vs. the director
One of the oddest things about BBAS is who’s really in charge.
As a practical matter we all know who runs things. That’s not the way it looks on paper.
Although Denise Hubbard cannot legally serve as the agency’s director she is, for all intents and purposes, the one calling the shots. In late 1999 she was allowed on a temporary basis by the ODHS to be the acting director while an appropriate candidate was found. The three persons who have held the position never seemed to deal with clients, much less the state ... in fact to do anything you’d reasonably expect of someone with the title. Today, Denise goes by the title, "Executive Director".
Here are the responsibilities of the director from BBAS’s personnel manual, written in Denise Hubbard’s characteristic sloppiness:
The director is responsible to the Board of Trustees. The Administrative Director is responsible for administrating the agencies service program in accordance with the policies adopted by the Board. The Administrative Director is a member of all committees and will attend all regular meetings of the Board of Trustees.
The Administrative Director’s responsibilities will include:
The Administrative Director has the authority to employ and fire all employees, in conjunction with the board of Trustees.
The Administrative Director will assume the following responsibilities:
Administrating the agency
Developing and coordinating the agency’s programs and services.
Administrating the agency’s finances, budget, meeting with the board, and working with the agency’s auditor.
Conducting staff meetings, assessing personal problems, grievances, evaluations, hiring, firing, discipline, review of personnel policies and salaries.
Marketing the agency’s programs and services to the community.
Isn't that one of the worst-written position descriptions you’ve ever read? But even through that, it does seem like it calls for a 40-hour week and considerable leadership and management abilities and a panorama of skills. Qualifications not readily found, or there wouldn’t be any money in executive headhunting.
In case you don’t get the point, or think more visually than verbally, an organizational chart is included — twice — that helpfully shows the director reporting only to the board, with all other aspects of the agency under him or her.
Based on a reading of BBAS’s filings with the state, and the experiences of ourselves and other clients, we can safely conclude BBAS’s top job is largely ceremonial. Denise Hubbard has been, and always intends to be, the real decision-maker at Building Blocks.
When BBAS began, it seems from the state’s original inspections the college-educated Kim Piccolo was as involved in the business as its founder. Kim seems to have worked with at Medina General Hospital with Denise. She was right there when Linda Saridakis came for the first on-site inspection. One might get the impression Kim was actively involved in running BBAS.
Denise filed her own job application on March 6, 1998, seeking a position as Adoption Consultant — the lowest rung on Building Blocks’ ladder, according to their personnel manual. The duties she also performed by getting back in touch with us so quickly. (At one point or another, Denise gave herself every job title in BBAS’s personnel manual. She’s a veritable international adoption jill-of-all-trades).
(For a more in-depth discussion of her job application, click here).
It’s equally worth noting in early 1999 it was Denise who had signed all the letters we received with our required documentation, Denise whose voice redounded in all the electronic newsletters, Denise who went on all the trips overseas and Denise who seemed to be running the show (review the board minutes — she is always the only person who seems to initiate or do anything, who gets mentioned by name. Besides “legal counsel” Rick Marco). BBAS office was in her home for many years before she re-located to Rick's law offices.
Not once did we hear or read the name of Kim Piccolo in any of our BBAS communications. This could have been due to Kim’s imminent departure ... she and her husband left the Cleveland/Akron area in May, barely a couple of months after we formally signed with BBAS.
On May 12, Kim wrote — or at least signed — a letter to ODHS requesting a variance from Rule 5101:2-5-09(c)(1), requiring that agency directors hold a bachelor’s degree. This enabled Denise, with her mere high-school diploma, to "temporarily" take the reins.
“The Board of Directors as well as myself,” the redoubtable Ms. Piccolo wrote, “feels that Denise Hubbard is capable of administering this agency based on her knowledge, education and work experience.” (Well, they would, wouldn’t they?)
In support, she cited, among other things, Denise’s abortive college education as having been three years’ worth, which as we now know is a gross exaggeration.
Kim left BBAS and Ohio on July 1, requesting that a six-month period where Denise could be acting director begin on that date if the variance was denied.
