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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Ketchikan's Safe Home Service in Jeopardy

By Gigi Pilcher

March 15, 2016
Tuesday AM

Editor of Sitnews

Never, in the 40 year history of WISH, has it been placed on probation. This is an extremely serious action taken by the State of Alaska and the membership is questioning how this happened and what is being done about it. Ketchikan's safe shelter and services that WISH has accepted public funds to provide are essential to helping victims of domestic violence become survivors. The continuation of these services are now in jeopardy.

I, along with some of the people whose names were listed in an large display ad placed by WISH in the Ketchikan Daily News, have received calls or been stopped on the street with questions about what is going on regarding the Probation that WISH has been placed on by the Alaska Department of Public Safety’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. People also had questions about the petition to the WISH Board signed by 40% of the current active members of WISH.

Additionally, I would like to stress that WISH did not obtain my permission to include my name in the newspaper ad nor did they bother to obtain the permission of the other 29 people to publish their names. Our names were used by WISH without our awareness in the ad. These 30 people had petitioned the WISH Board requesting a special meeting with the membership.

Because of the nature of many of the questions, confusion expressed about what was in the media reports and that pertinent information excluded in the coverage, I want to clarify as one of the "40%", why I signed and presented the petition requesting a Special Meeting of the Membership with the Board of Directors.

In relating this to readers, I convey my life long and deep commitment to seeing that all victims of violence and their children are provided with a safe shelter, to be treated with respect and human dignity and to be provided the services needed in a non-judgmental manner, so that they may be restored to and regain power and control over their lives. 

I spent twenty-seven years of my life as an active member, volunteer or a staff member at WISH until my retirement in 2003.  WISH was my passion and consumed much of my time and life during those years.

It was late November when I first heard that WISH had been placed on probation as a result of an investigation by the State of Alaska in July of 2015. It was very disturbing to me because I knew that whatever had caused such an extreme measure as probation had to be very serious. Yet, at that point I did nothing until January 2016 when I spoke with a friend in Juneau who had heard about it and called me. I told her I knew very little and she said she would try to find out more, it would be a matter of accessing public documents and making some calls. A few days later I received a call and was told that the matters were serious but what was even more serious was the reaction or actions by the WISH Board, and if things did not improve WISH faced further consequences by its major funder, the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety, Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

In trying to decide whether or not to "delve" back into a stressful situation or turn my back and walk away because of my serious health issues and my family, I spoke with my two oldest children, who are now grown and whose wisdom I value.

The first thing they reminded me of was that I spent virtually all of their childhood, 24/7, at WISH.

Sometimes, that meant I left home in the middle of the night to provide support and assistance to victims at the hospital. It meant that I left many Thanksgiving dinners to meet a victim at the police station. There were many times I left home before the kids awoke on Christmas morning in order to relive a staff member at the shelter so they could spend time with their family. The birthday parties and school events I had missed because I was attending a funding meeting in Anchorage or I had gone to one of the outlying communities to provide training.

My daughters told me that if I turned my back and walked away and WISH was closed down, all the time I had sacrificed from spending with them would have been for not.

Both of them reminded me that WISH belonged to the community and many, many people had worked hard to make it become an essential provider of service to victims of violence and their families. They talked about all the fund raisers where so many people had volunteered their time and energy. I often thought of the individuals, community groups, youth and elders who contributed money or other needed items to help.

My daughters' sage advice was that I should go find out for myself what was going on for such a serious action to be taken and do whatever I could to help WISH survive and get back to a fully functioning organization dedicated to serving victims of violence in Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island communities, Wrangell, Petersburg, Hyder, and Metlakatla on the Annette Island Indian Reservation.

I went to the annual membership along with many of the 40% plus membership for the opportunity to hear first-hand what the board would tell us. I honestly thought they were going to address the probation but nothing was on the meeting agenda nor was there any mention of the probation or the status of the probation.  Most questions asked that night were never answered.

I stood up and offered to volunteer my help to the board to get whatever was needed done to get WISH off probation. I followed up my offer in writing the following day. Other than getting an email acknowledging the letter, I have not been contacted to help. I was told recently that the board had no intention of accepting my offer and will not listen to anything I have to say.and that former executive directors who offer help really want to "run" things. Those who know me and my serious health issues over the last ten years know how silly this is.  Until I heard about WISH being placed on probation and hearing how serious the issues were I had not been involved or in contact with WISH for over 12 years. Anytime during those years that someone told me about a concern with WISH, I told them to take it to the board of directors.

After attending the annual meeting and not getting answers as well as seeing other people being treated rudely, I decided to investigate what had been going and what had led up to the probation.

Utilizing the public records law, I was able to legally obtain all the documents from the Department of Public Safety, Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. In reading the documents I discovered some extremely disturbing things about incidents where victims of violence seeking shelter and services were refused service, "black-listed" from receiving services, treated very badly by management staff, not provided the support, understanding or with respect as a "human being", and on several occasions, over a period of six months, clients sometimes had no food for meals and were told by staff that the budget for food had been "used up".

