Robin Fornoff
Del Norte Triplicate

There’s a lot of anger aimed at the Rural Human Services board, and rightly so. But withholding money from a program that feeds the poor fresh food just to send RHS a message is a wrong-headed decision by the Del Norte Healthcare District board.

The RHS board clearly bungled sexual harassment complaints against now ex-executive director Scott Feller. The former Harrington House manager dropped a dossier of who, what, when and where to bolster her complaints against Feller.

Depending on which version you choose to believe, the board didn’t contact a private investigator anywhere from two weeks to two months after being advised of the complaints.

Feller should have been placed on leave the very day the RHS board learned of the allegations. He should have remained on leave until a thorough investigation was completed.

The board’s argument that it was forced to settle the woman’s claim by its insurance company is also as hollow as a dead tree. The insurance company is RHS’s client and adviser, not its boss.

If the board truly believed it would prevail in court against a lawsuit brought by the state on behalf of the woman, it could have voted to reject the insurance company’s advice to settle. It didn’t.

The woman’s charges were serious and documented on paper — the latter fact pulls a lot of weight in a court of law when you get to the his word against hers argument.

One has to wonder if the male dominated, all volunteer RHS board was simply insensitive or incompetent.

Maybe a little of both.

Enter an incensed, and rightly so, Healthcare District board. They are one of the many agencies handing over our tax dollars to RHS to do the good work it does … helping the abused and battered and feeding the poor. So yes, the district and we — you, me and the Triplicate — have a right to ask this private and nonprofit agency hard questions when we pay for these programs.

The healthcare district’s decision to withhold $2,500 from the RHS Market Match program is astounding. Board Chairman Terry McNamara says it was to send RHS a message. That it didn’t approve of how the Feller incident was handled.

The Healthcare District is demanding, and rightly so, assurances from RHS that it will be sensitive to allegations of sexual harassment in the future.

McNamara says he understands disagreement with the district board’s decision. He insists he was prepared to grant the money until he was overwhelmed by calls from angry constituents to take a stand against RHS.

“It’s where do you draw the line,” McNamara told me recently. “It’s between a rock and a hard place. But you have to send a message.”

Sorry. Taking fresh food from the mouths of poor people is sending the wrong message. In doing so, the Healthcare District board is being just as insensitive to the less fortunate as the RHS board was to its former manager of Harrington House.

Last time I checked, two wrongs don’t make a right. And rightly so.

Robin Fornoff is editor of the Del Norte Triplicate. He can be reached at rfornoff@triplicate.com

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