The Owensboro Human Relations Commission board made a reversal of its decision to allow the now-former Executive Director Kaitlin Nonweiler to remain through the end of December.
The HRC met in an emergency meeting on Wednesday and approved an interim director, an interim administrative assistant and Nonweiler’s request to be paid for four remaining vacation days and to allow her to take 11 hours of compensation time.
Nonweiler had submitted her resignation on Dec. 3, but the initial plan was for her to stay on until Jan. 3 to help in the transition of new interim Executive Director Joanne Kendall.
But according to Naheed Murtaza, commission vice president, the board on Thursday “dismissed the executive director and the executive assistant from all duties pertaining to their employment at the OHRC.”
Murtaza said she couldn’t disclose why the board decided to let go Nonweiler and Vicky Montalvo, who was employed as an administrative assistant, weeks ahead of their January end-of-employment dates.
“Our official position is that we thank them for their service, and we wish them well in their future endeavors,” said Murtaza when contacted by phone on Friday.
Nonweiler said board members came to the HRC's office the day after the emergency meeting with letters of immediate termination.
"It was a surprise; we didn't have any warning or notice that was going to happen," said Nonweiler, who didn't know why there was a sudden change after both sides agreed on her staying until Jan. 3.
One of the HRC board's contentions with Nonweiler was over a Nov. 2 Native American heritage celebration at Kentucky Wesleyan College. It totaled nearly $1,000 more than the expected amount of $3,000. Commission bylaws state the board must approve expenditures totaling more than $500, but the board did not OK the costs associated with that event.
Nonweiler said other board members were involved in helping her plan the event, and they were aware of the Native American heritage celebration's cost. And according to Nonweiler, she understood the $500 limit only to pertain to office supplies.
Nonweiler added that there was no board meeting in October that would have allowed her to review the Native American celebration's expenses with the HRC's board members.
"The main motivation for doing a lot of these events and programs was to make the commission more visible," Nonweiler said. "We believed that was greatly needed for the commission to reach its full potential."
Nonweiler was hired in October 2018 at $39,628.98 per year, and Montalvo joined the two-person staff in late March with an annual salary of $26,927.52.
Nonweiler replaced Sylvia Colemanm who resigned in August 2018. Coleman had been executive director for five years.
The HRC was established by the Owensboro City Commission on Sept. 22, 1972. It was restructured in 2001. The HRC handles discrimination complaints pertaining to housing, employment and public accommodations. Those local complaints are eventually sent to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in Louisville for its review.
Although the city doesn’t have purview over the HRC’s board or its decisions, the city does fund it. In the 2019-2020 budget, the city budgeted $72,821 for the HRC. The HRC also receives $10,000 annually from Daviess Fiscal Court.
Mayor Tom Watson said he will be meeting with HRC board members on Tuesday about its current status.
“It’s a needed commission, and I think they have a good purpose,” Watson said. “It probably needs good leadership as well.”
Along with Kendall serving as interim executive director, the HRC hired Jaklyn-Mahree Hill to be the interim executive assistant.
Murtaza said no decisions have been made on any permanent replacements for the executive director and executive assistant positions.
“When the commission is ready, we will go through the process of advertising for the executive director as well as the executive assistant position,” Murtaza said.
Despite their departure, both Nonweiler and Montalvo said the HRC is important to the community.
"I believe the commission is very valuable in that we need a place where our citizens can go to express complaints they may have regarding discrimination — a place where they feel heard and valued," Nonweiler said.
Don Wilkins, email@example.com, 270-691-7299