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Family Justice Center seeks new director


The head of Sonoma County's new Family Justice Center on Thursday said she has been fired less than a year after she was appointed.

Laura Colgate said she was dismissed without notice on May 31 by District Attorney Jill Ravitch over what Colgate described as a "personality conflict" with the county's top law enforcement officer.

Colgate said Ravitch walked into her Mendocino Avenue office, told her to go and she was "out of there in minutes." She would not elaborate on the source of any dispute with Ravitch.

"I feel like I need to take the high road," said Colgate, who was a volunteer and project manager of the facility before being appointed in August. "This is probably the hardest thing that ever happened to me."

Ravitch wouldn't say why Colgate left. She said her position was temporary and was focused on launching the center last year.

"She did a good job getting the doors open," Ravitch said.

Sources suggested Ravitch was unhappy with Colgate's fundraising efforts and wanted someone who could drum up long-term financial support. The nonprofit center is supported largely by donations and grants.

"We're looking for someone to aggressively fundraise," said county Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a supporter of the center. "Laura did a fabulous job as interim and project manager."

But Colgate said she raised $630,000 during her tenure from individuals, government sources and non-monetary contributions. She described the amount as "huge" for the first year of a new nonprofit.

Colgate said the problem was one of style differences.

"We had a personality conflict or a communication conflict," said Colgate, whose other work includes serving as president of the Valley of the Moon Children's Foundation board of directors.

Former prosecutor Kim Clement, the center's volunteer coordinator, called Colgate "a gem."

"I watched Laura Colgate take the Family Justice Center from studs and an empty building to a highly functional asset to this community," Clement said.

Ravitch also touted Colgate in an August press release announcing her appointment. She said Colgate was a volunteer during the development of the center under the former district attorney, Stephen Passalacqua, and was project manager for 18 months before the center opened.

Colgate was chosen after a screening by the center's executive committee, Ravitch said.

"We look forward to her tenure as executive director and her stewardship of this critical public-private venture designed to enhance our ability to better serve victims," Ravitch said in the press release.

Colgate, 52, was paid about $64,000 in 2011, county records show.

Still, the county began seeking her replacement this week. The temporary position pays up to $80,000 a year, according to a job announcement.

Ravitch and Zane said they hope to find enough money to make the position permanent someday. Like Colgate, the person chose for the slot has no civil service protection and can be fired by Ravitch without cause.

Until Ravitch names a replacement, prosecutor Christine Cook — Ravitch's second-in-command — is acting as executive director.

The Family Justice Center is a clearing house for government and nonprofit services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse and other crimes. It was created by the district attorney, who has the power to hire and fire the executive director.