At a Sunday afternoon press conference, Ju’Coby Pittman refuted charges against her by five of the six former members of the Clara White Mission Board of Trustees.
She also expressed concerns about how the controversy over her leadership would affect the 118-year-old nonprofit she has led as the lead director for 28 years.
Pittman issued a prepared statement describing the accusations as an effort to slander and defame her by sullying her leadership and describing it as dysfunctional.
“The false allegations against the Clara White mission are not true. They are false. And they are slanderous to me, the board of directors. It is hurtful and it hurts the financial support we have worked so hard for,” Pittman said.
Five of the association’s six board members resigned last week. They cited what they described as Pittman’s “lack of transparency”, including his inability to hire a new COO as they requested in April.
Pittman said on Sunday that the mission had a proven track record in the organization. During the recent COVID-19 outbreak, mission staff followed CDC procedure and guidelines.
“The [former] the board members who interceded did not understand the process. And if you don’t understand the process, I think you need to ask questions before you try to take over and cripple the impact of feeding the homeless, ”Pittman said, noting that she was hospitalized. with COVID-19 and nearly died when the controversy began.
The mission lost two weeks of funding for its drop-in center serving homeless veterans due to the pandemic, she said. The recent controversy is not helping, she added.
“Because of what happened last week or so, it’s been very damaging and donors are considering withdrawing their support,” Pittman said.
“So, I’m telling you all today, there is no smoke and mirrors at Clara White Mission. I have been very transparent. All I have is my name and the correct one. work of [founder] Dr Eartha MM White who gave me the opportunity to carry on the legacy, ”said Pittman.
She declined to answer questions afterwards. Instead, Pittman referred reporters to famous Jacksonville attorney William “Bill” Sheppard, whom she identified as her attorney in the case.
Pittman, who also sits on Jacksonville City Council representing District 8, was joined on Sunday by at least two dozen supporters, including her family, church leaders including Bishops Rudolph McKissick, Sr. and Jr., and the mission staff, remaining board members and friends. .
Among accusations leveled by former board members, they said Pittman refused to hire an “extremely strong candidate” whose potential hiring had tentatively attracted a $ 90,000 grant, they said. .
Michelle Paul, former chair of the board, released a joint statement from the resigning members. They said Pittman did not notify them of a recent COVID-19 outbreak before it led to his hospitalization, the death of a longtime chef and the temporary closure of the 613 W Ashley shelter. St. in downtown Jacksonville.
The resigners also said Pittman withheld reports, documents and other information. In addition, there were no procedures in place to operate the mission during Pittman’s illness, which they said prompted them to intervene.
“We all have a fiduciary responsibility and manage the CEO, who manages the organization,” the statement said. “The lack of transparency… from the CEO has made our work a constant struggle. “
Paul and Joe Whitaker, Dee Paez, Stephanie Fields and Kris Mattson have resigned from the board of directors. Cindy Laquidara, who is a member of the general council, also resigned.
Under Pittman’s leadership, the mission expanded the mission from a soup kitchen to a “one-stop-shop community development center,” according to the mission’s website.
It provides job training, job creation and housing for the city’s veterans, ex-offenders and low-income residents.
On Sunday, current board members spoke out in support of the mission work in the community and Pittman’s service and management of the facility.
Dinah Mason, now chair of the board and the only board member, who has not resigned, spoke on behalf of the mission statute. Mason has stated that they have the full support of the community they serve.
“As Chairman of the Board, I would like to express to you that Clara White’s mission is strong. We have new members on our new board committee.… We are ready and eager to continue the work that has been done for 118 years in this community, ”she said.
Board member Pastor Carlton Jones cited a series of emails between those who resigned. They were trying to force the hiring of a particular CFO candidate, he said,
“In their own words, you can see that they intended to undermine Clara White’s mission. They also went so far as to implicate and threaten CEO Ju’Coby Pittman, if she did not approve of this candidate who ‘they were trying to force her to hire… “he said of the apparent motive for the attack on Pittman.
Jones also said there has been accountability at every board meeting – defending Pittman’s action.
Times-Union reporter Beth Reese Cravey contributed to this report.