The Flathead County Commission held another heavily attended and highly emotional hearing regarding the Agency on Aging on Tuesday, this time considering whether to terminate AOA Director Lisa Sheppard’s contract with the county.
Sheppard, who was hired for the AOA position last November, was at the end of her six-month employment probationary period on April 30. The commission had the option of extending the probationary period for three months, terminating her contract or, by taking no action at all, allowing Sheppard to become a regular employee, off probationary status.
Despite a motion from Commissioner Gary Krueger to terminate Sheppard and a motion to extend her probationary time, neither commissioners Pam Holmquist nor Cal Scott seconded Krueger’s motions.
Both motions died, and Sheppard is now a county employee off probationary status.
The standing-room-only crowd gathered for the hearing – which Sheppard asked to be open to the public – applauded the commission’s decision.
It was one of many emotional hearings in the commission chambers in recent months. Last week, the commissioners voted 2-1 with Cal Scott dissenting to stop pursuing a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant that would have helped pay for a new AOA building.
The decision to not follow through with the grant, despite commissioning an architectural review for both potential sites to bolster the grant application, drew ire from the senior community, which had already expressed frustration with the commission for what critics describe as delaying the process for a new building.
With considerable unrest between the county commission and the proponents for a new AOA building, Sheppard’s hearing coming on the heels of the grant hearing brought in a large, vocal audience.
The crowd applauded Scott’s comments during the hearing, which were supportive of Sheppard and the work she’s done in the past six months.
“I personally fully support Lisa Sheppard and her work with the Agency on Aging,” Scott said. “I found her job and her work to be exemplary.”
Scott apologized to Sheppard for what he called a “kamikaze act,” describing the potential for terminating her contract with the county.
Krueger said he had to learn about AOA quickly when he joined the commission in January and that it has been a lot to take in. He said it had not been demonstrated to him that Sheppard “has the ability to manage operations” at AOA, which drew vocal reactions and hissing from the crowd.
Holmquist said there have been communication issues with Sheppard that have led her to believe there were problems in the AOA organization. But Holmquist said she thinks she and Sheppard can work on their communication, and it will be for the betterment of the county.
“I look forward to doing that,” Holmquist said. “I think it will be good for the both of us.”
Before the commissioners made any official motions, Sheppard stood to address the board. She spoke at length about the job requirements for her position, going through each one and describing how she has complied.
“I don’t see anything that I haven’t done,” Sheppard said. “Not just haven’t done, but haven’t done well.”
It took a little more than 20 minutes to go through all of the requirements and how she and her staff had fulfilled them. Once she was finished, Sheppard said she hoped the commission would allow her to stay on with AOA.
“I’m here because this is where I want to be, not because this is where I have to be,” Sheppard said, eliciting more applause.
After both of Krueger’s motions failed due to lack of secondary motion, he said he would respect the board’s decision to keep Sheppard as the AOA director by giving her 110 percent of his support and effort, “because that’s the way it works.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.