Interfaith Executive Director Tom Martin’s retirement was announced a few weeks ago, culminating in a party Friday where dozens of people from the Laramie community stopped by to wish him well.
But for Martin, the moment was bittersweet. He didn’t want to retire.
Martin said the Interfaith Board of Directors approached him Jan. 20. The board had just wrapped up a meeting in executive session, which Martin said he wasn’t allowed to attend.
According to Martin, the board presented him three options: resign, retire or be terminated.
“They didn’t tell me any reason why they were removing me,” Martin said. “Their action is reactive to something else that happened either with the (Laramie Plains) Civic Center (Joint Powers) Board or civic center executive director.”
Martin said he was contacted in December by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Labor Standards Office about a discrimination investigation regarding a civic center employee. He said he talked with the investigators about the employee, who was also an Interfaith client, because refusing to comply with the investigation might result in the loss of a $68,000 Community Services Block Grant.
“The biggest reason (for the ultimatum) is I talked to the Labor Standards (Office),” Martin said. “Apparently, either the civic center board or the civic center director — I’m guessing either threatened to sue them or threatened to kick Interfaith out of the civic center.”
Interfaith-Good Samaritan Board of Directors President Susan Sandeen said she could not discuss why Martin was given an ultimatum because the reason was a personnel issue discussed in an executive session.
“We decided to go in a different direction,” Susan Sandeen said. “Tom is an at-will employee, which means he can be dismissed for no reason or any reason.”
Married to Laramie Plains Civic Center Joint Powers Board Chair Eric Sandeen and member of the Interfaith Board of Directors for three years, Susan Sandeen was elected president of the board in November and took over the position Jan. 1.
Despite Interfaith renting space from the civic center, Interfaith board of directors member and Laramie City Councilor Joe Shumway said the possibility of a conflict of interest concerning the Sandeens leading both boards wasn’t brought up in any board meeting he attended.
“There’s not that much interaction between the civic center and Interfaith,” Shumway said. “The only time there is any interaction is when we’re trying to renew the lease agreement.”
While Susan Sandeen said she was not aware of Martin being contacted by the Labor Standards Office regarding the civic center investigation, Martin said he informed the board after his conversation with the investigators.
“I sent an email to the board to let them know,” Martin said.
Shumway said he received the email and talked to Martin about it.
“I brought it up,” Shumway said. “I had talked to the employee — the employee had said he wasn’t sure Tom should have sent the board the email.”
He said Martin told him he thought the board should be informed of the actions of its executive director.
But Shumway said to his knowledge, the investigation was never brought up in a board meeting, executive or otherwise.
“To me, that’s a non-issue now, and it always has been,” Shumway said.
When Susan Sandeen and Interfaith-Good Samaritan Vice President Mitch Cushman approached Martin with the ultimatum, Martin said Cushman asked him, “Surely, you knew this was coming?”
Martin said he did not.
Cushman did not respond to requests for comment by press time Wednesday.
A retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, Martin decided to go into a social services career after the military.
“It was the opposite of what I used to do,” Martin said. “Instead of wreaking havoc, I got to help people.”
While working his way through the University of Wyoming master of social work program, Martin interned at Interfaith. When the organization’s executive director left in 2000, Martin said the board of directors asked him to stay on as executive director.
“Tom was an extremely good person to Interfaith — there’s no doubt about that,” Susan Sandeen said.
Shumway said he’s known Martin for many years.
“He was working hard to make sure the organization was doing everything it could with what it had,” Shumway said. “Tom had great qualities. He worked hard.”
Martin said that in addition to regularly working more than 40 hours each week at Interfaith, he also works about 16 hours each weekend at Kum & Go.
“I figure if my clients see me working two jobs, they will know anyone can do it,” Martin said.
Beyond Martin’s work ethic and dedication to the organization, Shumway said Martin’s benefits through the Veterans Administration helped Interfaith.
“One of the real cost savings for Interfaith was he had his health care taken care of through the VA,” Shumway said.
During his time in the military, Martin said he suffered several injuries including explosions that left shrapnel in his body.
After spending about a week in the hospital resulting from a piece of shrapnel causing gangrene, Martin said Jo-Carol Ropp, the prior board of directors president, reacted negatively when he showed her the muscle in his bicep, which had deteriorated because of the infection.
In a letter provided to the Laramie Boomerang, Martin lists Ropp’s reaction as a possible reason for his removal from the organization.
Ropp did not respond to requests for comment by press time Wednesday.
“There were no health reasons (for Martin’s removal) at all,” Susan Sandeen said.
In some instances, growth can be facilitated by bringing in a fresh perspective, Shumway said.
“His commitment and work ethic and all that was of the highest quality,” Shumway said. “But, there’s always going to be the question of if something can be done better.”
After Martin chose retirement instead of resignation or termination, he said the board planned a retirement party, which occurred Friday at the civic center.
“At first I said I didn’t want a party, but they basically said I had to,” Martin said. “That’s the way they wanted to spin it.”
Susan Sandeen said she didn’t know if Martin wanted a party or not.
“I feel they were very deceptive,” Martin said. “All I wanted to do was keep my job. I love my job. I feel betrayed.”
After training his interim replacement, Charles Ksir, Martin said he planned to send a complaint letter to Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and the Wyoming Secretary of State among others. He said he hopes the letter will help the administrations find the Interfaith board incompetent and dissolve it.
“I’m not retiring,” Martin said. “I’m going to start a community action agency. Its mission statement will be similar to Interfaith.”