Two weeks after Kim wrote to ODHS, Linda Saridakis intervened. In a memo to her supervisor, Sheralyn Graise, Linda recommended the variance be approved. She seemed to acknowledge that Denise, whatever her putative title, was already the agency’s de facto director:
The agency is a small foreign adoption agency operating out of an office within the Owner’s home. Ms. Hubbard, owner of the agency, has worked with this specialist for the past year in ensuring compliance with the applicable administrative code rules. According to Ms. Hubbard, and observation by this specialist, she has completed the majority of work, if not all, to ensure that the agency meets all administrative requirements, including but not limited to completion of agency policies and amendments and the maintenance of all applicable agency records and documents. Ms. Hubbard has also maintained the majority of contact with this specialist, regarding all agency operation and compliance issues, since their initial certification. She has completed some college.
That’s an accurate and honest assessment, and perhaps Linda felt that the rule was a little silly to begin with. Maybe it is; we can’t say.
But the variance committee of ODHS’s Bureau of Child and Adult Protection had no such doubts. On July 13, it met and denied the variance, saying it had turned down similar requests before and saw no reason to do otherwise now.
It did, however, grant a six-month waiver to allow Denise to run the agency and find a new director ... the six months during which Cyril’s adoption went from referral to tragic climax.
We daresay that, had a professional hand been at the tiller, this whole thing might have played out very differently. Maybe Rule 5101:2-5-09(c)(1) isn’t so silly after all.
Denise must have been overjoyed at the state letting her temporarily nurse her baby in her own room like she had always wanted to do. She had an alternative she could have put in the position far sooner than she actually did.
On Sept. 11 of that year, Cynthia Scanlon, ex-wife and ex-landlady to BBAS legal counsel Rick Marco, applied for the position of administrative director.
Cynthia Scanlon's credentials are the very definition of “impeccable.” Her B.A. was a double major in psychology and sociology from Ohio Northern University; and she topped it off with both a master’s and doctorate in counseling from Akron ... the same school where Denise herself had briefly studied secretarial science.
There was more. She had actual work experience at social welfare agencies in both the public and private sectors ... she had been (and still is) employed as coordinator of career education at John Carroll University in University Heights (see her tossing a beach ball here). She was mother to Rick's four children and certainly well-acquainted with BBAS and Denise through him.
There’s qualified and then there’s QUALIFIED. The former Cynthia Marco is the sort of person that should be involved in running not only BBAS but every adoption agency, assuming she’s a good people person. But let’s face it it’s not hard to improve on Denise Hubbard's people skills.
That fall would have been an opportune time for her to take over. BBAS was changing Russian facilitators from IACS to Amrex. The Bulgarian and Guatemalan programs were beginning to run. In 2000, BBAS’s first recertification loomed.
Cynthia got the job. But not until Jan. 6, after Cyril's death in a cold Russian night had plunged BBAS into severe crisis, after all hope of mending fences with Dennis Gornostaev had disappeared.
We might have benefited from the chance to talk with, and be handled by, a trained and experienced counselor during that time. But we were never provided with that opportunity.
This passed almost unnoticed by the clients. We don’t know if BBAS mentioned it in its newsletters as Cindy Courtright had stopped putting them out at this point due to her worsening health.
And there was no change in the signatures on the email, or the voices on our now nearly-nonexistent phone messages. It was always Denise, or her sidekick Wendy. No hint that the ex Mrs. Marco existed as a BBAS employee other than an obligatory mention on the agency’s website, save the telltale cc on our one email that led us to contact her in sheer headbanging desperation, if only to reach her ex husband.
Her email response bears review here.
Any correspondence needs to go through BBAS. Denise Hubbard and Rick are in Bulgaria now, and will not be available until September 2, 2000. Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused – or delay – but I do not check my home e-mail very often! Sincerely, Cynthia D. Marco, PhD, John Carroll University, Career Sciences Center.
“Any correspondence needs to go through BBAS?” Cynthia was BBAS ... at least that’s why the state addressed any official communications to her, wasn’t it? And how silly of us to have expected help from the very person who is supposed to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the agency, according to the agency itself! It would have been sensible if, when gallivanting off to Bulgaria, someone was designated to actually run the agency in Denise's absence.
You’d also have thought that the good kind agency owner and website domain-name administrative contact would have at least given her administrative director, her number one employee, a bbas.org email address of her own to answer such emails from perturbed clients as Wendy and Debbie have.
