5 board members resign from Clara White Mission over hiring, COVID-19 concerns

‘‘We can no longer protect the legacy of the honorable Eartha White,” resigning board members wrote Friday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax has learned five board members have resigned from the Clara White Mission, a local nonprofit that helps homeless people and those in need.

A resignation email shared with Action News Jax showed letters from Kris Mattson, Michelle Paul, Dee Paez, Joseph Whitaker and Stephanie Fields.

A letter from the resigning board members accuses CEO and councilperson Ju’Coby Pittman of refusing to hire a chief operating officer during a time of “lack of policies and procedures.” They also discuss what the board members described as a lack of communication over a COVID-19 outbreak at the mission.

The letter reads in part, “The Board approved hiring a COO in April, to better (ensure) daily operations were managed well. The CEO has consistently procrastinated on this Board request. When an extremely strong candidate was found, she declined to hire him.”

Two board members, including Michelle Paul, said in the resignation email that Pittman said she wanted a COO that “looked like her.” Paul alleges that Pittman made this statement two more times.

Paul also said in an email that the Jessie Ball DuPont Foundation even offered to pay for the COO’s salary, in the hopes that the role would help the mission’s future.

The board members’ resignation letter alleged the board was not informed of a recent COVID-19 outbreak, even after two people were hospitalized.

Action News Jax told you in July when the mission paused operations after employees and residents came down with COVID-19. That month, longtime chef Keith Smith died of COVID-19, and Pittman was hospitalized for the virus.

All day Friday, Action News Jax worked to get in touch with Pittman, but she could not be reached.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Board of Directors Vice President Dinah Mason said “The resignations (have) not hampered the work of the Clara White Mission. We respect the decision of each executive member and wish them well.”

Action News Jax has reached out to all five of the resigning board members but has not heard back at this time.

The resigning members’ full statement can be read below:

“Eartha White was a woman who never thought of her own personal advancement but instead focused on how she could improve the lives of those less fortunate than herself. The resigning members of the Executive Board of the Clara White Mission were honored to collectively use their talents in hopes of furthering the great work of Eartha White.

As Board members, we all have a fiduciary responsibility and manage the CEO, who manages the organization. The Board sets policy, and the CEO implements that policy. We are stewards of public trust and must always act for the good of the organization. The lack of transparency from the CEO made our work a constant struggle. Reports, documents, and information was routinely withheld from the Board.

The Board manages the executive director and provided such direction. In hopes of remedying the lack of policies and procedures, the Board approved [the] hiring of a COO in April to better ensure daily operations were managed well. The CEO has consistently procrastinated on this Board request. When an extremely strong candidate was found, she declined to hire him.

The Board was not informed of the most recent COVID outbreak, even after two individuals had been hospitalized, several employees tested positive, and the Mission had been shut down. We only learned about it when the President of the Board called Ms. Pittman on an unrelated issue, four days after the outbreak.

During the crisis, the resigning members of the Executive Board stepped in to help ensure the safety of the organization and provide direction due to the absence of a designated COO to run the organization. There were, apparently, no policies and procedures in place for operation in the CEO’s absence.

Ms. Pittman did share on our first call with her that she had met with several area homeless organizations to develop policies and procedures as a group. She said these policies were used in the first COVID outbreak, but [the] senior staff did not have copies.

The resigning members of the Executive Board no longer felt they could fulfill their duties given the constant adversarial relationship with the CEO. When we can no longer protect the legacy of the honorable Eartha White, it is time for us to leave.”

Following the news of its board members’ resignation Clara White Mission released the following statement:

“The resignations have not hampered the work of the Clara White Mission. We respect the decision of each executive member and wish them well. The board is sovereign and has the task of continuing to raise funds for our programs,” said Dinah Mason, first vice president of the CWM Board of Directors. “We continue to mourn the loss of our head chef, Keith Smith, who died as a result of COVID-19. We support our President/CEO, Ju’Coby Pittman, as she continues to recover from being hospitalized (from June 26 – Aug. 6) due to complications from COVID-19. We are dedicated to the community in the fight against coronavirus. We are offering free vaccinations every Wednesday.”