Extension board votes to not renew contract with 4-H agent
Beth Hecht, 4-H youth development agent, just wanted to focus on having another successful Leavenworth County Fair.
But all that changed during the Aug. 3 Leavenworth County Extension Board meeting when the board voted to issue a letter of nonrenewal for her contract.
“I have been here for 14 years putting my heart and soul into developing a strong county 4-H youth development program, and I haven’t changed what I do as far as my morals, my values and what the programs stands for,” Hecht said. “I’m not going to abandon my morals and values to appease certain individuals.”
According to the draft copy of the board meeting’s minutes, the motion by board member Kathy Baragary to issue the letter came after an hour’s worth of executive sessions to discuss personnel. The Extension Board had just finished three closed-door sessions with Dale Fjell, Kansas State University’s northeast area director for the extension program, and David Van Parys, county counselor.
According to the draft minutes, the motion to issue the nonrenewal letter passed 5-4 with board members Baragary, Brian Habjen, Mike Kissinger, Brian Beying and Jerry Theis voting in favor. Board members Matt Yunghans, Damon New, Kathleen Adams and Steve Buffo voted against the letter.
Hecht’s contract will run out at the end of the year.
After that motion was approved, the draft minutes state that Baragary made a motion to renew the contract for Denise Sullivan, county extension director and family and consumer sciences agent, take away her title of director, adjust her salary and put her on an improvement program.
That motion was approved 8-1 with Habjen casting the dissenting vote.
Sullivan said her yearly performance reviews have been good and in her 20 years she had never heard of anyone having to be put on an improvement program.
Fjell, who, along with the Extension Board chair, has to sign off on both Hecht and Sullivan’s yearly performance reviews, and who is privy to the same personnel information as the board, said he completely disagreed with the vote.
“As far as the university is concerned, we are not in support of those actions,” Fjell said Thursday, echoing comments he made during the board meeting. “(Hecht) has an excellent record for being a very innovative youth educator. She looks at new approaches to get children interested in 4-H and things that work to build youth character She has statewide and national recognition for that. It’s damaging to the whole state, especially to the state 4-H program.”
Fjell said the way the extension laws reads, both the university and the board have to be in favor of continuing employment for an agent, but only one of the entities can disagree to terminate employment.
The board has remained tight-lipped about its motions, stating no official reasons to not renew Hecht’s contract and to put Sullivan’s contract on conditional renewal.
Board members Theis, Buffo, Kissinger and Baragary had no comment on the subject. Asked to reconcile the board’s vote with the university’s stance, Baragary said, “Basically we agree to disagree.”
Board members Adams, New, Yunghans, Habjen and Beying did not immediately return the Mirror’s phone calls.
On Tuesday Hecht did not comment on whether she would be appealing the board’s decision.
Fjell said if it wanted to, the board could undo any of the actions it has taken.
“If people don’t like what happened you can talk to the board members or better yet get on the board,” he said.