Lambert House, a center for gay youth on Capitol Hill, has been going through a rough period since the city ended funding for the organization in 2003. When Executive Director Ken Shulman took the helm that same year, he found a nonprofit that was, he says, "past the point where it should have been closed. There was no money to even pay salaries"
Shulman, 51, who has a master's in public administration from Harvard, says he stayed on because of his commitment to the organization's mission, and in 2004 successfully lobbied the city council to reinstate funding for gay youth programs. "The bottom line is, I brought city funding back into Lambert House," he says.
But a group of nearly a dozen people associated with Lambert House—two past board members, two former staffers, and a number of current and former youths—have recently raised concerns about Shulman's leadership, particularly in the area of obtaining some of the renewed city funding. The group, led by former Lambert House youth Aaron Shore, 20, and former board member Walt Blake, 69, presented The Stranger last week with a number of documents they claim show Shulman failing to promote the house's financial interests.
"We want him out of there," Shore says.
At the top of their list of complaints is Shulman's failure to get a larger share of the nearly $80,000 that Shulman's own initial lobbying efforts had secured for city gay youth services in general. Lambert House received just $20,000 of that money (in the past the house had been given about $65,000 annually). The quality of Shulman's application for funding also left an exceedingly bad impression at city hall. The application was late, its cover page was handwritten, and parts of it were thrown away by officials because the application violated length restrictions.
"It was horrible," says City Council Member Tom Rasmussen, who along with Council Member Peter Steinbrueck played a key role in getting funding for gay youth services in general restored. "Not only was it late, but it was really poorly written."
"Is it true that I could have done a better application?" Shulman asked in a recent interview with The Stranger. "Yes." But he blames the problem on the loss of Lambert House's experienced grant writer. Shulman also took pains to counter other concerns raised by the Lambert House dissidents:
• The dissidents say Lambert House's nonprofit license has been allowed to lapse, and the Secretary of State's office confirms this. Shulman sent a renewal letter in March, five months past the deadline and without the required $10 payment. That could lead to dissolution of Lambert House as a nonprofit within the next week. Shulman says it's a common occurrence for nonprofits to allow their licenses to lapse, and even be dissolved temporarily. (The Secretary of State's office confirms this.)
• The dissidents point with alarm to a LiveJournal posting by youth board member Aaron Chandler, 21, who wrote in an August post of having stayed up all night at Lambert House talking with Shulman, then going to Denny's for breakfast with the director, and then spending another hour talking in Shulman's car. Though no sexual relationship between the two is alleged, one former board member told The Stranger that Shulman's actions "left me feeling as though my responsibility to the organization was being compromised by his behavior. I felt it left me both legally and morally in a gray area." Shulman says he has "no concerns" about the incident. Though house policy prohibits outside social relationships between staff and youth, Shulman says that during the all-nighter Chandler "was functioning in a Lambert House board capacity. It was not a policy violation."
• Lambert House bylaws require there to be a minimum of seven people on the board at any one time, but there are currently only four board members.
• A seven-page letter to the board from two former staff members, dated January 10 and obtained by The Stranger, accuses Shulman of failing to fulfill his responsibilities. Shulman calls the letter "slanderous" and has threatened legal action against anyone who disseminates it.
• Shulman, who makes $54,000 a year, has never had a formal performance evaluation by the board. He says the board backed him unanimously after the January letter from the former staffers. Blake and other dissidents say the support from the board is not surprising, given that the only remaining members are Shulman firstname.lastname@example.org