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Chinsegut director angry over dismissal, but board president says it was necessary

BROOKSVILLE — Citing concerns about the dwindling cash reserve needed to renovate and operate the historic Chinsegut manor house, the board of Friends of Chinsegut Hill last week let go of its only paid staff member, executive director Christie Anderberg.

A longtime advocate for preservation of the stately antebellum home, built north of Brooksville in the 1800s, Anderberg expressed sorrow over the board's decision, concern for the future of the facilities at Chinsegut and disappointment in the way her ouster was handled.

She said her departure was followed by that of the security person who has lived at Chinsegut for years, as well as some volunteers and benefactors who have been loyal to Anderberg, hinting at a deeper conflict with the president of the Friends group, Sherry Pedonesi.

"I'm dealing with my own anger and sadness over the Hill," Anderberg said. "I'll survive, but I don't think that the Hill will."

Pedonesi said the board's vote was a business decision that was "gut-wrenching'' and it would be expected that some people who worked closely with Anderberg would not be happy with the board's move.

"It was a difficult, difficult decision and not one we took lightly at all," Pedonesi said. "She spent 10 years of her life up here."

Pedonesi also said eliminating the executive director position had nothing to do with recent criticism about how Anderberg spent the $1.5 million state grant for the still-unfinished restoration of the manor house, a project that has had widespread community support and that is a key component of the county's effort to promote tourism.

But Anderberg voiced concerns about how Pedonesi directed where Chinsegut funds should and should not be spent, including Anderberg's salary.

Anderberg's annual salary was $45,000, but she took a voluntary pay cut to $33,000 midyear when the Friends board grew concerned about the shrinking amount of money available to run and renovate the manor house and cabins on the property. In June, she said, Pedonesi presented her with a four-page letter detailing issues that Pedonesi was having with Anderberg's performance and financial oversight. Then, just before a board meeting, she asked Anderberg to resign. Anderberg refused.

Talk about a further reduction of her salary continued, but Anderberg said she was not permitted for the last two months to give the board reports that would have shown that, in addition to the money flowing out of Chinsegut's coffers, events were bringing money back in.

The events included the return of a doctor who had used the cabins for retreats in the past, an $8,000 boon for the operation. Weddings, reunions and seminars were booking frequently.

At some point, Anderberg said, it was clear that Pedonesi "was determined to see me gone, and she is using the financial reason for her excuse."

Pedonesi said members of the board would be on-site to provide security and supervision and that events would continue.

And she predicted that people will eventually understand that the board did what was needed to ensure Chinsegut's survival.