Several weeks ago Rebbecca Lake Wood received a national award for her work overseeing the financial affairs of people who can’t do so for themselves.
Now the Jackson County public administrator is losing the job she’s held for 16 years without any explanation from the more than two dozen circuit court judges she reports to.
“I got the highest honor from the licensing organization (for public guardians) and I still couldn’t keep my job,” she said, “and I don’t know why.”
News that Wood would not be reappointed to a fifth four-year term distressed some members of the Jackson County Legislature.
Legislator Crystal Williams said Wood ran her 26-person office efficiently, saved the taxpayers money and had a true passion for helping indigent people who are disabled, incapacitated or have mental illness and are under guardianship.
“I’m pretty distraught over this,” Williams told Justine E. Del Muro, presiding judge of the 16th Circuit Court, during a budget hearing this week.
Calling it a personnel matter, Del Muro declined to say why Wood was being let go when her term expires at the end of January.
“This was not an easy decision,” Del Muro said. “It was difficult at best.”
Wood has held the job since February 2000. Her office manages the estates of about 200 dead people and about 1,000 living adults who are under some form of guardianship. Wood and her employees pay their bills and make medical decisions for them.
The office also manages the financial affairs of perhaps 100 minors who have no guardian authorized to do it for them.
In all, the office dispenses about $3 million each month on behalf of its clients.
Wood worries that the judges’ silence could cloud her reputation. She knows of no allegations of impropriety. But the secret reappointment process asked for public comments, with the assurance they would be kept confidential.
Wood was able to make a presentation before the judges, but she was not given a chance to respond to any specific criticism from any of the commenters.
“I had a stellar record,” she said, “an absolutely stellar record.”
In October, she was the only person to receive the National Master Guardian Star Award from the Center for Guardianship Certification. The award recognizes a guardian’s knowledge of advanced guardianship concepts and ethics.
A graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, Wood is past president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and was in private practice for 18 years doing guardianship work before getting her current post.
“I’m going to miss it terribly,” she said.