GR Community Media Center Begins ‘New Chapter’ After Appointing Next Executive Director

GREAT RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Community Media Center will begin a “new chapter” under a new chief executive after months of internal divisiveness involving previous leaders.

The nonprofit – which oversees the operations of WYCE-FM, the Wealthy Theatre, public-access television channel GRTV and community media outlet The Rapidian – has named Starla McDermott as its new executive director. She takes office on September 1.

Starla McDermott.

McDermott is an outside hire for the GRCMC who previously served more than six years as Director of Development at Guiding Light Mission Inc. as he transitioned from a traditional homeless shelter to a non-profit program that helps people recover from addiction and get back to work. McDermott has also worked in the nonprofit sector with Junior Achievement of Michigan Great Lakes and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

GRCMC officials noted McDermott’s fundraising skills and ability to grow a donor base while serving in the nonprofit space.

“We are thrilled to welcome Starla as our new Executive Director,” GRCMC Board Chair Jason Wheeler said in a statement. “She brings an exceptional set of skills, experience and integrity that will serve our team and our organization well at this time.

“We are thrilled to begin this new chapter of the Community Media Center under Starla’s leadership. We are grateful to our team for coming together to support our ongoing commitment to creating a barrier-free resource of free speech and expression at a time when it is most needed.

McDermott takes over the GRCMC from former executive director Linda Gellasch, which has been the subject of allegations from several former GRCMC employees and board members who came forward last year with claims that lasted about six years. Specifically, the claims related to Gellasch’s direct oversight of budgets and donor relations that former employees said had been handled by GRCMC program directors in the past.

The allegations led to internal and external investigations into the organization, both of which found no wrongdoing by the leadership. An independent investigation launched last year by the GRCMC board and completed in early 2022 found no evidence of ‘board negligence or financial irregularities’ following claims by alumni staff and board members. Lawyers at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP presented the findings of the investigation verbally to the GRCMC Board of Directors, but a written report or summary was never produced in part due to concerns about possible future litigation.

Prior to the conclusion of the third-party investigation, Gellasch also said she planned to retire from the organization this summer after 20 years with the GRCMC.

Established in 1980, the GRCMC has served to provide community media on various platforms, and also provides a computer and media service center to other local non-profit organizations and community members.

“I am honored and thrilled to take on this leadership role with the Community Media Center, an organization I admired and worked with during my time at Guiding Light,” McDermott said in a statement. “Freedom of expression and access to information are essential to the success and advancement of our community, our country and our democracy.

“I wholeheartedly believe in the Community Centre’s mission to build community through media. I look forward to learning and partnering with his incredible team as we work to elevate and expand the Centre’s programming and reach.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been clarified to say that a law firm’s investigation into the management of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center has previously been presented to members of the GRCMC Board of Directors in verbal form.

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