CAST and Coppola call it quits

Liza Coppola, pictured in 2004, when she began her tenure as executive director of CAST. She and CAST have now parted ways.

After months of wrangling, Community Action of Southold Town and its executive director, Liza Coppola, have severed their ties. Her final day on the job was last Thursday, April 8.

CAST board members offered Ms. Coppola, who served nearly six years as director, an opportunity for alternate employment as community advocate doing outreach to the community. It would have stripped her of the executive director title and given her half-time employment.

“It wasn’t appropriate to my skills,” Ms. Coppola, who first joined CAST in 2001, said in a telephone interview Monday.

CAST board president Peggy Murphy, in an interview at her home Monday, described the change as a reorganization aimed at keeping down expenses while searching for someone with grant-writing and program development skills for the organization that serves the town’s most needy residents.

Board member Linda Ortiz said that, at least for the moment, day-to-day operation of the CAST office in Greenport will fall to office secretary Katria Nieves and various board members who will work to fill the void. Ultimately, Ms. Ortiz speculated, the board may divide Ms. Coppola’s role into several part-time jobs.

That’s all up to the remaining eight board members to decide, Ms. Murphy said.

Ms. Coppola received what Ms. Murphy described as a “generous” severance package.

“We appreciate Liza’s good work in maintaining the organization,” Ms. Ortiz said. Ms. Murphy, who had previously acknowledged that she and Ms. Coppola didn’t always see eye to eye about how the job should be done, echoed Ms. Ortiz’ remarks. She added that after the stress of the last several months, she thought Ms. Coppola might be relieved to move on to a new challenge.

“I regret that the new structure didn’t include me,” Ms. Coppola said. With no direction about how to handle the transition, Ms. Coppola told Ms. Nieves Thursday to say that CAST had reorganized and eliminated her job and that she regretted not having an opportunity to thank all those people with whom she has worked throughout the years.

“I am proud of the work I’ve done and will remain active in the community,” Ms. Coppola said.

“I am concerned for the organization,” she said. “I hope the changes lead to expected outcomes.”

While both public funding and contributions have kept pace with past years, according to Ms. Murphy, the recession has increased the numbers of clients CAST serves, making it necessary to curb administrative expenses as much as possible.

“I’ve not seen a serious decline” in contributions since the strife among CAST board members became public in December, Ms. Murphy said. “We’re working hard to restore the trust,” she said.

In December, The Suffolk Times reported that eight people had resigned from the organization’s board during the past year, all citing Ms. Murphy’s strong-handed management style as their reason for leaving. Several of those who left insisted that CAST bylaws were being ignored. Many cited Ms. Coppola’s continued tenure as CAST director as their main concern and accused Ms. Murphy of trying to micro-manage day-to-day operations.

While acknowledging her strong hand at the helm, Ms. Murphy denied that she was dominating the board.

The eight remaining board members are united in support of their president and the board is looking to add up to four additional members, Ms. Murphy said.

William Schriever, who helped to found CAST with his late wife, Barbara, tried to rally former board members, at first to replace Ms. Murphy and later to form another organization to tackle the work CAST performs. He has gone back and forth about where that effort stands. In February, he said he didn’t contemplate a new organization. Then in March, he said CAST dissidents are still exploring the possibilities, but wasn’t ready to talk about what might happen.

“I just learned about it,” Mr. Schriever said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning, referring to the end of Ms. Coppola’s tenure with CAST. “I’m very upset by it,” he said, but declined further comment.

[email protected]