JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4Jax I-TEAM is hearing from leaders of the Clara White Mission as the local nonprofit faces intense scrutiny.
In August, five of the organization’s six executive board members abruptly resigned expressing dissatisfaction with CEO Ju’Coby Pittman, who also sits on the Jacksonville City Council.
One board member listed 15 concerns with the Mission’s leadership, most of which centered on Pittman. The document with those 15 concerns was first obtained and reported by The Florida Times-Union’s Nate Monroe.
They alleged a lack of transparency when it comes to the Mission’s finances, as well as policy and procedural concerns.
News4Jax got the chance to talk with Pittman’s new spokesperson about the current state of the organization. They said the Mission’s work goes on and that the board members who left didn’t have a strong working relationship with the CEO.
″It’s remarkable what she’s done. I think it’s a bit defaming and I think it’s a bit libelous. almost bordering in many cases, to circulate a document,” said spokesperson Penny Dickerson.
Attached to former board chair Michelle Paul’s resignation letter was the document listing 15 concerns about Pittmans’ leadership.
They included issues like the board’s request for over three years of automation of accounting and requests for Pittman’s credit card statements for over four years, neither of which, board members say, were ever fulfilled.
“The credit card statements are available to board members, and the CW Mission is audited at the end of each year. Never has there been any type of report in the auditing that speaks to malfeasance or any type of infraction, where money is concerned,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said full automation of the Clara White Mission’s accounting is a three-phase process that’s currently in phase one. Dickerson is also denying that Pittman’s spending has garnered any attention from the City of Jacksonville’s Inspector General or any federal agency like the FBI.
″The Clara White Mission has not heard from any federal entity about any act or nonaction of the CW Mission or the Board of Directors personally, or Ju’Coby Pittman as the president and CEO,” Dickerson said.
The Times-Union reported that “investigators with the city’s Office of Inspector General have conducted numerous interviews in recent weeks with people formerly or currently affiliated with Clara White.”
Problems within the Mission first started to show during the height of the coronavirus outbreak when two Clara White employees and Pittman became hospitalized with COVID-19.
According to a letter signed by the resigning board members, Pittman did not notify the board that several employees had tested positive for COVID-19 until four days later. The nonprofit’s longtime chef, Keith Smith, died in July.
Another issue under public scrutiny is a Clara White Mission house that’s being used to house homeless veterans and is partially supported by federal funds.
According to the Property Appraisers office, Pittman currently holds the deed to the residence and the Mission pays her a monthly rent. Dickerson said ownership of the home is now being transferred to a trust.
″I believe Mrs. Pittman sees this as a step in the right direction for the facility to go in,” Dickerson said. “That way there will not be claims, that way there will not be misunderstood, that way it will not be one more line item that any board member or public resident or donor would have to confuse the two.”
Another claim in the 15-point letter was that Mission resources are sometimes used to support Pittman’s work on the city council.
Her spokesperson told News4Jax many of her staff and volunteers have done work for her, but they volunteered and did it on their own time and were not pressured to do so.
News4Jax reached out to all five of the executive committee board members who resigned in August for further comment on this story, but we have not heard back.
The Mission said it’s not letting the controversy stop it from helping people.
On Monday, the Mission honored what would have been the 145th birthday of its founder, Dr. Eartha White, with a flag and wreath ceremony to honor veterans at the Old City Cemetery, a project White had spearheaded for years in Jacksonville.
During the event, it announced $71,000 in combined donations from Publix, North Florida Sales, Molina Healthcare, the Fraternal Order of Police and an anonymous donor.