She signed the email with her JCU address and affiliation ... after all, she was employed there. We have no reason to think she was on leave, given the time it took for her to reply.
One has to ask ... was the former Cynthia Marco really performing the duties of her position? Or was she simply filling a place as a favor to a friend?
This question grows more complex when one reconsiders how it ended for Cynthia Marco and Building Blocks.
Officially, Cynthia was let go on Oct. 30. Her termination letter, filed with ODJFS as required, gives no reason for this move.
We wondered ever since if our email to her caused more problems than we could have guessed? Did Cynthia suddenly realize what was going on with BBAS, which she had lent her name to but, it seems, little else? Did she worry about the effect on her hard-earned professional reputation if she stayed and make a scene with her husband and/or Denise, as Dan speculated in his letter to Rick? But if so, why not just resign? (Perhaps it ultimately was a contributing factor to their divorce, even if it took five years).
Or did she actually do her stated job and try to take control while Denise and Rick were in Bulgaria, leading Denise to put her foot down and reclaim the status quo at her little vanity adoption agency, even if it meant going without a director again?
Actually, it didn’t. Closer examination of the incident complicates things. In fact, the more we look the more it seems like the whole thing was somehow orchestrated, with no truly hurt feelings in the long run, which in turn casts further doubt on the real nature of the director position.
For we find in the state filings the employment application of Cynthia’s successor, Thomas Rotonda (more on him later).
Two things are worthy of note:
1) It was dated Oct. 11, and
2) he says Denise Hubbard and Rick Marco were the ones who referred him to the position.
Let’s consider the timing, first of all. We had returned from Bulgaria with Anguel on Oct. 4.
BBAS had to know, as we did, that they no longer had any leverage over us. Logically, legal eagle Rick Marco must have been deathly afraid that we were about to come roaring out with a document headed Summons and Verified Complaint (or something along those lines). We eventually chose not to, but at the time it was a valid possibility.
Pre-emptive measures of course were called for. First, they tried a ruse to keep us from soliciting fellow clients as co-plaintiffs or supporting witnesses.
Then, Rick must have realized how this could affect him personally.
His ex wife, after all, was listed as director of Building Blocks, even if only to satisfy the state’s silly requirements, so Denise could do the job she was meant to do. And she had been director all through 2000 ... most of the time we had been clients post-Cyril.
Can you spell “necessary party” to a lawsuit? Even if we didn’t, Rick might have. As a corporate officer, her degree of involvement would have been moot.
And above and beyond the likelihood that such a suit might discover very easily that Cynthia was BBAS’s director in name only, maybe he knew some things about the case that we either later found out, or still haven't, and that might not only prevent BBAS from prevailing in court but guarantee hefty awards.
And if the wife was penalized ... he might have to move.
Rather curiously, Rick Marco didn’t own his former house ... Medina County’s tax records show the property was owned solely by his ex wife. On August 15, 2005, the former Marco dwelling was transferred from the sole owner Cynthia D. Marco to John W and Cynthia D. Scanlon. Both John W and Cynthia D Scanlon now are 50% owners in the former Marco McMansion.
Why we don’t know, but we can’t think of any completely innocent reason. We really doubt she paid for such a nice, big house with the proceeds of years of helping out the poor and downtrodden. Certainly not when her ex-husband was a moderately successful lawyer whose family owned several downtown Medina office properties, including the 25 Public Square building that houses his law office (and, for the last couple of years, Building Blocks itself). And if she somehow got it out of a previous marriage (then again, it’s a relatively new building), it's not too hard to file a deed amendment, as she did when she married Mr. Scanlon.
And, interestingly, Rick's digs with his new wife Anne Zhelesnik (bought May 24, 2005) are also in both parties' names.
If she had been liable for major damages, she might have to sell the house. And the Marco brood would have to go and live somewhere more modest.
Rick certainly couldn’t allow this to happen, so perhaps this was his idea.
Within a week of the Cases returning from Bulgaria, they found someone to step right in after Cynthia was “fired.” (You don’t really think Rick would stand by and let Denise sack his wife without his OK, do you ... do you? Especially seeing as to how he seems to have recommended her replacement).
