Archive for Sunday, June 22, 1997


June 22, 1997


Reaction to questions about the tenure of DCSS Executive Director Marguerite Carlson has been mixed.

Life experiences helped prepare Marguerite Carlson for her job as executive director of Douglas County Senior Services.

"I was the youngest in my family by 10 years, so I've always been around older people," Carlson said when hired for the job. "I've lived through some good role models of aging in my own family and seen the pluses of living a long life and a full life."

Carlson also had many years of experience in senior services programs.

From 1978 to 1980, she managed a one-day-a-week program for seniors in Berkeley, Calif. For the next two years, she was head of an Albany, Calif., parks and recreation senior center.

In 1983, following a job-related move to Manhattan by her husband, Carlson was hired as director of Riley County Senior Services. She held that position until moving to Lawrence in 1989.

She was producer of Sunflower Cablevision's "As Time goes By," a program on aging and issues of interest to the elderly, from 1992 to 1995. She also was involved in church fund-raising activities in Lawrence.

In November 1994, she was hired as executive director of DCSS.

Carlson said at the time she was hired her primary short-range goal was to promote healing by reducing employee turnover and instilling an atmosphere of stability in the agency. That would include the DCSS budget, which had faced recent deficits as large as $40,000.

She also vowed to evaluate DCSS programs -- transportation, meals, leisure and learning, adult day care and community services -- to make certain services were relevant to Douglas County residents.

In the intervening 32 months, staff turnover has remained high, the budget has been in the red and a major program providing adult day care has been reduced.

"It hasn't been a piece of cake," Carlson said.

In a series of interviews, local people with knowledge of DCSS programs said Carlson's "people skills" left much to be desired. Some said her approach to personnel matters lacked finesse.

A former program director, who voluntarily sought employment elsewhere, said Carlson told a new colleague there were a lot of alligators in the DCSS swamp and that the swamp would be drained to get rid of them.

"The worst boss I've ever had in my life," said the former director, who refused to be identified.

Marty Shupert, who was DCSS' transportation director when fired by Carlson in 1995, said her management style "was to blindside the people she doesn't like."

He said Douglas County Senior Services would be well served by appointment of a new executive director.

Ed Coan, who recently resigned as director of DCSS leisure and learning programs, said Carlson had a management style different from his own.

"She believes in tighter control," Coan said. "I believe in delegating, not micromanaging."

Jack Baur, a former member of the DCSS board of directors, said the agency should be revamped to encourage teamwork among program managers. Currently, power is too concentrated in the hands of the executive director, he said.

"I would prefer to see staff members involved in the process of deciding on programs and designing programs," Baur said.

While numerous people criticized Carlson, she has strong supporters in the county.

Mark Buhler, a Douglas County commissioner, said he had heard no complaints about Carlson. Told of some allegations against the executive director, he said: "It doesn't sound like Marguerite."

County Commissioner Tom Taul also said he had received no negative remarks about Carlson.

The former and current chairman of DCSS' board of directors said Carlson had provided solid leadership.

Paul Getto, who headed the board last year, said he wasn't troubled by staff turnover under Carlson.

"It didn't trouble me principally because Marguerite Carlson inherited some people down there who really weren't doing a very good job," he said. "Anytime someone comes in and makes changes, you get criticism."

The current board chairman, Bill Salome, said he was confident Carlson had properly handled the organization during a time when federal and state funding was drying up.

"I think she's concerned about the direction of the agency," Salome said. "I think Marguerite is an excellent chief executive."

In the final analysis, Carlson said, it's the opinion of the board that matters most.

"I serve at the whim of the board," she said.

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