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Former Church-Wellesley BIA manager threatens lawsuit over dismissal

Co-chair says board is looking for ‘different skill sets’

David Wootton worked at the Church-Wellesley Village BIA from 2007 until he was dismissed in February. Credit: Rob Salerno

The Church-Wellesley Village BIA has lost its manager, David Wootton, in an acrimonious split that has Wootton pursuing a wrongful dismissal case against the BIA.

BIA co-chair Liz Devine says that the board decided not to renew Wootton’s contract and that the BIA “has recruited for some different skill sets as we begin to make our preparations for participation in WorldPride and the Pan Am Games.”

Devine refused to give further details, citing personnel issues. Another board member contacted by Xtra says businesses have been given a specific order from the board not to talk to Xtra about the BIA.

Meanwhile, Wootton, who had worked at the BIA since 2007, says he never signed a contract. He says the BIA board fired him on Feb 26, shortly after he returned from a sick leave.

He says his dismissal comes after he criticized the board’s direction, in particular its focus on big events like the Pan Am Games and its ongoing partnership with the 519 Church Street Community Centre, which he says was not delivering results.

Wootton says he had been overworked and was on sick leave following the Christmas holidays but continued to report in to the office and check the BIA’s mail and email. During this time, on Jan 16, he says he was confronted by some of the BIA board members.

“It was a private conversation I had with them, under duress, and knowing they were about to go back to the exact same process and structure. I told them that I wasn’t able to do that and that they were better off to find someone else,” he says. “I came home that night and about 1:30am, I sent an email saying, ‘I can’t leave my job, I want to continue; I was the only person who could put this WorldPride initiative together in four months.’”

Wootton says he received no response to his email. As he had not formally submitted a resignation, he considered himself still employed by the BIA. He continued to work, although he put in reduced hours as he was still dealing with a health issue. Then, he says, he was called into a meeting with the board chairs and treasurer, at which he says they informed him that they had decided to terminate his employment.

“I was speaking to them as friends and colleagues, looking for solutions, and they took advantage,” Wootton says. “I went home and realized I can’t be out of a job; I need a living.”

Wootton says the BIA became increasingly disorganized after it entered into a partnership with The 519. The community centre is meant to assist with the BIA’s marketing and communications. He says newsletters didn’t get sent out, the BIA website wasn’t updated (at time of publication it still carries an advertisement for Halloween events) and the added layer of bureaucracy from The 519 prevented the BIA from quickly releasing information.

Wootton says he had to pick up the slack when The 519 failed to meet its obligations to the BIA. He cites last year’s parklet program as an example. Wootton says The 519 was supposed to be in charge of the street-side patios, but he ended up managing the project.

Devine, however, says that the BIA is happy with its arrangement with The 519 and has renewed the partnership. She also confirms that the parklets will not return to Church Street. She says the BIA may lease or lend them to another BIA.

“We’re really happy with the quality of communications that The 519 developed on our behalf,” she says. “We now have a membership database, website, newsletter format and office, and we’ve been able to reduce a number of our administrative overheads . . . that’s quite a significant amount of accomplishments.”

Wootton says he’s proud of his work with the BIA, particularly its recent beautification initiatives. He worries about how his termination has affected his reputation in the community.

“As an artist, there’s a lot of joy I get out of seeing those gateway markers go up,” he says. “I still don’t think I deserved a termination. I did not quit. I would not have left people in this.”

Devine says the BIA plans to announce Wootton’s replacement next week.