Home News Local news Safety Zone Board of Directors Severs Ties With Founder Iris Kern

Safety Zone Board of Directors Severs Ties With Founder Iris Kern

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Jan. 12, 2007 — Safety Zone founder and Executive Director Iris Kern is no longer at the helm or involved in any way with the 12-year-old organization. Assistant Director Shelley Williams said Friday that Kern was let go Wednesday. She said a search for a new executive director is under way.
Williams is now handling day-to-day operations. "We're still doing outreach," she said, adding that Safety Zone employee Don Turner is available to speak to schools and agencies about domestic violence.
Williams would not comment directly on why Kern was let go, but instead read from a prepared statement that she declined to fax to the Source.
"For the agency to maintain credibility and to meet contractual requirements, it must bear the responsibility of accountability and transparency to the board of directors of the Safety Zone, the government and the private sector," she said.
She said that in order to achieve that goal, the board had no other choice than to sever ties with Kern.
Williams outlined events leading up to Kern's departure.
She said that in 2004, the Law Enforcement Planning Commission disqualified the Safety Zone from receiving federal grants because the agency was out of compliance with the terms of the grant. After the commission asked the V.I. Inspector General's office to audit the agency, Williams said the Safety Zone implemented corrective measures.
Williams said that in February 2006, the V.I. Justice Department's Paternity and Child Support Division rescinded a $40,000 grant because the agency didn't provide the required documentation.
She said that in December 2006, the Safety Zone received a letter from then-Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert informing the agency that it was out of compliance with requirements for funds received from the local government.
Williams said that on Dec. 27, 2006, a letter came from the department requiring the agency to undergo a program and financial audit.
She said that those findings together with a comprehensive action plan and a timeline must be submitted to Human Services by Feb. 9.
Williams said that $150,000 appropriated by the Legislature to the Safety Zone is on hold until the agency solves its problems.
Asked about the status of the Safety Zone's shelter, which opened to much fanfare in 2003, Williams said it was closed. She said she had no other information and did not know how long it had been closed.
When reached at home, Kern had no comment.
Board member Peter Keen said Friday that he was not invited to the meeting where the board terminated Kern's employment. "I've been excluded from events," he said.
Keen said there is no evidence of any inappropriate or illegal behavior on Kern's part. However, he said that Kern did it all – counseled clients and did the administrative work of the agency.
"No one on St. John has been more effective and a more vigorous advocate for victims of domestic violence abuse," Keen said.
Keen wondered who would look after the Safety Zone clients now that Kern is gone, adding, "All of whom are victims of abuse and may still be in peril."
Board President Joyce Horn did not return a phone call requesting comment. Williams said that the organization is moving in a new direction.
She said that anyone who needs help should call the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas at 776-3966. Williams said people with emergencies should call 911.
She said the board of directors seeks the continuing support of the community as it moves through this transition period.
The Safety Zone serves 200 people a year. Most are domestic violence victims, but the organization also helps crime victims.
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