If Cynthia were seen as having left BBAS involuntarily, perhaps that might shield her from liability some more when the Big Bad Cases launched their litigation.
That brings us to Tom Rotonda, a happy BBAS client who again has not only an undergraduate business degree from Akron (go Zips!) but an M.B.A. from Case Western Reserve University, is also perhaps someone who could have improved the agency if he had actually ran it.
Like board member Paul Bicksler, he had experience as a REAL business executive in the Medina area, in his case heading the claims department of Roadway Corporation, parent of Roadway Express and some other trucking companies, in Akron, where he’d been for 25 years after a short stint at Firestone.
He must have loved his day job, because no client of BBAS we’ve been in touch with recalls him answering the phone, email or in any other way being part of their adoptive process since he started in 2000. Not Dorothy Blevins, not Constance Bady, not Alysha Towell. In their cases it was all Denise, all the time (with the odd assist from Wendy or, when she was employed there, Debbie Bollinger). We called Roadway’s headquarters in 2002 and were told he was there but on vacation.
We really doubt that someone who spends a quarter-century working their way up the corporate ladder is would chuck it all to run a rinkydink adoption agency.
He never had had a bbas.org email login — BBAS’s web page gave his home email address. Nor, like Cynthia Scanlon, was he ever recorded as making a trip to Bulgaria (other than for his family’s own adoption), Russia or Guatemala, something one would reasonably expect of the administrative director of an international adoption agency with programs in those countries.
Remember, this is a man who checked boxes on his employment application indicating that he’d be ready to work full-time, starting immediately. (We suppose if Denise needed him to sign something she can’t, or talk to someone, she can ring him anytime. But then she did get nervous when Linda Saridakis suggested to her that she could complete the 2002 recertification with Tom’s help if she was unable to complete it herself).
Why bring this up? Because it’s perfectly legal, that’s why. Ohio’s Administrative Code says only that the position of director must be held by someone with a bachelor’s degree.
Because its drafters did not live in a world where adoption agencies are anything less than scrupulous and conscientious protectors of children, it did not occur to them to write yet another regulation requiring that the director actually do the work their agency claims them to be doing instead of merely serving as fig leafs and fronts for those legally unqualified for the job. There is nothing in what we have reviewed of the regulations that provides for penalties for misrepresentations of this sort. Sins of omission, as BBAS has certainly have to have learned, are punished; whereas no sins of commission are even recognized.
The former Cynthia Marco and Tom Rotonda had positions where a certain degree of trust and integrity is expected of them to be effective. They could have done better than to take a cushy no-show job, and there is no excuse they can give for not knowing they were fronting for someone who shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing.
Rotonda did not change things. In investigating the Ponishes’ complaint in 2002, yet Linda was able to talk to him. She wrote:
Mr. Rotunda sated that he would be talking with agency staff and reviewing ways to improve service. He stated that he would like to meet me with himself and staff to discuss this and would contact me with a future date.
By the summer 2004 Tom was no longer the “director” ... in fact, in the 2004 recert, Linda refers to Denise as the owner/director and Tom as merely the “administrator” (she may have misremembered their respective titles when writing the summary). Did he read this site and realize how much he was getting played? He's not even listed on BBAS website anymore.
Karen McFarland, also president of the board at last notice, has taken over the top job according to the most recent incarnation of BBAS’s website. It shall be interesting to see if she is truly as hands-on as the board meeting where she was made president suggests she would be.
Her personal information on the website is almost identical to that used for Rotunda, with only the specifics changed.
Thomas Rotunda, Our Administrative Director, is an adoptive father of a child from Bulgaria. Tom has a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. He has seen
first hand, children of the world who are in need. He has a strong dedication and willingness to assist our organization with his business insight and experience. He is
an integral part of our organization and offers much insight and experience to provide our organization with professionalism. Tom is in contact with our day to day operations and assists this organization with fund-raisers, humanitarian aid and guidance through programs.