I was told by former program participants who contacted me, that the services WISH said they were providing to program participants such as support groups for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse and Childhood Sexual Abuse, educational groups on DV, SA, and substance abuse were no longer being provided.  The excellent groups and classes that had been provided by Ketchikan Indian Community (KIC) for over 15 plus years in the shelter were also no longer provided either as WISH no longer allowed the KIC Domestic Violence staff to come to the shelter.

At no time did any staff member of KIC ever speak to me about anything related to WISH being placed on probation, except to say to me at the annual meeting they were not after WISH's money -- like WISH was telling people. KIC receives Federal funding to provide services to victims of violence, many of the victims at WISH qualified for KIC services and KIC had, over the years, used much of the funding for those victims as well as providing money to WISH for shelter program needs.  (Letter to Ketchikan Daily News Editor from Kelly Chick)

One of the WISH board members did approach me personally and told me he thought KIC was behind WISH being placed on probation because they wanted to "take over". This man heads up another agency that actually did compete for WISH's funding previously.

These unfounded accusations have caused a great deal of anger, by the people who were erroneously told this lie, and anger by people who know it is a lie that continues to be spread.

I also discovered that in over a year and a half, 18 trained and experienced staff members were fired/terminated or had left citing "hostile working environment”. That fact is contained in the investigative report and was a quote by the WISH Executive Director who told the investigator that she was hired to "clean house".  (See attachment of on-site review - Click here PDF)

I found out that none of those who were fired or had their employment terminated were afforded the right to file a grievance per WISH policy or to have their grievance heard. The grievance policy that once was in place had been changed to the point no one could figure out how it was supposed to work.

Questions to the board over who was fired or terminated and who replaced them are not being answered.

In the end, the straw that "broke" the camel's back was death of a young mother last July less than 12 hours after she was refused re-entry to the shelter because she had not returned the night before. A full and complete investigation/review of why she was refused entry has still not been done seven months after her death. Justice delayed is Justice denied.

The following is an attempt to provide clarification regarding the daily news ad about the petition and an explanation of why the 40% plus members have petitioned for the meeting. I have tried to give an overview of the Probation with accompanying sources, all public documents, that readers can view themselves.

First, the large display was taken out and paid for by the WISH Board of Directors, out of unrestricted funds, and it was NOT placed in the newspaper by the membership petitioners.

No ad was required; the WISH executive director sent out a letter on Friday to all the membership regarding the meeting and "updating" what she perceives is their progress in addressing the violations of the grant regulations that were a result of the investigation. Unfortunately. this perception has been presented by the WISH Executive Director to the media and membership far more "rosy" than actual reality.

If you read the action taken by the CDVSA Council meeting in February, 2016, the Council voted unanimously to restore the advance funding, but to continue the probation status of WISH, and in addition to the previous nine items cited, the Council has expressed additional expectations of improvements.

*Note: No written notice to the petitioners from the board of directors has been received. The petition was sibmitted to the board as per Articles of Incorporation and the By-Laws.

** Note: Attachment to this letter is the word for word motion/second/vote regarding the continued probation. Most of this was not reported on in either of the two local news media stories.

The display advertisement wording led some people into thinking that it was only a small group of dissent members who signed the petition. The actual fact is the petition was signed by 40% of the membership.

At the annual meeting held January 26, 2016, Nora DeWitt, WISH Finance Manager/Finance Director and Human Resource Manager, reported at the end of the meeting that there were 71 members total.

*Note: When the board was asked at the February meeting what the current membership total was, one of the board members said they did not have to answer that question.

According to the WISH By-laws only 20% is needed to request a meeting by the membership of the board and if one goes by the Articles of Incorporation on file with the State of Alaska, only 10% is needed, therefore the 40%  of members signing the petition far exceeded the requirement.

Probation Information

Wish was investigated at the end of July 2015 by the State of Alaska, Department of Public Safety, Council on Domestic Violence staff member after receiving numerous  and serious complaints by program participants/clients,  community agencies and by former staff.  A second, follow-up visit and investigation was conducted by two CDVSA staff the second week of February 2016.

The first investigation (July 2015) was completed and in September of 2015 the State notified WISH administration that WISH was to be placed on probation. Few members were aware of this until January 2016.  The entire membership and community were never notified by the WISH Board or by the current Executive Director that the WISH organization was under probation.

At the annual membership meeting held on January 26, 2016 there was no mention of the Probation in the written report to the membership. Members attempted to obtain information regarding the status of the probation and asked questions but for the most part, questions were not answered or dismissed as not being important as it was "taken care of".

*Note: In the report the Executive Director refers to certain items being considered were in response to the "suggestions" by the CDVSA. The nine areas cited by the CDVSA as to bring WISH back into compliance with State of Alaska regulations and statues (laws).

