How do you discipline a volunteer?
That delicate question has been on the mind of every recreation council president in the county, following a dispute within the Edgewood Recreation Council over the dismissals of two cheerleading coaches last fall.
Last week, the Recreation Council Presidents Committee voted to create an appeals panel of five randomly selected council presidents to act as the final arbitrator in future disputes. Each recreation council, run by volunteers, is incorporated independently, with its own set of by-laws.
"This is so everybody can resolve the situation ina business-like way," said Nick Fiore, president of the Recreation Council Presidents Committee. "I think we may be the first recreation council in the state to adopt a policy to ensure volunteers get a fair hearing. It was a unanimous vote. We all recognize the problem (of trying to discipline volunteers)."
The new appeals board won't resolve the situation within the Edgewood Recreation Council, Fiore said, adding he did not know how it would be resolved.
Betty Born, a member of the Edgewood Recreation Council board of directors, said thecouncil refused to participate in a hearing before the newly createdappeals panel. Council members were concerned about re-opening a case board members felt had been closed by suspending from the cheerleading program the two coaches and a cheerleader's mother who protested the coaches' dismissals.
The Edgewood council's board of directorshas remained silent on the issue until now, Born said, because "we wanted to be able to settle this in-house, and we felt we had."
"We're for an appeals board that can sit down and talk to both sides, but these people just don't want to listen," Born said. "If we do this now, we're just creating a special hearing for people who don't like what they've been told. Frankly, we're tired of having to defend our decision."
The dispute within the Edgewood Recreation Council arose last fall when a squad of 6- to 8-year-old cheerleaders and their parents objected to the dismissal of the squad's two coaches.
The squad's assistant coach, Vickie Tolson, was dismissed for refusing to move a practice indoors, said Jane Wiley, president of the cheerleading program's board of directors. Coach Cathy Potter was dismissed because she allowed Tolson to coach despite two warnings, Wiley said.
When the two coaches and parent Cyndy Minacapelli objected and said they had been given different, sometimes conflicting, reasons for thedismissals, the Edgewood Recreation Council voted in November to banall three from the cheerleading program. Potter and Tolson were banned for three years, Minacapelli for one year.
Minacapelli said shestill doesn't know what she did that was so wrong.
"Cyndy keeps saying she doesn't know what she did, but we've told her," Born said. "Our by-laws have a section that includes parent conduct.
"The ultimate thing they're going to do is ruin the program, and nobody's going to want to stick their neck out and volunteer," said Born. "The thing that hurts, too, is the embarrassment they've caused. We did whatwas necessary according to our by-laws. We followed our rules. They didn't."
Potter, who admitted to allowing Tolson to coach twice inspecial circumstances, said she has been frustrated by the process.
"I can't believe I've had to fight so hard to keep a volunteer job," she said.
And that is the crux of the problem, said Arthur Rutledge, president of the Forest Hill Recreation Council, which drafted a specific discipline and arbitration procedure to avoid such situations.
"The fact that they are volunteers makes discipline very difficult," Rutledge said. "But as with life, most problems are a matter of communication."
Rutledge believes such disputes should be mediated immediately. If not, the disciplinary process kicks in. It includes counseling, verbal and written warnings and possible suspensions or expulsion.
"Basically, you're running a business. Your customersare the youth and adults you serve. You have budgets, you raise money," Rutledge said. "The difference is that you recruit volunteers, who are not your employees, so you don't have the same controls.
"We've just developed some guidelines to make it not be a terribly negative process," he said. "You're trying to pump up volunteers, but sometimes if you've got a problem with a coach, you have to say, 'Hey, let's try to get him to be a good coach.' "