Instead of Thin Mints, a group of Girl Scouts mothers got pink slips this week.
What was supposed to be a routine Scout meeting at a Scottsdale church on Tuesday turned into a mass firing for volunteers of the organization.
Seven Scottsdale-area Girl Scouts volunteers were released from their positions when the organization's top brass arrived unannounced to a planning meeting and delivered letters of termination. Two other volunteers on Wednesday resigned in protest.
The volunteers' offense, they say: Questioning the Girl Scouts' new banking policy.
Members who witnessed the incident said it was handled inappropriately — during a planning meeting in which three young girls were present — and sent the wrong message to Girl Scouts everywhere.
"My understanding was in the United States we had the right to speak up and be heard. This sends a message to the girls that if you speak up, you'll be fired," said Sharon Reznik, a volunteer of 18 years who was released from her duties Tuesday. "As leaders and mentors of tomorrow's young women, do we teach our girls not to have a voice in society? To tell them you can't be heard?"
Girl Scouts executives on Wednesday said the incident was unfortunate, but necessary.
They deny the women were released because of an earlier flap involving a new banking policy, but said that is when "other concerns emerged" about the mothers' commitment to the organization's core values.
"We repeatedly — on at least three or four occasions, and it's very well documented — asked to meet with them. And they refused," said Gail Jacobs, organizational enhancement director for the Girl Scouts' Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, which governs more than 2,000 troops. "We didn't feel they were appropriate models for the volunteers or the girls."
Jacobs added that it was the volunteers at the meeting who behaved inappropriately. Several volunteers shouted and slammed notebooks on the table when Jacobs and other Girl Scout executives arrived, she said.
The women, all of whom held important volunteer planning positions, said the terminations put in jeopardy at least two winter activities they've been organizing. Reznik and others already have stitched 100 silk stockings they had planned to distribute on distributing with toiletries to the disadvantaged for Christmas.
The other event involved ordering material for a father-daughter birdhouse-building event this month.
Jacobs said the events will go on. Six paid staff members and several volunteers will be able to pitch in for the projects, she said.
Nevertheless, longtime volunteers said the council should apologize.
"Everybody is pretty much in shock," said Mary Ann Bateman, a volunteer of 14 years who resigned in protest as a "service team member" Wednesday.
Bateman, along with all the women who were either released or resigned are still allowed to keep their duties as troop leaders.
Members say the firing is a payback that stems from a dispute over whether the Girl Scouts management organization, Cactus-Pine Council, made the right decision to adopt Bank One as its official bank for all 2,223 troops in Arizona and parts of Utah and California.
Reznik's and Bateman's division of the council, Scottsdale-based Desert Hills Neighborhood, said they were concerned about the new banking policy because 48 of 49 local troops already had no-fee bank accounts. At the time, Bank One had imposed annual fees of $18.
Bank One later agreed to waive all fees until September 2004, but fees may be reinstated thereafter.
"We would respectfully decline comment on our customer,” said Bank One spokeswoman Mary Jane Thomas. "We’re always sorry to hear of turmoil within a good community organization."
In contrast, the Phoenix-based Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts does not have an official bank. Troop leaders are free to use any bank they choose, said Jim Dolberg, council director of field operations.
The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are not affiliated with each other.
Representatives from the New York-based Girl Scouts of the United States of America did not return phone calls seeking comment.
A rift between the fired volunteers and the Cactus-Pine Council developed last month during a divisive meeting involving the banking policy, both sides said Wednesday. But Jacobs said the group of women violated several other bylaws unrelated to the dispute.
"It is not related to the troop banking policy, however, at the time that policy was implemented, there were other problems that were brought to our attention. So it is serendipitous (and) coincidental," she said. "I guess you could say it's escalated, and there has definitely been a breakdown in communication (with the volunteers)."
Jacobs wouldn't be specific about the volunteers' alleged wrongdoings, but said there was unanimous staff support to release the women from their duties. She added the Cactus-Pine Council has only released two volunteers over the last decade.
Other volunteers released Tuesday: Lorraine Molloy, Marcia Green, Mary Beth Besler, Susan Beasley, Kelly McCormick and Heather Molloy.