1001 inquiry continues to unfold: Executive director review planned, investigation report still private

For those following the saga of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities inquiry and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) governance issues, here are some of the twists and turns.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board executive committee met in closed session by conference call on Thursday, June 4, and, according to minutes of the meeting, voted to:

  • Add a third day to the board’s September 2015 meeting, anticipating there would be more work than could be done in two days. The new meeting dates are set for Sept. 23-25 in Louisville.
  • Take action regarding a possible performance evaluation of Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The committee voted to direct the board’s personnel subcommittee to prepare for the executive committee by July 22 “a recommendation for performance goals, evaluation process, and other important metrics for the Executive Director.”

The July 22 date likely is tied to the executive committee’s annual summer retreat, scheduled for Philadelphia July 22-24. The retreat is a public meeting, although the executive committee could vote to close all or part of it.

The minutes provide no other details. Asked to explain some context – to say how this action fits in with the processes already in place for evaluating Valentine – board chair Marilyn Gamm declined to comment.

Kathy Francis, director of communications for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said in an email response to an inquiry from the Outlook that the executive director’s review typically is conducted at the summer retreat and is reported to the full board in September. “Everything is consistent with the standard review policy, with the exception of who conducts the review prior to the Executive Committee retreat,” Francis wrote. “The motion directs the Personnel Subcommittee to conduct the review,” rather than the executive committee or a subcommittee of the executive committee. “The remainder of the process remains the same.”

The executive committee’s actions come after a tumultuous week in the 1001 inquiry – a situation that’s been brewing for more than six months now and involves an investigation into why an independent corporation was set up in California in December 2013 and $100,000 in PC(USA) grant funds transferred to that corporation. All the money has been sent back to the PC(USA), and Valentine has said none of those involved acted for personal gain. The board hired a Charlotte law firm, Alston & Bird, to investigate what had happened. The board received that report in closed session at its April board meeting, but did not publicly release it.

The 1001 program is the PC(USA)’s evangelistic initiative to start 1001 new worshipping communities from 2012 to 2022.

Here’s a summary of some of what’s happened recently:

May 29: Roger Dermody, who had been the PC(USA)’s deputy executive director for mission – serving directly under Valentine – filed a lawsuit in Jefferson Circuit Court in Kentucky alleging that PC(USA) officials defamed him by accusing him of “unethical” behavior in connection with the 1001 inquiry.

June 1: Marilyn Gamm, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, announced during a news conference that four PC(USA) employees connected to the investigation, all of whom had been on paid leave since Nov. 15, 2014, no longer worked for the denomination’s national staff. Gamm declined to characterize the nature of those departures – whether the employees resigned, were terminated or some other arrangement was made – describing that as a “private personnel matter.” Those four are:

  • Dermody;
  • Eric Hoey, who was director of Evangelism and Church Growth;
  • Philip Lotspeich, who had been coordinator for church growth, with responsibility for overseeing the 1001 initiative; and
  • Craig S. Williams, who was based in California and staffed the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development.

Gamm said the four were not given severance packages and that the amount paid since they were put on administrative leave on Nov. 15, 2014 was about $242,000. She also said that, to date, the PC(USA) has spent about $850,000 in legal fees to pay for the investigation – and that doesn’t include all the fees owed to John Sheller, a Louisville lawyer who’s represented the board in trying to resolve employment matters with the four men.

The money for the fees is being taken from Presbyterian Mission Program Fund – the PC(USA)’s unrestricted reserve fund. Members of the board’s finance and audit committees have voiced concern in recent months at how close to the required minimum the reserve fund is already running 

June 2: Lotspeich issued a statement calling on the Presbyterian Mission Agency to release the Alston & Bird report – saying he’s not seen it and that he believes the report “fully exonerates the four employees from any ‘ethical’ wrongdoing, and raises serious questions about the Agency’s actions throughout this matter.” Lotspeich said in the statement that he turned down settlement and severance offers “because they came with the stipulation that our voices would be silenced and the report would likely remain unseen.” Lotspeich also said he learned through the news media that he’d lost his job, rather than being told directly.

June 3: Williams issued a statement he called a “corrective to the narrative” the Presbyterian Mission Agency has been telling.

When he was hired in 2010, Williams said, the rationale given stated that that he would work toward developing a nonprofit corporation “that would raise its own funding and expand the capacity” of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Williams wrote that “this rationale was submitted to all those who had responsibility for personnel decisions at that time. It was also shared publicly at our national coaches training and our national NCD [New Church Development] Conference, with national staff present at those announcements. The hope was to widen the financial support, beyond the resourcing of the PMA budget, in order to ensure the continued resourcing and planting of new churches.”

Schulyer Olt, who is both a PC(USA) teaching elder and the lawyer representing Lotspeich, also is raising questions both about why the PC(USA) won’t release the Alston & Bird report and why the board hired the lawyers to investigate in the first place – instead of following a process he said Valentine had initiated.

In November 2014, Olt said, after word first spread publicly about the California corporation, Valentine convened a meeting of PC(USA) staff members who worked with church growth and new church development. Olt said Lotspeich and others involved explained to their colleagues what had happened; expressed their regret; made apologies, and were told “it was resolved, it was done,” Olt said. “From what I’m given to believe, it was a pretty painful meeting to sit through.” At the same time, “it was a recognition that the errors that occurred were not intentional; they were not malicious; they were not theft in any way, shape or form; and that folks had made a mistake and they understood it. And ‘go back to what you were doing and sin no more.’ ”

Olt said that Valentine “had come to a resolution . . . It was after that that all of a sudden, out of the blue, they were put on administrative leave and sent home.”

Olt said Lotspeich met with the Alston & Bird lawyers, and “his goal was to be absolutely transparent and forthright.” Lotspeich has not, however, been given the report.

On April 8, Olt sent an email to Gamm, Valentine and others involved in the matter, indicating he was Lotspeich’s lawyer, and officially asking for a copy of the report. “I got absolutely no response to that – none,” Olt said.

“I have never seen, to put it in biblical terms, a single jot or tittle of this report. I couldn’t tell you if it’s five pages or 500 pages. I have no idea.”