Lawrence Community Shelter board to forgo public interviews for new director, extend offer

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Lawrence Community Shelter board members decided Thursday to extend an employment offer to the unanimous top choice to lead the shelter into a year of broad-ranging change.

Board members also approved a budget of $3.43 million for 2024 — more than 2.5 times the shelter’s 2023 budget.

The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday approved a funding agreement to give the shelter nearly $2.7 million for the coming year. The shelter is vastly expanding its capacity, and its staff members will operate the city’s new Pallet shelter village on North Michigan Street.

In addition, shelter staff members recently voted unanimously to unionize, and they’re asking for a substantial pay increase among other changes that will be decided in bargaining.

The board had initially planned to narrow executive director candidates to 10, then whittle it down to four, then two. The board would have asked the final two to come for a tour and possibly hold a public forum.

However, Board President Charlie Bryan said Thursday that two of the top 10 candidates withdrew themselves from consideration. The board narrowed the top eight to three, and those three had interviews with a panel of about 10 people on Wednesday.

Altogether, six of seven board members had participated in the interview process, and they thought they might have enough information to make a decision, Bryan said. In the executive session Thursday, they agreed that they were comfortable moving forward and making an offer.

“That’s primarily because there was unanimous agreement as to the top candidate,” Bryan said. “And that was not only with the board members, but the community members that participated in the second round of interviews.”

Those community members said they might have different preferences that didn’t quite align with the board’s, but those people, too, scored the board’s top choice candidate’s answers highest, Bryan said.

“We kind of just took it as, OK, everyone’s giving them the highest score, and the board altogether thinks this is the right candidate for the situation that the organization is in — let’s go ahead and get this taken care of,” he said.

Bryan said shortly after the meeting Thursday that he had already extended the offer, and the shelter will hopefully soon announce the new director via its email list.

Melanie Valdez has served as interim executive director of the shelter since April 2022. Board members voted Nov. 1 to open a national executive director search.

The future director’s responsibilities, as outlined in the job description, include operating the emergency shelter, establishing a day center, and “Collaborating with community partners to reduce the Douglas County Annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count for unsheltered individuals by 50 percent.”

Bryan told the board he set Jan. 18 for the first bargaining session with Lawrence Shelter Workers United. He said whether that new director is available for that meeting or not, bargaining needs to move forward.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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