|OHF acting Chair, Sean Bennett|
Discussion began this past spring when former OHF Chair Iris Firemoon resigned from the organization citing mostly personal and family-related issues. After Firemoon's resignation, the position of acting chair was taken up by Sean Bennett, the OHF's Vice President. As no other candidate has entered the running, Bennett has remained acting chair throughout the summer months, taking up the major leadership responsibilities within the organization.
The issue seems to have greatly intensified this week as Firemoon posted about her experience, alleging that the circumstances surrounding it and the boards reaction have contributed to an unstable operation antithetical to the standard behavior that a board member should be expected to uphold. You can read her entire statement here.
It appears that once the posting on Firemoon's blog began to get reposted within the local community, several people and groups involved with the organizations began to make reactionary statements. In a statement released last night to PNC-DC by leadership from within three local groups of The Firefly House, leaders explained that they have pulled their group sponsorship form the organization as well as pulling back several of their members as volunteers:
"In response to these actions - which The Firefly House holds as ethically irresponsible and oppositional to our tradition’s belief structure - we have decided to pull financial and volunteer support from the Open Hearth Foundation until the OHF board remedies the situations in a way that is suitable to the current conditions."
In addition to this more formal statement, PNC-DC picked up several personal statements made by others such as local bloggers, Firefly members, as well as former and current volunteers of the OHF. The statements tend to range from expressions of agreement, to concerns about the topic in general contributing negatively to the Center's functioning:
"Cancelled my OHF donations until the board gets its issues straightened out. Sad that a dream with so much potential has come down so low."
-Norma Hamlet-Zarpak, former OHF volunteer
"I want to see this issue addressed, but I am not willing to financially imperil the community center at this critical juncture." She continues by saying "I am not yet convinced that it is right to threaten to destroy what so many have worked so hard to create in order to blame an institution for the actions of an individual." She closes her statement with "I don’t want to see the community destroy itself and its resources this way; I don’t want my support for the community center to become a political football in a personal dispute."
-Literata (full post here)
"I'm certain the poison within the OHF will work its way out and the community will come out stronger because of it. I've already seen numerous people withdraw support and the board will soon see that unless they take a stand against what is wrong, the organization will crumble."
-Moonsage Waterhawk, Firefly member
"I will be boycotting all OHF activities until this situation is resolved."
-LaVada Catherine DelConte, former OHF volunteer
Until this week, the board of the OHF has stayed silent, likely viewing the initial catalyst of events as a personal-only matter. Once the conversation broke into the public sphere, we asked the board for a statement in regards to the allegations made against the current acting Chair and the members of the board. Their full response:
Open Statement to the Pagan Community
August 7th, 2012
This is a statement of the OHF board members and affiliates regarding the recent discourse about the OHF leadership.
First, the Open Hearth Foundation is a public nonprofit foundation that is not the personal project of any one individual. For more than a decade, hundreds of people have contributed money, time, and energy to manifest the Center. We affirm that the OHF is a community organization that exists above and beyond the interests of individual members or group within the community. OHF successes or shortcomings are not attributable to any individual.
Second, the OHF has relied on volunteer members to serve on the board and work as volunteer leaders. We recognize that every official of the OHF has a personal life and the board has historically strived to retain a high level of professionalism in separating personal life events from the OHF’s operations. We maintain that such a separation is imperative in retaining the reputation of the organization.
Third, neither the community nor the organization are best served by removing leadership because of allegations that are unrelated to the professional work of the OHF or the execution of the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board of Governors. Moreover, the board cannot comment or act on pending legal matters that do not involve the organization. Personal relationships entered into freely and outside the purview of the OHF have no bearing on personnel decisions unless they implicate the duties and obligations owed to the organization or render the OHF legally liable for wrongdoing.
Fourth, we affirm that any allegations against any member of the board should be investigated if it has a bearing on their duties and obligations due to the organization. Evidence of such malfeasance may be brought directly to the board. For those requiring confidentiality, an ombudsman is available.
Fifth, the OHF continues to focus on the vitality of the center and the community it serves. We encourage people to engage with the OHF by participating in events, becoming members, volunteering, becoming trustees, applying for board positions, and safeguarding the respect and goodwill of their community center.
Board of Governors:
Former Board Members:
Cyra Akila Choudhury
Eric S. Riley
M. Twist Eversoll
R. Tigre Cruz
Organizational Points of Contact:
OHF Spokesperson: Eric Eldritch@OpenHearth.org
OHF Ombudsman: Angela Roberts, Angela@OpenHearth.org
It has also come to our attention that OHF donor and volunteer Joel Tinkle has begun to circulate a petition on Change.org, calling on Bennett to step down.
"Sean Bennett has dishonored his position and the organization he purports to love through his lack of accountability, illicit personal conduct, and rude, disrespectful behavior without any restraint or consequences."
This is likely to be an ongoing story and PNC-DC will keep you informed if anything new develops. In the meantime, please feel free to contribute to this story by way of the comments below.
[Disclosure Note: Reported by David Salisbury, of PNC-DC, The Firefly House, and The Open Hearth Foundation. