After spending roughly 12 hours meeting in closed session over two days, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board emerged with a public statement April 16 about how it plans to address an ethics investigation involving four employees connected with an ethics investigation within the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
Shortly after 7 p.m. on April 16, Marilyn Gamm, the board’s chair, announced in a brief statement the decisions the board had made in its closed sessions. Gamm said that:
- The board voted to authorize one of the lawyers it has hired, John O. Sheller, to work with the board’s executive committee and Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, to “undertake appropriate steps” to resolve employment issues with the four staff members named in the ethics investigation. Sheller is a labor and employment lawyer from the Louisville firm of Stoll Keenon Ogden.
- The board voted to communicate its intent to the PC(USA) “to be as transparent as possible as soon as sensitive personnel and legal matters are resolved.”
- The board will instruct that action be taken to make sure that incorporation criteria are communicated to the PC(USA)’s national staff and to make those policies “readily available.
Gamm’s statement does not make it clear what the phase “resolve employment issues” with the four named staff members might mean.
The 1001 controversy exploded last fall, after an internal investigation revealed that four employees were involved with an unauthorized plan in which funds were channeled from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to an outside corporation they had set up in California. The four were involved with the PC(USA)’s evangelistic efforts to start 1,001 new worshipping communities over 10 years, starting in 2012.
Information also has been made available about costs associated with the investigation:
Legal fees: So far, $80,526 has been spent from Nov. 14, 2014 through April 4, 2015 (which likely means more costs were incurred in recent days), as follows:
- $4,424 to Butler Snow, LLP;
- $34,505 to Alston & Bird LLP; and
- $41,597 to Document Technologies Inc.
Administrative leave: The costs for salary and benefits for the four employees to be on paid administrative leave for the time period from November 14, 2014 to April 4, 2015, came to $205,452.
Last fall, the board’s executive committee hired a lawyer from Charlotte, Mark Calloway of the firm Alston and Bird, to conduct an investigation into what happened. Calloway reported his findings to the executive committee in closed-door conference calls April 8 and 10, and to the full board April 15. (The board originally hired a lawyer from Nashville, but switched to Calloway when concerns were raised about a possible conflict of interest involving a board member and that lawyer’s firm.)
An investigation by the board’s audit committee – announced in the minutes of an August 2014 meeting – found that:
- On Dec. 3, 2013, PC(USA) employees set up an independent corporation in California, without authorization from the Presbyterian Mission Agency and using the name Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development Inc. That name is almost identical to the name the PC(USA) uses for its regional centers for evangelistic work.
- A $100,000 grant was made to the California corporation outside of the normal review process of the Mission Development Resources Committee.
- A second grant was initiated but not completed. Linda Valentine has said all the money was repaid.
The audit committee determined that the four employees had violated the PC(USA)’s ethics policy.
Valentine said in a Nov. 12 statement that all the funds were returned and that while “mistakes were made,” the employees’ actions “were not for personal gain.” The employee who formed the corporation applied to the Internal Revenue Service for nonprofit status for the corporation, she has said. Valentine also said in the statement that while some had called for the four employees to be terminated, she had decided not to do that, although “strong new measures have been put in place to ensure this does not happen again.
On Nov. 15, 2014, four employees involved with the program were put on paid administrative leave, at the executive committee’s request, while Calloway’s investigation was underway. Those employees are:
- Roger Dermody, the PC(USA)’s deputy executive director for mission (one of two deputy directors who serve directly under Valentine;
- 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 is based in California and who staffs the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development.
During its closed-door conference call meeting on April 10, the executive committee voted to instruct Barry Creech, director for policy, administration and board support, to “identify and remove from the public domain” documents related to the investigation, with the action to be taken by April 15, and “to create a list of those documents for inclusion in these minutes” of the April 10 meeting. The documents to be removed from the PC(USA) website include minutes of board and committee meetings, and Presbyterian News Service articles related to the controversy.