Woods

Casa Guanajuato fires its executive director, reasons not stated

MOLINE — Casa Guanajuato Quad Cities executive director Michael Woods was fired by the organization’s board Monday, following allegations by employees who believed the agency was mismanaged in various ways.

Casa’s board chairman, Jamie Reyes, declined Wednesday to specifically say why the board fired Mr. Woods. “We are looking at a new leadership approach to our organization. We believe in the mission statement of Casa, and will continue to serve the population and provide services,” he said.

 Casa is a non-profit with a mission “to contribute to the fullest development of Latino and other immigrant communities across the Quad-Cities region.” It offers adult education classes, counseling, citizenship classes and application assistance, as well as day care and childhood education programs in Moline and Davenport.

The agency has approximately 30 employees and its 2014 budget is $930,000.

In mid-November, four Casa employees told Mr.  Reyes that Mr. Woods was billing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for services never performed, lost confidential client files, hired of many of his family members and assigned unrealistic work loads to employees.

The employees — Alicia Gomez, a bilingual family therapist; Glendy Aponte, a bilingual family counselor; Laura Huicochea, a family advocate; Rosario Martinez, a family advocate — requested the board fire Mr. Woods or let him resign, and to have an outside financial audit.

Mr. Reyes said the board investigated the allegations and made changes in billing policies and established new record-keeping guidelines. Some allegations were unfounded, he said.

In January, the board responded to the employees but did not take the action they requested. Ms. Gomez then reported her concerns to the Office of the Executive Inspector General for Illinois. She said the office has requested additional information from her, which she provided.

Ms. Huicochea reported her concerns about missing and mishandled client files to the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which grants money to Casa so it can assist with deferred action and citizenship cases.

She said the ICIRR has not contacted her about her allegations.

DCFS sent a team from Chicago to Casa’s offices to conduct an internal review.

According to Mr. Reyes, DCFS spent two weeks conducting the review, which is now complete. The board has not been told of the findings, if any. “We are awaiting further direction or guidance from the agency,” he said.

Mr. Reyes said the board has not been contacted by the Inspector General and nor has the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights initiated an investigation.

Of the four employees who asked the board to fire Mr. Woods, two have quit and one has given notice.

Ms. Gomez said her last day working for Casa is Friday.

Ms. Martinez said she believed there would be no changes initiated by the board and resigned effective Feb. 17. She said she and the others shared their concerns for the good of the agency. “We thought we had to be fair with the community as to what was happening,” she said.

Ms. Huicochea said she submitted a letter of resignation two weeks ago, and afterward, someone went through her office and took the evidence she collected about the missing files. Ms. Huicochea said the next day she filed a report with Moline Police and never went back to Casa.

Ms. Huicochea said she had no other option but to resign and is sad she had to leave the agency.

“I was at Casa because I cared about the clients. My passion is to help the people,” she said.

She said she does not know why the board fired Mr. Woods, but said anyone charged with helping the community should do it in the right way.

Mr. Reyes said the board feels it is time to go in a different direction with Casa.

“We were just looking to have an overall change in leadership in the organization,” he said. “We are going to start a search for qualified candidates with good leadership skills, and we will start the search as soon as possible.”

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