YMCA failure a result of many


Greg Law

Guest Columnist

Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. The recent announcement by Clinton County YMCA is most certainly a failure, but one which is the result of the many and not a few. While the successes of our YMCA will be overshadowed by its inability to thrive and survive, there are lessons we should want to understand as to how this came about.

First, many of us, myself included, failed to see the bigger picture – the mission of the YMCA to build health of the mind, body and spirit for all persons of socio-economic backgrounds and ages. In 1978, Wilmington College’s Bob Lucas and members of the community saw this mission. They saw a need and an opportunity to incorporate a closer connection between the college and the community.

What they failed to see was how harsh reality can disrupt idealistic dreams. The moment Wilmington College provided real estate to an organization it could not control, mission became secondary. Once leadership changes occurred the spirit of collaboration began to dissipate and when donors withdrew pledges the project should have been halted. The burden of a $1.3 million dollar debt upon a non-profit organization is not sustainable in Clinton County.

The second failure lies upon the YMCA itself, from the board to those of us who served as CEO. Over the years board members lost sight of the mission to engage the larger community. Equally at fault were those who failed to manage the YMCA staff and develop consistent fiscal practices while making poor decisions that eroded any measure of respect.

The third failure resides with the community. Criticism of YMCA management or how the college and Y failed to foster a workable solution are understandable, but to disparage the purpose of the organization like Ken Whittenberg and Jeff Boatman consistently do, is perplexing. Can they possibly frame any manner of optimism to state how Clinton County is better without a YMCA? There is nothing positive about a YMCA closing. The venom spewed merely highlight personal axes to grind. On a bigger scale, what does it say about us as a community that cannot support something as benign as a YMCA? At some point we must address what it is we do support as opposed to what we do not.

The fourth failure resides at the doorstep of our county courthouse. After a detailed and thorough public presentation that proposed a community wellness center, the county’s economic development director, Bret Dixon made his limited scope of economics clear when he told me projects relating to quality of life do not lead to new business development. A stunning revelation of his short-sighted vision when successful community wellness models in Mason, Dublin, Huber Heights, Marysville, West Carrollton, Eaton, Liberty Township and West Chester would clearly indicate otherwise.

The proposal of a community wellness center represented the best opportunity to promote health and wellness to a broad base of the community while creating a legacy for Clinton Memorial Hospital. Yet four years after the sale of CMH the commissioners have received, spent or committed over $31 million of the $44 million net balance while only focusing upon $3 million generated through hospital operations. Mr. Haley who keeps telling us “My only concern has been from day one that this is taxpayers’ money,” developed an under-achieving plan while millions have been whittled away without any plan.

How can the commissioners explain the validity of such “concern” with $3 million and not $44 million? After four years of inconsistent and incompetent leadership, it’s time we had an accounting of these funds and what is planned for the remaining balance.

The request for the wellness center was not a bailout, but an investment toward a project valued as an opportunity to address more than just what ails us. Based upon three models of proven success, which Mr. Haley and Mr. Curry refused to visit, the proposed center was a unique partnership of the generosity of the Roberts Family donating land combined with the proven management experience YMCA of Greater Dayton and allowing for physician office space with CMH and classroom space for Southern State Community College.

After months of meetings, questions and documentation the wellness center proposal was suspended on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 when Mr. Steed, on behalf of the commissioners, asked to meet with Nicole Quallen, Tim Helm, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Dayton and myself. Informing us the commissioners would not vote to approve the YMCA proposal Mr. Steed made it clear the commissioners resented being placed in a position to take action. He further mentioned Mr. Haley’s intention to dissolve the former CMH Board in order to seize their $3 million of operational funds, which had been pledged to the YMCA the previous August after a legal opinion indicated the former board’s authority to donate the remaining funds.

Additionally, Mr. Steed said the commissioners needed to save face and the first step would require the YMCA to withdraw the proposal and allow the commissioners to drive a new project. Mr. Steed indicated the commissioners would not utilize funds from the CMH sale, but would consider funds from the former CMH Board to rehabilitate the current facility. Faced with this political reality the Y agreed to withdraw the proposal the following day. The YMCA lost, not on the merit of its proposal but because of economic ignorance and political arrogance of our county’s leadership.

From a Task Force asking redundant questions to forcing a withdrawal it became evident of the deliberate attempts by the commissioners to prevent the wellness center from ever reaching a vote. The failure of the YMCA is not the fault of one person, but the community as a whole. The commissioners however, reflect a failure in leadership and willingness to understand, in any strategic sense, what could be done. Tragically it is an opportunity that shall never pass our way again.

Greg Law served as the last permanent CEO of the Clinton County YMCA from April 2009 to July 2014.