When Madison housing activist Brenda Konkel was fired from her longtime role as the executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, conflict soon followed. Her supporters demanded to know why she had been terminated, members of the TRC board initially said they couldn't comment on their decision, and some former employees sharply criticized her management style.
But according to a joint statement released by the TRC board and Konkel Thursday, that conflict may be in the past. After participating in mediation, Konkel and the TRC board have agreed that Konkel will act as a consultant for TRC and will help the center transition to a new executive director.
“The resolution reflects the shared commitment to the future viability and uninterrupted delivery of services of the Tenant Resource Center,” the statement said.
“I did what I thought was best for the Tenant Resource Center with the information that I had and the little power that I had,” she said. “Hopefully it will help the staff be able to do their jobs easier."
The TRC, 1202 Williamson St., provides information and education services for tenants, landlords and the homeless. Konkel was the executive director from 1995 until she was fired this Oct. 26.
The reason for Konkel’s termination was initially unclear, as board members said they could not comment on internal personnel matters and Konkel said she couldn’t comment on the written explanation for her termination.
Konkel was replaced by acting executive director Sterling T. Lynk, founder and managing director of the Mighty Purpose Project, a nonprofit development consulting firm. The board is searching for a permanent director.
After Konkel posted the news of her firing on Facebook, her supporters spoke up in her defense, referencing her long history of service, personal connections and knowledge of Wisconsin tenant-landlord law. There were over 200 signatures on a letter opposing her firing and asking the board to hold a membership meeting to discuss the matter.
Konkel, a former alder and at times an outspoken critic of local government, has had her critics over the years, from her political career and dealings in her capacity with TRC. Isthmus published an article with interviews of current and former employees of TRC which found conflicting views on Konkel’s leadership, with some accusing her of poor management, playing favorites with staff, manipulation and a “toxic workplace."
Konkel appealed the Board’s decision to fire her, but the Board rejected her appeal, citing “a review of the organization’s financial position” for Konkel’s termination.
In a press release, the board said that in the last year, TRC had bounced payments to its payroll company, approved numerous transactions without sufficient funds, been subject to “gratuitous” fees and failed to pay staff health insurance for “extended periods of time.” Konkel disputed all of these charges.
Board members elaborated during a November special meeting of Tenant Resource Center members, saying that when they looked into the financials of the organization, the situation was so dire that there was no other option but to fire Konkel.
Eventually, that hours-long and often contentious meeting led to an unscheduled vote by TRC members requesting a mediation process between the board and Konkel. Board member Jim White and Konkel agreed to meet for mediation.
According to the joint statement, the TRC board “agrees that Brenda never intentionally undertook to harm the Tenant Resource Center by theft or mismanagement of any kind.”
The statement credited volunteer mediator Howard Bellman for helping reach a “prompt resolution of the matter.”
“Brenda will be sharing her expertise and experience with the Tenant Resource Center in a consulting role as part of ensuring both a smooth transition to the new Executive Director and the continued viability of the Tenant Resources Center's programs,” the statement said.
Konkel said she couldn’t comment on what the consulting role would look like, saying that many terms of the agreement are confidential.
Konkel said she doesn’t have future employment plans at this point. She wanted to run for mayor but dropped out of the race, telling the Cap Times that the uncertainty surrounding her TRC situation “made it difficult to plan a campaign.”