The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s executive committee has switched to a different law firm to conduct its investigation into ethics violations involving four employees working with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 1001 New Worshipping Communities program.
In November, the board hired as its independent legal counsel George Crawford III of Nashville, a PC(USA) ruling elder, and others from his Butler Snow law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the incident. In a closed meeting on Dec. 11, the executive committee voted to rescind that action and to hire instead Mark Calloway of Charlotte and others from his firm Alston and Bird, according to minutes of that closed meeting that were publicly released on Dec. 23.
The change was made, according to a statement from the executive committee, because of a potential conflict of interest: Crawford and a current PMAB board member are both involved in the work of another unrelated nonprofit board. According to the statement, although “there was no legal conflict of interest preventing him from conducting this work on our behalf, we determined that, in the interest of eliminating any questions about objectivity, we would pursue a change in legal representation.”
Calloway is to be paid from unrestricted Presbyterian Mission Agency funds and is to report back findings of the investigation by early 2015, the minutes state.
The investigation results from the discovery in April 2014 that at the end of 2013, some employees had without authorization set up an independent nonprofit corporation in California called Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development Inc. A grant for $100,000 in PC(USA) funds was made to that corporation and a second was in the works before the entity was discovered. All the $100,000 was returned, and the second grant was halted before it could be paid.
The Outlook reported in November the results of an audit committee investigation into the incident. The executive committee later voted to hire a lawyer; conduct an investigation; and to have four PC(USA) employees placed on paid administrative leave until the inquiry is completed. They are:
- Roger Dermody, the PC(USA)’s deputy executive director for mission (one of two deputy directors who serve directly under Linda Valentine, who is executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency);
- Eric Hoey, director of Evangelism and Church Growth;
- Philip Lotspeich, then coordinator for church growth, with responsibility for overseeing the 1001 initiative; and
- Craig S. Williams, who staffs the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development and is based in California.