Niagara Gazette — "I care so much about this organization, and that's why I hate to see it pulled down," said Suellen Nelles, CEO of a local council based in Fairbanks, Alaska. "We have leadership at the top who are toxic to this organization and need to go."
Connie Lindsey, the president of GSUSA's governing board, said the board had confidence in Chavez.
"Our board supports our CEO," said Lindsey, a corporate executive from Chicago. "We know it's a difficult charge we've given her."
Since 2003, the Girl Scouts have undergone a thorough transformation aimed at making their programs and image more relevant to a diverse population of girls. Changes have affected uniforms, handbooks, program materials, even the logo and the fine print on the boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
"Our brand, as iconic as it is, was misunderstood — it was dated," Chavez said in an interview in her Manhattan office Friday.
Yet today the Girl Scouts have about 2.2 million youth members, down from more than 2.8 million in 2003. Donations to the national office and local councils plunged to $104 million in 2011 from nearly $148 million in 2007.
The biggest change — implemented from 2006 to 2009 by Chavez' predecessor, Kathy Cloninger — was a realignment that slashed the number of local councils from 312 to 112. It was intended to increase efficiency, but resulted in the departure of many longtime employees and volunteers.
A handful of councils resisted. One of them, the Manitou Council based in Sheboygan, Wis., sued to block its merger in 2008 after negotiations failed to resolve its concerns.
The council argued that it deserved the same protections as a for-profit franchise operator, and in 2011 the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
"From a commercial standpoint, the Girl Scouts are not readily distinguishable from Dunkin' Donuts," the court wrote in its opinion.
Also refusing to merge was the Farthest North Girl Scout Council in Fairbanks, led by Nelles. She says she's been ostracized by the national office.