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Melrose YMCA president resigning

Was under fire in abuse scandal

Richard Whitworth said the community would not begin to heal until he left the post he has held since 1979. Richard Whitworth said the community would not begin to heal until he left the post he has held since 1979.
By Travis Andersen
Globe Correspondent / June 26, 2009
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The longtime head of the Melrose YMCA announced his resignation yesterday after weeks of growing outrage over allegations that a staff member at a YMCA after-school program had sexually abused two children.

The YMCA board said that Richard Whitworth, chief executive officer and president, would resign effective Sept. 1. He has held the position since 1979.

“Our community will not begin to heal as long as I am in charge of the Melrose YMCA,’’ Whitworth, 58, told the board of directors in a statement posted yesterday to the YMCA website. He did not return messages seeking further comment.

James Conner, 51, the former site coordinator of the after-school program at the YMCA, was arrested at his home Feb. 12.

Conner was indicted on five counts of rape of a child by force, among other charges. Conner, of North Reading, is free on $25,000 cash bail but under monitoring by a global positioning system.

After the arrest, an investigation by the state Department of Early Education and Care found that Melrose YMCA administrators “failed to protect children from abuse.’’

The state report found that YMCA administrators hired Conner even after learning of allegations of inappropriate behavior at other facilities.

They also kept him on staff last year, after he signed an agreement to stay away from a girl who attended the Melrose program, the report said.

Prosecutors allege Conner sexually abused the same young girl as she rode with him in the back of the bus to the after-school program.

Responding to the state report earlier this month, Doug Bailey, spokesman for the YMCA board, said in a statement: “A few vocal community members are raising objections based on a seriously flawed state report. Despite its deficiencies, the Y chose not to appeal and instituted all of its recommended sanctions.’’

The Melrose Free Press, a weekly newspaper, called for the resignation of Whitworth and YMCA vice president Nancy Madden in an editorial last week, after local bloggers had demanded the same.

Whitworth told the Globe last week that he had “no intention of resigning,’’ citing families’ continued interest in enrolling their children in after-school programs at the YMCA.

But in his statement yesterday, Whitworth said the outcry over an “isolated, albeit deplorable, incident’’ had reached a level that would be harmful to the YMCA mission if he stayed on.

Madden, the YMCA vice president, did not return messages seeking comment, but Bailey said she planned to stay on.

Karen Dauteuil, who was Conner’s direct boss, was laid off earlier.

Bailey said that Whitworth, who informed the board of his decision at a meeting Wednesday, was not pressured by board members to step down. Instead, he said that he would help the YMCA by leaving and that the board agreed.

“I don’t think it was an agreement they particularly appreciated or liked,’’ Bailey said.

The organization is also awaiting the results of an independent audit. “It’s just the usual audit, but for some reason, they wanted to take more time with it,’’ Bailey said.

He said the board’s choice for a new YMCA president, as well as the selection process, was unclear at this point.

Attempts to reach several board members were unsuccessful yesterday, but one member, Ellen Connolly, had sharp words for a Globe reporter.

“I cannot speak to you,’’ she said. “And I would never speak to you.’’