More questions have surfaced about how the YMCA handled concerns about Democrat Sen. Ed Flanagan, a Chittenden County state senator and candidate for lieutenant governor.
Last week, a Y patron filed a formal complaint alleging Flanagan was masturbating in the facility's Men's Wellness Center. Flanagan, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2005 car crash, has denied the accusation.
In his "Fair Game" column this week, Shay Totten wrote that the incident wasn't the first of its kind. But YMCA President and CEO Mary Burns said that, though she was aware that Flanagan had had problems during his workouts in the past, she was "unaware of the other incidents" Totten described in his column.
Burns said essentially the same thing to Tim Johnson when he re-reported the story for the Burlington Free Press. According to the Free Press, "Burns said she was aware only that Flanagan's safety on exercise equipment had been called into question."
But Alex Nief, who worked as the Y's member services evening supervisor from March 2008 until May 2009, disputes Burns' claims in the Burlington Free Press story.
On Thursday, Nief provided Seven Days with copies of two emails he sent to Burns and other YMCA managers back in March and April. Those emails (posted below) indicate that YMCA management knew about other troubling and inappropriate behavior by Flanagan months before the formal complaint that was filed last week by YMCA member Tiki Archambeau.
In the first email, dated March 29, 2009, Nief reported a patron — other than Archambeau — had seen Flanagan "acting strangely" in the men's wellness center. Later in that same email, Nief told his bosses that this same patron, and another, had witnessed Flanagan masturbating in the men's sauna.
"To avoid making an embarrassing scene, I did not address the masturbation or ask [Flanagan] to leave," Nief wrote to his bosses in March. Instead, Nief said he monitored Flanagan's behavior to "make sure he was acting appropriately....
"Since Ed is a state senator, I wanted to handle this as carefully as possible to avoid doing any harm to his reputation," Nief added. "In my opinion, from what I and others have witnessed, Ed should have his membership terminated immediately. He will get hurt using our equipment on his own and bring harm to his and the YMCA's reputation if he is charged with any crimes related to his behavior."
In the second email, dated April 5, 2009, Nief notified Jan Riordan, VP of Membership and Programs, that an anonymous patron had reported Flanagan falling off a bench in the sauna that weekend. Later that day, according to the email, Y staffers had to break into a locker because Flanagan had lost his key. Subsequently, Flanagan's clothes were found in plain sight in another locker. Nief ended his report by saying, "This man needs help."
When reached on Thursday, Burns reiterated what she's told other members of the press this week: “It’s our practice to keep these matters with our members. We deal with them internally. So, I’m dealing with this internally.”
When pressed about the discrepancy between her statements to Totten and Nief's emails, Burns declined to clarify or elaborate: “I’ve said everything that I’m going to say at this point. Ireally don’t have anything to add.”
For his part, Nief said he provided the emails to Seven Days because he was angry about the way the YMCA handled this incident, and the press reports about it. As Nief told Seven Days, "My frustration is less with what's going on in Ed Flanagan's life. It's more that the Y completely ignored this issue."
In fact, Nief claims he considered suspending Flanagan's membership himself but decided against it. "When a state senator gets caught masturbating in our wellness center and keeps falling down and hurting himself, this is something that the Y management at the executive level needs to deal with... This, to me, was way beyond my pay scale."