Heidi Brown, president of Filoli's volunteer group, Friends of Filoli, said the volunteer agreement that has caused so much recent turmoil at Filoli came into being "because Filoli is really in the process of trying to upgrade all its standards and policies and become a 21st-century business."
"Cynthia (D'Agosta, Filoli's executive director) is trying to move Filoli forward," she said. "The employee handbook was also updated," and the organization is "trying to get everything current and the way it should be."
Work on the agreement, she said, "was sparked by a specific incident" with a volunteer that caused Filoli management to see the need for a volunteer agreement that would allow a volunteer to be disciplined or let go. Work was begun on the agreement in 2012 and then dropped until a similar volunteer incident caused the effort to begin again in early 2014, she said. Ms. Brown said she was not involved in the crafting of the agreement because she was not part of the Friends' board at the time.
Ms. Brown, a resident of Woodside who has been a Filoli volunteer since 2007, said that as of Friday, Feb. 20, about 800 volunteers had signed the volunteer agreement, with several hundred of them signing after they were told they could cross out the "release and indemnification" clause of the agreement.
Ms. Brown said Filoli now has close to 1,300 active volunteers and another 200 who are either "emeritus" volunteers, who get volunteer perks but do not have to work, or have their volunteer status "on hold." All volunteers must sign the agreement by March 1 to continue as volunteers, she said.
The agreement went through an extensive approval process, Ms. Brown said, starting in early 2014 when Filoli staff and the executive board of the Friends of Filoli began working on it. Their draft was reviewed by attorneys and by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns the home and formal gardens at Filoli, she said. The rest of the property is owned by Filoli Center, which has joint responsibility with the National Trust for the house and gardens, Ms. Brown said.
Because the new agreement would be a Filoli policy, it was then forwarded to Filoli's governing board for approval, Ms. Brown said. Once approved, the final document came back to the Friends' executive board in November 2014, Ms. Brown says.
"We figure that at least a hundred pairs of eyes have seen this document," she said.
The Friends planned to present the document to each of Filoli's volunteer committees, which are organized around the jobs volunteers do, in January, she said. The rollout plan was changed, however, after one of the committee chairs sent the document to members early, she said. "They got the document without background, context or explanation," she said.
Ms. Brown said she and Ms. D'Agosta tried to answer volunteers' questions, but there were too many of them. "We'd have to have a staff working to answer every single question," she said.
"It was as frustrating to us to not be able to answer every questions as it was to them to hear" they needed to wait for answers," she said. "That's why we chose to answer everybody at the same time."
They researched the answers to the most common questions, including those about insurance, she said. "Filoli has always had insurance. It has insurance now. Nothing is going to change," she said. The intent of saying in the agreement that volunteers are "responsible for medical costs incurred by accident, illness or injury associated with my services to Filoli," means they must carry the primary insurance, she said.
Because the agreement was approved by the governing board, only the governing board could change it, she said. While Ms. Brown is vice president of the governing board, she said she could not say why the board did not change nor scrap the agreement when it met on Feb. 18.
"The decision to change wording rested with the governing board," she said.
"I understand if some volunteers just feel as if they can not sign this agreement and that they can not stay at Filoli," Ms. Brown said. "We will miss them, but we're at a point now where everyone's got to make their own decision and make their own choice. We have got to put this behind us and move forward. It's going to take some work and that's OK."
Ms. Brown said the Friends' leadership is looking for ways to repair the rift caused by the agreement. "We don't know yet what that will be," she said. "Maybe some mediated meetings to help volunteers share their concerns."
"There is a commitment from the Friends to our volunteers to do some fence mending, to do a better job communicating going forward," she said.
She understands that the whole experience has been difficult. "Why it got so emotional, is because people care so deeply," she said.
Ms. Brown said that in the process of answering volunteers' questions, Filoli's management has learned a lot. "There's actually been a silver lining to this whole thing," she said. "We are talking about things, we are better informed. I think that's a good thing."
Safety programs and insurance are now better understood, she said. In addition, "I think we have been told that we've got to do a better job communicating - we've got to work on that," she said.
Does Ms. Brown regret taking on the leadership of the Friends right now? "No I don't," she said. "Organizations go through growing pains."
Filoli's volunteer structure, Mr. Brown said, "was started by a wonderful group of people. They took care of Filoli and treasured it," she said. Now, however, she said, Filoli has "grown up."
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