Burnsville-based 360 Communities ousts veteran CEO

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2011 - 7:43 PM

Following a board review of the social service nonprofit and its mission, Mary Ajax is no longer president and CEO.

In the culmination of a tumultuous year, one of the largest social service nonprofits in the south metro area has removed its longtime president and chief executive.

In a news release issued Wednesday, Burnsville-based 360 Communities said Mary Ajax's departure came after "a strategic review of the organization and its mission."

"In her time with 360 Communities, Mary made significant positive contributions to our communities," board Chairman Pete Diessner said in the release.

The statement went on to say: "Volunteers created 360 Communities 40 years ago to serve the needs of south suburban communities. The board took action to change the organization's leadership in part to ensure that 360 Communities will be able to continue to fulfill this role in the future."

A call to Ajax's home was not returned. A spokesman for the agency refused to further explain the board's decision or say whether Ajax was fired or stepped down voluntarily. Diessner declined to comment beyond the written statement.

The agency has been losing money in recent years, including $363,000 in 2009, the last full year for which numbers are available. Ajax's departure comes after four other leaders -- Ben Kanninen, Steve Haschig, Leslie Metzen and Greg Konat -- left 360 Communities during the summer and fall. Haschig, Metzen and Konat have declined to publicly discuss their reasons for leaving, but talk of personality conflicts at the agency has been rumbling for months.

Metzen did say on Wednesday that the work of 360 Communities is valuable. In addition to domestic violence prevention work and operating the two safe houses, it offers multiple food shelves, education programs and outreach to help immigrants and young families. The agency also coordinates an annual holiday food and toy drive.

"The front-line staff that's actually doing the work in the community, they deserve support," Metzen said.

She also praised Ajax's work to raise awareness about and prevent domestic violence. "She certainly was a pioneer when it came to domestic violence issues."

The agency was founded in 1970 as Community Action Council. Ajax joined in 1975 and was promoted to president and CEO in 1992. When she helped found the first Lewis House in 1979, it was one of the first free-standing domestic violence shelters in the nation.

For 2011, the agency has a roughly $4.1 million budget. Ajax's salary for 2009, the most recent 12-month period available on tax filings, was $172,053. She also received $63,306 in "other compensation" such as retirement and nontaxable benefits.

In recent years, the agency's operating budget has run a deficit of a few hundred thousand dollars, with the difference made up by spending down net assets, according to tax filings. 360 Communities' net assets were about $2 million in 2010, down from $3.3 million in 2007.

A search committee has been established to find Ajax's replacement. Jeff Mortenson, the agency's leader of strategic development, will serve as interim president.

Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286

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