News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 12, 2013
Nichols Day Camps fires executive director, trustees resign

by Anne Berleant

Two trustees resigned from the Nichols Day Camps board in September, a direct result of a majority vote to fire Candy Eaton as executive director. Eaton held the position for 17 years, after first serving on the board of trustees for four years.

Board President Libby Gulliver left a message on Eaton’s voicemail on September 8 informing her she was terminated by a majority of the six-member board. A formal vote confirmed this at a board meeting held the next day. Eaton was given 24 hours to clean out her two offices at the camp grounds and the main office, she said in a recent phone call.

(Eaton has written an opinion piece in her own words and it is on page 4 of this paper.)

Nichols Day Camps is owned and operated by the Blue Hill Society for Aid to Children, a 501c(3) nonprofit foundation. It is supported through contributions from individuals, area towns, grants and camp tuition and governed by a board of trustees.

Two trustees, Trisha Robertson and Elsa Marsh, resigned shortly after Eaton was fired.

“I left the board because I disagreed with how they went about dismissing her,” said Robertson, who served on the board for 22 years. “After the many, many years she was executive director, she deserved at least to be heard, and that didn’t happen.”

Marsh did not vote at the meeting—and is not sure she even attended—but in a December 10 phone call said she “absolutely” resigned because of Eaton’s firing.

According to Eaton, when she asked the board why she was fired, the response was first, that by Maine law the board didn’t have to say and second, that the board couldn’t keep trustees because of her.

Eaton said she had proposed five potential trustees, but the current board “wouldn’t accept them.”

She also said that the board had not provided an annual budget or held any executive committee meetings for two years. In 2012, the board removed her ability to write checks for the camp and hired a former board member, Shani Billings, to work in the camp office. Billings has since rejoined the board.

“I’ve just been absolutely crushed by this,” Eaton said, adding that the 2013 season was “the best summer on record on the books, [with] the most campers and the most money that came in.”

Gulliver, who joined the board of trustees in 2011, declined to comment on why the board fired Eaton.

“Sometimes boards have to make difficult decisions,” she said.

Gulliver also declined to comment on the lack of an annual budget or executive committee meetings. When asked by Penobscot Bay Press for a copy of the bylaws, she declined.

Maine statutes do not require private nonprofit foundations to disclose board minutes or information, or to share bylaws with the public, although transparency is advised by the Internal Revenue Service and the Maine Association of Nonprofits.

“Public charities are encouraged to adopt and monitor procedures to ensure that information about their mission, activities, finance and governance is made publicly available,” states the IRS Compliance Guide for 501c(3) Public Charities.

The Maine Association of Nonprofits, in its Guiding Principles, states:

“Nonprofits should engage in ongoing efforts to openly convey information to the public about their missions, activities and decision-making processes. This information should be easily accessible to the public and should create external visibility, public understanding and trust in the organization, while protecting sensitive or confidential information.”

In 2011, the most recent tax form publicly available, public support for Nichols Day Camp was listed as 86.7 percent of its revenue. A total of $168,666 in contributions and grants, including $10,000 in government grants, was given to the foundation.

For that same year, Nichols listed total expenses of $227,314 against $298,032 in revenue, which included contributions, grants, returns on investments and program revenue. Expenses included over $17,000 in financial aid to campers.

The foundation’s total net assets at the end of 2011 were $510,685.

Trustees serve on the board for three-year terms. Currently, there are nine trustees: Gulliver, Vice President Debbie Hutchins Tapley, Treasurer Kimberly Williamson, Secretary Dawn Nason, Shani Billings, Jeff Gray, William Perkins, Christie Snow and Lisa Veazie. All reside in Blue Hill except Perkins.

Gulliver is a former camper and counselor at Nichols Day Camp. “I have had a long history, personally,” she said. “Both my children attended the camp.”

“I hope that we continue to get the great support from the community,” Gulliver said. “Change happens all the time in all organizations and this one is a healthy one.”