Again, I state, that never, in the 40 year history of WISH, has it been placed on Probation. This is an extremely serious action taken by the State of Alaska. Each of the nine items cited were violations of laws and regulations, including Federal laws and regulations.
Probation is but a slight step away from having the entire grant suspended.

The State of Alaska provides over $800,000.00 in PUBLIC FUNDS to WISH based on the guarantees that WISH signed when applying for and accepting the grant funding.

Additional Federal funding is passed through to WISH by the State of Alaska, Department of Public Safety, Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to provide specific services to victims. This requires that WISH adhere to the specific Federal laws/regulations they agreed to when applying and accepting the funds.

In awarding the $800,000 in public funding to WISH, the State of Alaska and the United States Government has been assured by WISH, in their signed agreements, that WISH will provide the services and follow every State regulation/statute and Federal regulation/statue that is contained as a requirement in the grant document.

Rights of the Membership

WISH is a non-profit, 501 3c organization under the IRS and is registered as a Corporation with the State of Alaska as such.

The Articles of Incorporation on file is the guiding document for the organization and clearly describes that WISH is an organization with membership, both active and supporting.

All active members have a right to vote on the election of the board of directors.

All active members have the right to vote on other matters pertaining to the "corporation" or organization.

It is the right of either 10% or 20% of the membership to petition or request that a general membership meeting with the board be called.

All members (as well as the public) have a right to attend all meetings of the WISH board of directors with the exception of executive sessions, and may address the board in a public comment section of the agenda.

*Note: This is a regulation by the CDVSA that grantees governing body's hold open meetings.

Responsibilities of the Membership

The most important responsibility membership has is first to the victims of violence it serves.

To insure, through the over-all management by the board of directors, that victims have a safe place to go and receive services provided in a respectful manner.

*Note: Shelter and services are not to be restricted on the basis of a person's race, religion, gender, age, political affiliation, or physical and mental ability. In other words, WISH has an obligation to follow the Civil Rights Act and the Americans Disability Act.

It is the responsibility of the WISH membership to elect the board of directors.

It is both the right and responsibility of the WISH membership to question the board of directors regarding concerns or when problems with the management of the organization arise.

It is the right and responsibility of the WISH membership, if there are significant or serious problems that indicate the mismanagement or non-management of the organization, to address the board, ask questions of how and what has happened, why it happened, and what is being done to solve the problem or address the concern.

Both the membership and board have a responsibility and duty to see that the State and Federal funds, which is PUBLIC money, is spent wisely and prudently for services for victims of violence.

It is my personal opinion that with huge cuts to the State's budget looming, all monies both public and private are going to be in short supply. Organizations, agencies, educational institutions, departments of the state are all going to be taking some pretty tough cuts. The competition for money is going to be fierce, especially among non-profit service providers.

To survive and thrive, belts will have to be tightened and greater emphasis placed on how money is spent. This is not a time for flashy expensive ads when a letter would serve the purpose, the renting meeting space when there are free public spaces, and while refreshments are a nice touch, we 40%  plus  member/petitioners would  rather see the money spent insuring that victims of violence receive quality services.

In conclusion, I hope I have not "buried "the readers in too much information.

I believe in open, honest discourse and in either providing the information or "facts", or provide the reader with the source where they can see for themselves documents to support my reasons for signing the petition along with the 40% plus membership.

My intention is to try to get WISH back on track to being one of the top programs in the State of Alaska as WISH has been in previous years when it was often cited as being a model program by the CDVSA. 


Gigi Pilcher
Ketchikan, Alaska

About: "I am a 44 year resident of Ketchikan, married with six children and an enrolled member of KIC. Previous volunteer, staff member and Executive Director of Women In Safe Homes for 27 years. I retired from WISH in 2003. Public service includes five years as a council member of the Alaska Judicial Council,  Alaska Pardon and Clemency Board, Alaska Sentencing Commission, Alaska Juvenile Justice Committee, Alaska Foster Care Review Board, City of Ketchikan Personnel Board, Ketchikan Indian Education Board, Licensed Foster Care Parent, and volunteer at numerous youth related activities and events."

Received March 14, 2016 - Published March 15, 2016

Related Attachments:

March 16, 2016 -- WISH Membership Meeting Agenda - Click here PDF

Alaska's Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault on site report 9/09/15 - Click here PDF

Alaska's Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Probation Memo to WISH 9/09/15 - Click here PDF

WISH Response to Alaska's Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault - Click here PDF

WISH Review & Remediation Plan Letter 9/09/15 - Click here PDF

Alaska's Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault FEB 17-19, 2016 Site Visit - Click here PDF

Result of CDVSA's Executive Session of Feb. 24, 2016 - CDVSA modifies the financial burden improsed on WISH in 09/15 by returning to quarterly advance grant payments rather than monthly reimbursable payments -- Does not reduce or diminish the initial probation conditions and corrective actions required. - Click here PDF



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