An Interview with Oscar Vazquez Regarding Esperanza
By Hugo Urizar
Cleveland, OH – Oscar Vazquez was the previous President of the Board of Esperanza for about one year before Felicia Soto, the current president. Previously, he was a board member of Esperanza and became President of the Board after the departure of Miguel Torres. When he joined the board, Esperanza was surviving mainly by the efforts of Barbara Esperón who practically rescued the agency from collapsing.
The managerial style of Oscar Vazquez, combined with his professional approach in dealing with the CEO of Esperanza Barbara Esperón catapulted the agency to a level never seen before by this organization. Esperanza was organized, structured, and was getting the funds to fulfill its mission. A perfect combination between a President of the Board who is open minded and professional and a CEO who is an excellent manager, honest and willing to dedicate long hours for the organization.
Unfortunately, Mr. Vazquez was transfered to Florida by his employer UPS , and he had to resign as Chairman of the Board of Esperanza.
What follows is an exclusive interview I have done with Oscar Vazquez.
For how long were you the Board Chair of Esperanza, and please describe your professional relationship with the CEO Barbara Esperon during your time as Board Chair of the Agency?
Vazquez: I was on the board of Esperanza for approximately three years. During that time I worked closely with Barbara especially as I headed up the relocation attempts of the agency. After the abrupt departure of the Board Chair Miguel Torres, I took the position of Chair for approximately one year. During this time my relationship with Barbara was a professional one. I took the opportunity of my position on the board to coach and counsel her on the many challenges of the agency. My involvement included attending her staff meetings, pre board meeting reviews and staff development and succession planning.
Please tell us about your recollection of those difficult times in Esperanza, the transition, the lack of funds, the vacuum in leadership, etc. Give us a little history, if you will.
Vazquez: When I joined the board at Esperanza the functioning of the agency rested squarely on the shoulders of Barbara. I recall my first board meeting in the basement of the Youth Center. At this meeting I meet several great people, but the group lacked the business acumen needed to bring and develop the agency to the next level. I decided to join the board mostly due to Barbara’s recruiting efforts and her drive and dedication. One of the first endeavors we took on was a one year board development project sponsored by the CSU school of Urban Planning. At these sessions we laid the foundation for two main objectives. First was to recruit and develop a more active and participating board. Second, move the agencies operation to a location more conducive to the agencies current and future needs. We took on a lot during my three years at Esperanza and I believe we accomplished a lot. In many cases due to my professional flexibility and Barbara’s dedication it was Barbara and I at the front end of all of the issues and concerns that emerged.
If Barbara Esperon was doing a good job as CEO of Esperanza, was a raise in salary and/or bonuses considered by the board? If so, please explain as best of your recollection.
Vazquez: The issue of Barbara’s raise and contract is one of total board failure. That is an area that I also take responsibility. I believe we took the issue for granted as we were hopeful that Barbara’s dedication and sincere care for the agency would keep her there as needed. From time to time Barbara would bring up the fact that she was operating without a contract. In these instances, we would pull out the draft and review the terms and always ended up putting it on the shelf due to other priorities coming up. As board chair, one of my main areas of focus was staff succession planning. Part of that planning included hiring and training a second to Barbara to position the agency for any turnover that could occur. Before my departure, we interviewed several candidates for the position of assistant director. During this process Barbara was very supportive as she was in agreement that succession planning was essential and that her tenor with the agency could be limited. Here, issues were always the inability to maintain a well trained staff that could meet the demands of the agency. As for Barbara’s salary, bonuses and contract the topic always came up in executive meetings, but action was never taken. I was always concerned with the amount of time that Barbara worked for the agency at a reduced salary and the fact that she never found the opportunity to take time off. Felicia Soto and I discussed this on several occasions and determined that we needed to force the issue of Barbara taking time off. We were only partially successful at this. My intent as Board Chair was to negotiate a contract with Barbara that would be beneficial to the agency and Barbara. Regrettably, I did not accomplish that during my tenor. Since it was always my opinion that Barbara was a very capable and organized administrator, my intent was to have the new contract reflect her accomplishments and compensate her for her work and time above and beyond the call of duty.
Did you know that Bárbara was making backups of Esperanza’s files during the time you were board chair, and in your opinion, is it illegal for a CEO to do backups or is it a normal procedure?
Vazquez: On several occasions, as I probed into the agencies finance I became concerned with what would occur in cases of catastrophic data loss or theft. This first came up as I met with Barbara in a pre-board meeting reviews and became concerned with the ease of access to our facilities at the old Esperanza location. I questioned Barbara on the matter and she suggested that Edwin could periodically back up the data. I questioned the need to keep the backup at a separate location and she volunteered her residence. I thought at the time that was a god idea as she has access to the data anyways, and at the time Barbara was Esperanza. Although there may have been better alternatives and control on data backup, I never saw nor do I now see any conflicts with this arrangement. We discussed data security scenarios but none were ever concluded. Since Barbara was playing the role of director, controller, development, program director etc., it did not appear to me that backing up data and storing it at a secure location presented conflicts. If a misappropriation of funds exists, that in mind would be illegal. The mere backup of data and the storage of the data with out any inappropriate use should be considered business as usual at Esperanza.
What do you know about the current situation between the Esperanza Board and Barbara Esperon’s dismissal? How do you feel about it?
Vazquez: Life has taught me that there are always multiple sides to every story. I have spoken to Barbara, Felicia and Al Lopez on the matter. The information I have is second hand. As I see it, Barbara suffers from one fault that I tried to work with her on over the years. Barbara is a very demanding manager and requires perfection from all of those that report to her. In some cases she is also equally demanding of the board. To some that have not fully matured in their standing in professional and social position, this (Barbara’s demanding actitude) can be quite challenging. To myself and others involved with Esperanza, this was a great advantage and we did not see this as a threat. In particular her staff had a difficult time with this and often complained to board members. Often the board members took the side of the staff and undermined Barbara’s authority not fully understanding the circumstances. This in my opinion would ultimately lead to conflicts with Barbara, staff and the board. I suspect the current events at the agency have its roots in this conflict. I believe that based on our efforts over the years, the board saw themselves in a position of power having a good income stream, a fine location to operate the agency and a viable backup to Barbara and did not take the diligence in negotiating a reasonable contract. I am not happy with this situation as the current board has allowed a lose-lose situation to occur. The long range plan was to get the agency to a point where an amicable transition in power could occur at the benefit of both the agency and Barbara. As I currently understand it, both the agency and Barbara stand to lose in the current situation.
This is not about data backup. This is about personalities. We always knew that there needed to be transition. But the transition that is currently taking place is not being executed in a professional manner.