Karen McFarland, Our Administrative Director, is an adoptive mother of a child from Bulgaria. Karen has seen first hand, children of the world who are in need. She has a strong dedication and willingness to assist our organization with his business and marketing insight. She is an integral part of our organization and offers much insight and experience to provide our organization with professionalism. Karen has the desire to help the many families who seek the gift of building their family through adoption as well as providing a child without a home their forever family
Once you dig out from the damage Denise does to the English language whenever she gets behind a keyboard ( the overuse of “insight” and “organization” are particularly glaring), consider how for directors they do an awful lot of “assisting,” as opposed to providing direction, as most people expect directors to do. Who would they need to assist? Probably the same person who wrote that they “provide our organization with professionalism,” because you know she sure can’t).
Interestingly, the personnel policies manual that Denise filed with that recert, revised in 2003, has almost everyone in the agency reporting to the “Executive Director” as Denise seems to style herself, and while the description of the administrative director hasn’t changed and still requires a college degree, it is followed by the description of the executive director, which is worth quoting in full.
The executive director shall assist the administrative director with the responsibility pertaining to the Board of Trustees. The executive Director is responsible for
for assisting the director with administrating the agencies service program in accordance with the policies adopted by the Board. The EXECUTIVE Director is a
member of all committees and will attend all regular meetings of the Board of Trustees.
The Executive Director’s responsibilities will include:
Executive Director has the authority to employ and fire all employees, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees and the Administrative Director.
The Executive Director will assume the following responsibilities:
Administrating the agency with the assistance of the Director.
Assist with the Developing and coordinating the agency’s programs and services.
Assist with the administrating of the agency’s finances, budget, meeting with the board, and working with the agency’s auditor.
Assist with the Conduction of staff meetings, assessing personnel problems, grievances, evaluations, hiring, firing, discipline, review of personnel policies and salaries.
Marketing the agency’s programs and services to the community.
The Executive Director will have at least a high school diploma, work skills in Public relations, experience with individuals, families and children; sufficient to ensure the agency’s personnel and financial responsibilities and coordination of the agency’s program of services with the community.
(All emphases and sloppy writing in original).
Now there’s a piece of work. Obviously written by and for Denise Hubbard. This would get anybody at a real business fired post haste if they couldn’t quickly revise it. Or not even that.
First thing to note is more recycled text, i.e. the bulleted list from the administrative director’s responsibilities (“Conduction”? That’s not even a word). But note how matching it up so neatly allows the executive director to dilute the administrative director’s responsibilities. Essentially two people are doing the same job ... it matters little that one person’s job is to “assist” in the other’s responsibilities.
This is, of course, a recipe for power struggles and/or organizational chaos, as any management expert (and many non-experts) will tell you ... unless you have a reason for doing this. Like, you want to give yourself an out if someone questions why someone not legally qualified to do the director's work is pretty much doing what the director is supposed to be doing. Denise may make all the phone calls, all the trips, deal with ODJFS and sign all the letters to clients, but remember she’s just “assisting” Tom or whatever warm body she sticks in the chair.
Think a canny Administrative Director could use this duplication of responsibilities to force a power struggle with Denise and get rid of her? Read again. While the administrative director is directly responsible to the board of trustees, there is no such language in the E.D.’s position description. Indeed, the position is unaccountable to anyone within BBAS’s management structure ... the ideal job for Denise L. Harding-Hubbard (We also like how it gives the E.D. an automatic channel to the board and a share of power whether the person is on the board or not. Someone is clearly covering her back here, and doing it well, as always about the only thing she does well).
This sort of power structure leaves the person the state of Ohio would like to see in charge a mere figurehead. We’d suggest changing the E.D.’s title to Eminence Grise, except it’s hardly grise at all. It looks a lot like, say, the old Soviet Union, where the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party was the real executive whether or not he happened to also hold the country’s nominal executive position (some didn’t, for reasons they chose). Who the hell would want to hold such an emasculated management position ... except someone who wanted to help Denise out?
Memo to ODJFS: In future revisions to the regulations governing private-placement adoption agencies, require that (1) the position descriptions be clearly delineated and that no executive functions be duplicated, (2) that records be kept documenting that the person charged with the director’s responsibilities is actually the one exercising them and (3) that clear procedures and conditions exist for the delegation of those responsibilities to anyone else within the management structure.
As it is, BBAS is making a mockery of existing regulations. Much like they’re doing to adoption as a whole.
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