Affirmations Announces Restructuring, Eliminates Leadership Positions


Affirmations Announces Restructuring, Eliminates Leadership Positions

(Crystal Proxmire, Nov. 15, 2018)

Ferndale, MI – Affirmations Community Center in Downtown Ferndale announced Wednesday the elimination of the Executive Director position and that other restructuring would take place. A statement released on Facebook says:

“Over the past several years the cost of running a large community center like Affirmations has outpaced the level of revenue. This has led to the continual utilization of reserve funds to supplement the ongoing shortfall. Thus far in 2018 a total of $80k was needed from reserve funds to offset center costs. This strategy is not sustainable for the long-term survival of the center.

While the Board of Directors and staff have begun several initiatives to increase revenue, we have concluded as a last measure that we must eliminate some staff positions. The decision was not reached lightly and was reached only when there was no other choice. This is in no way related to anyone’s performance or support of Affirmations’ mission.

Further, during this period of transition ,the Board of Directors has decided not to appoint an Executive Director. The remaining staff will report to the Finance Director, who will report to the Executive Committee led by the Board President. This will ensure the least number of programs and services will be interrupted, financial checks and balances are preserved, and decisions are made in a timely manner.

Over the next several weeks Affirmations’ Board of Directors, staff, community partners/members, subject matter experts and other stakeholders will be consulted as a sustainable future for Affirmations is developed.

As we transition, Affirmations may look different, but we remain committed to serving our community.”

Affirmations has been struggling for several years with turnover in staff and leadership, as well as finances.

Lilianna Reyes had been serving as Interim Executive Director since March 2018 when Susan Ersparmer resigned from Affirmations after two years at the helm. Ersparmer left amid scandal over finances and staff complaints.  Out Post Magazine chronicled the challenges in an article which can be read HERE.

In February of this year, Out Post obtained, and shared, a May 9, 2017 letter from Davison & Associates CPA lists multiple concerns about financial oversight at Affirmations, including:   turnover in the finance department and a new finance person “unable to keep detailed or accurate records of transactions occurring within this organization,” audits being pushed back, missing credit card statements and inconsistent charges as well as concerns with four employees being issued cards and two cards for the Executive Director.  Other concerns included over $1,000 in petty cash discrepancy and lack of records for petty cash transactions, lack of access to bank statements by anyone other than the Executive Director and a bank account with unexplained transactions.  The letter also stated that a discrepancy of over $3,000 was simply adjusted without explanation.

A June 2017 article in Between the Lines announced a new Board President, named several recent new board appointments, and mentioned “significant staff changes in prior years.”  This would have been right after the letter from the CPA.

In Jan. 2016, just a couple months into Erspamer’s tenure, a community meeting was held to discuss leadership, programming, and transparency issues.

Erspamer has already gotten her first taste of scandal. Between the Lines, a weekly LGBT focused publication, ran a story about Erspamer’s child custody battle. The article focused on how Erspamer was using laws that do not recognize parental rights for same-sex partners as an argument in her child custody case. This did not sit well with many in the community who fight for equality in the justice system.

Espamer came to Affirmations following the brief tenure of Darrious Hilmon, who announced he was leaving after only seven months on the job. “Hilmon felt that the time was right to move on from the organization,” was the only explanation given, and the organization refused to share any details of Hilmon’s salary, the terms of his contract, or any information about if there is a severance package or not. Several staff members and volunteers left under his administration, though there has been no clear reason given as to why, with the Board President at the time citing personal privacy rights as the reason no information was released.

In 2014 there was a spirit of optimism at the organization when an $800,000 gift was left to Affirmations as part of an anonymous donor’s estate.  Reports at the time stated the money would be used to pay off the mortgage of the community center. In 2012, the mortgage on the building had been down to $175,000 and was even less when the bequest came in.

Yet since that time the center has continued to scale back programming, including canceling the Helpline that had been running for 27 years.

The next Board Meeting is Wed, Dec. 5 at 6:30 PM at Affirmations, 290 W. 9 Mile. 

To learn more about Affirmations, visit their website

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