Pittman: Clara White Mission is moving forward

Nonprofit’s CEO speaks out against allegations leveled by departing board members

Clara White Mission CEO Ju’Coby Pitman speaks at a news conference Sunday. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after five of six executive board members for the Clara White Mission stepped down, the nonprofit’s president and CEO sent a message to its supporters: we are moving forward.

“I’m here to share with you today that Clara White Mission is strong. It’s strong, y’all,” chief executive officer Ju’Coby Pittman, who sits on the Jacksonville City Council, said at a Sunday news conference.

Pittman’s remarks followed the resignations of five executive board members, who said they resigned over their dissatisfaction with Pittman’s leadership, procrastination and lack of transparency.

Nonprofit’s CEO speaks out against allegations leveled by departing board members

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. Two staff members were hospitalized, including Pittman. The nonprofit’s longtime chef, Keith Smith, died last month.

As of Monday, there were no cases of COVID-19 among the organization’s staff.

During Sunday’s news conference, Pittman spoke out against the allegations leveled by now-former board members that she hasn’t been doing her job as president and chief executive of the nonprofit.

“A month ago, I didn’t even know my name,” she said. “I was fighting for my life and did not know what my staff was going through.”

Departing board members accused Pittman of not responding to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Mission in a timely manner and neglecting to hire a qualified candidate to become chief operating officer and help with the nonprofit’s operations. They also claimed there was no plan in place for Pittman’s absence.

The mission’s leaders acknowledged there was a brief delay in reporting COVID-19 cases to appropriate members of the staff but said that was not intentional.

“Because of what has happened in the last week or so, it has been very damaging,” Pittman said Sunday. “And donors are considering withdrawing their support. How so? Because of what a shadow, a shadow executive committee that was not in the bylaws, who left out the first vice president.”

Pittman said the former board members’ allegations as false, slanderous and hurtful to the mission. She said their words resulted in the loss of two weeks’ worth of funding for one of the nonprofit’s programs.

“The board members that interceded did not understand the process. And if you don’t understand the process, I think you need to ask questions before you just try and take over and cripple the impact of feeding the homeless,” Pittman said.

Over the years, the mission has seen its share of success. Figures provided by staff show the nonprofit’s budget has grown from roughly $200,000 to several million dollars.

According to the 2018-2019 tax filing for the nonprofit, the total revenue was a little bit more than $2.3 million. But with more than $2.4 million in expenses, the nonprofit operated at a $130,533 loss. That’s an improvement over the previous year when it operated at a $259,000 loss.

Rev. Charlton Jones, a member of the board of directors, noted that the mission, which has been around since 1904, survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Over a century later, he said, it’s now working to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonprofit also provided News4Jax with a copy of its COVID-19, dated July 18, which includes policies and procedures in the event infections or outbreaks are reported.

None of the former board members spoke with News4Jax on camera Monday. But former board chair Michelle Paul released a statement, saying they stand behind their words and decision.

“We all take our fiduciary responsibilities very serious and firmly stand behind our statement released as well as our letters of resignation,” the statement said. “As stated, this is not a new issue, but something that has been a constant struggle.”

Rev. Jones maintains the nonprofit did everything in its power to plan for the realities of the pandemic.

“The mission did everything possible to make sure that all the protocols were in place,” he said. “I think it was a matter of someone feeling like they could control and take over a 118-year-old organization, but it was wrong.”

The board’s attorney said there was only a minor delay in notifying the board of the previous outbreak.

“To the extent that there was a delay, it was a delay caused by the uncertainty of COVID and the fact that this is something that none of us have gone through in our lifetimes. And so, as quickly as possible, the information was relayed.”

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