Alan Morales

Alan Morales

LeaderShop director faces more charges from former staffers

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From staff reports

The LaGrange-based LeaderShop, a social service agency that recently lost $300,000 in funding, is facing new charges of a toxic work environment, bullying, and inappropriate behavior by Executive Director Alan Morales.

Since the story was first published in the Desplaines Valley News on June 24, at least six women have documented their experiences while working or participating in LeaderShop programs. A verification by the Desplaines Valley News confirmed through various sources that all the women had been a part of LeaderShop in some way.

The new charges by the women contain a similar theme that Morales created a hostile work environment marked by harassment, intimidation and demeaning women staff members, unwanted shoulder touching and rubbing. In one instance, a young female staffer was warned by her mother to “stay away from Executive Director Morales,” which she later confirmed was an accurate warning.

Many of these allegations were passed to board members over the years, with the board taking little or no action when alerted. In fact, in the case of allegations made by the Lyons Township Mental Health Board over Morales’ inappropriate behavior, the chairperson, Linn Meyer of the defunded agency, wrote in a letter to the Lyons Township mental health board, his behavior was an “unfortunate event that occurred at…a holiday party.”

One former Leadershop member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the environment under Morales leadership as “toxic and demoralizing.” Another alleged that Morales’ management style involved “public belittling and consistent undermining of employees,” contributing to a dysfunctional workplace culture.

Lyons Township Mental Health Chairman Elyse Hoffenberg was contacted for her comments on the current situation and said, “Our role as the custodian of public funds is to make sure the money for mental health services is spent wisely and most effectively. The entire mental health board acted with deliberation and responsibly in their decision to defund the LeaderShop.”

Asked again about the current freefall in the Leadershop, Hoffenberg, declined comment.

In response to the escalating crisis for the LeaderShop, Candice Mares, a member of the LeaderShop Alumni Group, has called for the resignation of both Morales and Board President Linn Meyer.

“We are advocating for the appointment of new board members and new leadership who can bring fresh perspectives and restore the organization’s credibility and effectiveness,” Mares said. “We believe in the mission of LeaderShop and have seen first-hand the positive impact it can have on young lives.

“However, the current leadership has failed to uphold these values and we demand immediate changes,” she said.

Meyer said in an email that the alumni making the charges represents a small number of people who have participated in LeaderShop programs over the years.

“In fact, it has been made clear to us that many of them don’t know what these people are saying and doing, much less do they agree with this group’s extreme and unwarranted demands,” she said.

“To be clear, we treasure the lifelong commitment to this agency of our alumni and thank this group for its interest however much we may disagree with its approach. In that spirit, we have offered to discuss their issues and concerns with them in an effort to try to work collaboratively, but they instead seem intent on pursuing their own questionable agenda for reasons about which we decline to speculate. Their communications in large part include erroneous and harmful statements, and they have made it clear that they don’t wish to have mature and reasonable conversations about anything at all. We are not going discuss their many erroneous statements in a public arena.”

She said she serves as president at the pleasure of the board and “and will continue to do so unless the board votes to replace me under its bylaws.”

As for Morales, she said, “Mr. Morales cannot resign because his employment has already been terminated pursuant to the terms of his contract with The LeaderShop.”

The Desplaines Valley News also reached out to Morales but he has not responded.

The next meeting of the LeaderShop is on July 11 and the Alumni members are expected to attend. The meetings are closed to the public, but it is believed that community members will be at the LeaderShop offices to voice their concerns for the immediate termination of Morales as executive director.

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