Getting answers on just what happened with the Wellness Center management fracas could be more difficult than figuring out how to properly Zumba.
The City Council hosted administration officials on Monday night at the Council meeting, and never really got any traction regarding how it was that former Wellness Center Director Karen Avila faked her credentials, had several complaints against her and her staff, and still ran the department for five years.
Avila resigned last Tuesday, Feb. 5, as the truth about her credentials became apparent.
On Monday night, whether it was losing a quorum of councilors or even trying to figure out just what Avila did in relation to others at the Center, Assessment Director Omar Easy and Human Resources Director Lara Wehbe Ammouri couldn’t settle for Councilor Michael McLaughlin just who did what.
In a startling exchange during McLaughlin’s questioning, Ammouri and Easy actually claimed that Avila was never the director – and in fact only oversaw the food program. They indicated that Nick Bertone has been the manager of the Wellness Center since 2015.
“It is important you know who Nick Bertone is,” said Easy. “Nick Bertone has been the manager since 2015.”
Added Ammouri, “Nick Bertone has always been there.”
“Then what was Karen Avila doing there?” asked McLaughlin.
“She oversaw the food program,” said Ammouri.
“Come on guys,” said McLaughlin in frustration, noting that the questions were being avoided in a discussion about who was whom.
“I’m an attorney,” said Ammouri. “I wouldn’t undermine my credibility in any way. I have no reason to lie. (Nick) is the manager and he has been the manager.”
Added Easy, “If you know these things already, why are you asking us questions?”
“I’m trying to get to the bottom of what transpired here,” replied McLaughlin.
What Avila actually did at the Wellness Center was but on confusing piece of a disjointed and contentious conversation that took about 30 minutes at the Council meeting and got to the bottom of virtually nothing.
According to an Everett Independent article in January 2016, Avila was the director of the Wellness Center and Bertone was described only as a “personal trainer” there.
The article indicates that “Avila and her staff run the facility, and the former gym at the old Everett High School has been transformed.”
As recently as last Monday, Feb. 4, Avila’s title on the tag line of her City email was “Director of Health and Wellness for Everett.”
On Monday night, however, according to Easy and Ammouri, all of that was inaccurate.
The exchange between McLaughlin, Easy, Ammouri, and City Attorneys Colleen Mejia and Keith Slattery started out relatively tame, but clearly escalated quickly – with Council President Rich Dell Isola at one time calling for a five minute recess so people could “cool off.”
The contentiousness was keyed in when McLaughlin began to ask Easy whether he had a written assessment of the Wellness Center yet. Easy said, as Director of Organizational Assessment for the last 18 months, he does not have any written reports on the departments yet, but has made recommendations about staffing and programming at the Wellness Center.
McLaughlin was surprised that there were no formal assessments yet completed in 18 months of work.
“I have serious concerns that you have been in the position a year and a half and you have no written report for a department (the Wellness Center) that has thousands of visitors weekly, monthly or throughout the year – whether that’s a good, bad or indifferent report,” said McLaughlin.
Easy explained that he is working through every department and going in alphabetical order.
“The Wellness Center starts with ‘W,’ so that’s more to the back,” he said.
Later, he said he had a draft report for the Wellness Center and several others.
“There is a report being drafted on this department and other departments,” he said. “I can’t share that with the Council or the public until the mayor has seen it and it’s finalized. I have a working draft.”
But the bulk of the matter revolved around Ammouri and Easy disputing whether or not McLaughlin sent them questions to answer – and McLaughlin venting frustrations over the fact that the rules of the Council prevented him from asking questions about Avila’s resignation due to the “7 Day Rule.” That rule says that no questions can be asked about anything that happened within the last seven days.
Avila had resigned six days prior on the meeting date.
“If you had submitted the questions in writing this could have gone a little smoothly,” said Ammouri. “You said you would submit them in writing, I texted you my email and called you two times today.”
“I actually returned your call today,” said McLaughlin.
“At six o clock,” retorted Ammouri.
And later Easy also confronted McLaughlin about submitting questions.
“You publicly stated at your last meeting that you were going to send the questions in writing and you did not,” he yelled.
“These are the questions doctor,” yelled McLaughlin back.
That led to the five minute recess.
In the end, the matter was sent to committee where it will be hashed out, and McLaughlin agreed to send Ammouri the questions she had demanded for the bulk of the meeting.
Lost in all of the debate about questions and who’s whom was just how it was that a director of a department had faked her qualifications and hoodwinked human resources professionals at City Hall.