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Main Street investigates bullying claim
Teresa Prober.jpg

Controversy within Main Street McMinnville has resulted in the resignation of three board members and led to two other board members being accused of bullying a former Main Street McMinnville executive director. 

Main Street McMinnville’s Board of Directors met Tuesday to receive findings of an internal investigation into allegations of bullying made by former Main Street McMinnville executive director Teresa Prober, who resigned October after nine months with the organization. 

Prober named Killebrew and Stanford as the two responsible for bullying her.

A vote to censure, or officially reprimand, Killebrew and Stanford ended in a 5-4 vote not to censure. While Killebrew and Stanford were absolved from official reprimand, they couldn’t escape allegations of improper conduct during the meeting.

“I’ve never been attacked like that before,” said Killebrew, who walked out of the meeting. “I should have stayed, but it made me physically ill. I do plan on stepping away from Main Street, but I’m not resigning. I am a lifetime member, and I’m staying. Both Amy-Jo and I are seeking legal advice regarding the slanderous statements, inaccurate information and unwarranted attacks to our character during the meeting.”

Stanford confirmed their intent to obtain legal advice and added, “I made myself stay in that meeting, but I was also tempted to leave. It was very difficult to stay and be beaten over the head. We weren’t asked our side on this and during the meeting, efforts were made to prevent us from defending ourselves.”

A Governance Committee, with board members Dan Sellers, Richard Manning, Raven Young, Amanda Lowe and Katie Kemezis, was created to investigate the allegations.

In Prober’s resignation letter, according to Kemezis, Prober accused Killebrew and Stanford of continually undermining or hindering her progress, of obstruction and sabotage, of borderline harassment, and taking it upon themselves to reprimand her, an authority belonging to the board president.

The Southern Standard requested a copy of the resignation letter in October and again this week. Both requests were denied.

Kemezis said Governance Committee members read correspondences provided by Prober as evidence of harassment in order to determine the following: if the behavior and conduct of the board members was acceptable, if similar behaviors in the future should be condoned, and how they would feel if they had received those correspondences.

Young added, “We did not focus on Teresa’s performance issues and recognize that they did exist. Complaints and concerns from multiple businesses owners attest to performance issues. She was not perfect.”

Lowe presented the committee’s findings. She first pointed to a July 13 letter that was written to Prober from Killebrew.

“It unnecessarily criticizes actions taken by Teresa which could have reasonably been viewed as benign and was even viewed by positive by others,” said Lowe. “It reads as a personal assault rather than an objective personal perspective on the meeting. Threatening her job was intimidating and humiliating. It circumvents the disciplinary procedures within the employee handbook and this paints Main Street McMinnville as an unprofessional organization and a hostile work environment.”

Lowe added, “A series of texts from Sept. 21 illustrates other incidents of intimidation that were brought to our attention by Teresa. Teresa had made a mistake with one of the design grants and the texts involved a conversation about the mistake. Amy-Jo was asking about the mistake and seeking an explanation of what happened.”

Rodney Boyd asked, “I have a question. Are we going to sit here and go through this in detail?”

“It’s almost over,” said Kemezis.

Boyd continued, “Or does the committee have a recommendation from the findings because this is pretty far into the weeds and I don’t particularly like it.”

“I know it’s hard,” said Kemezis. “When we were thinking about this, we felt it was important to share some of this evidence. We aren’t sharing all of it, just some.”

Boyd said, “Did you get the other side of the story from the people?”

The question prompted Stanford and Killebrew to accuse Governance Committee members of performing a one-sided investigation. 

“No,” said Stanford. “No, they never asked us details about any of this.”

Kemezis stated, “Amy-Jo sent us a brief that we reviewed as part of this. I know I talked to you guys on the side of the road for an hour about this.”

“It wasn’t an hour,” said Stanford. “It was like 10 minutes.”

Killebrew said she begged board members for help regarding Prober.

“You don’t have our side of what she (Prober) did,” said Killebrew. “If you are going to put stuff up about one side, that’s not appropriate at all. You don’t know what she did. You don’t know how hard I tried to get you all to help.” 

Kemezis replied, “As we said, this is not really about her performance. It’s about how you handled her performance.”

“I came to you all for help,” said Killebrew.

“One question I have is …” said Stanford, who was interrupted by Kemezis. 

“I can say something, because this is America,” said Stanford.

Kemezis again tried to interrupt.

“I can say something,” said Stanford. “I know I can. I was never shown the employee handbook. We thought as the Design Committee that we had a right to talk to her. We were never shown the employee handbook so there’s a problem there.”

Kemezis replied, “Let’s just get to the end and we can address it all.”

“The committee found those text messages to be hostile, aggressive and intimidating,” said Lowe. “We also considered the impact the behavior has made on the organization. We have lost four members of our organization over the last eight months that have resigned due to the behavior, one executive director and three directors.”

Those individuals are Prober, Mary Don Bixby in July, Richard Manning one month into the investigation, and Lowe, who announced she would resign after the investigation was complete and presented to the board. 

Additionally, board member Scott McCord announced his resignation on Tuesday and effective immediately following the meeting. He did not cite issues within the organization as the reasons behind his departure.

“The Governance Committee found the actions of the two board members amounted to bullying based on the definitions found in the two model policies,” said Lowe. “We do not believe that their actions and words reflect the values of Main Street McMinnville.”

Recommended by the committee was censuring Killebrew and Stanford, creation of a Code of Conduct to be signed by each board member annually, and creation of a bullying policy that extends to all directors and employees.

“We recommend censuring the two board members for their actions according to Robert’s Rules of Order. A censure is a warning to him or her that if a certain behavior continues, the next step is suspension or expulsion,” said Lowe. 

The recommendation brought forth a quick response from Killebrew.

“You don’t have to worry about me leaving, because I’m done,” said Killebrew, as she moved to leave the meeting. “If you treat your volunteers like this, trust me, you won’t have anybody left. We’ve already lost three Design Committee chairs because of the way Teresa treated them.”

A vote on the recommendation to censure ended 5-4 against it. 

McCord, Boyd, Stanford, Alma Shoemaker and Joe O’Neal voted against reprimanding Killebrew and Stanford.

Young, Lowe, Kemezis and Jimmy Haley voted in favor of censuring the two.