this past Tuesday morning that the meeting will be held Feb. 8.

Sean Vanderklis, a concerned Indigenous community member who co-hosts the podcast One Dish, One Mic with Dockstader on 610 CKTB Radio in St. Catharines, told The Lake Report the centre is funded through the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres.

Until the board is reassembled, the centre will be ineligible for any “additional funding” for new programs, Vanderklis said in an interview.

In a Facebook post, Vanderklis said he would stand for election to the new board and invited others to join him.

While our former (executive director)’s resignation is important, his resignation is a symptom of greater governance concerns I have,” Vanderklis said in an email to The Lake Report.

His concerns are shared by Buck.

The former vice-president of the board, Buck expressed worries that the board was moving away from its role as a policy adviser and becoming more involved in day-to-day management.

Centres “do not operate smoothly” when the board becomes too involved in daily operations, Buck said.

“It was an extremely difficult decision” to step down, she added, as she has been “part of the centre for many years.”

Buck told The Lake Report she also questioned the decision to walk Dockstader out, but received no explanation from her board colleagues.

She said she wasn’t aware he was going to be escorted from the property that morning “or even why.”

Asked about the incident, Dockstader said, “It felt unprofessional.”

His decision to resign had been brewing for some time, he explained.

Last summer he had a heart attack while working 60-hour weeks. He believes job stress was an aggravating factor.

He was hoping to return to a “supportive and understanding” work environment with the “structures I need to try to protect my health.”

Dockstader said he did not feel forced out and acknowledged he was given time off and allowed to return to work with reduced hours, but that “it seemed like the writing was on the wall.”

He continued to feel a “lack of clarity” and a “seeming lack of structure” from the board.

“This board continuously operates outside the governing rules and walks over the staff without fear of repercussions,” Vanderklis wrote in a Facebook post after Dockstader left the centre.

He argues the board should be restricted to governance issues and “debating high-level strategy, following or developing a strategic plan” and “laying down a foundation” for the future.

Vanderklis said when board members “bypassed our executive director, sidestepped our management team” they “constructively dismiss the management team.”

In a phone interview, Vanderklis said it violates the centre’s policies for board members to directly manage the staff.

Staff management is the responsibility of the executive director, he said.

Dockstader and Vanderklis talked about board governance at the native centre on their podcast on Dec. 17.

“A good board chair listens more than they speak,” Vanderklis said on-air.

Despite his criticism of the centre, he was clear in his podcast with Dockstader that “the friendship centre movement across the nation is in fantastic shape.”  

That opinion was shared by Dockstader, but he encouraged the Indigenous community to “man the ship” and not become passive in the running of their own friendship centre.

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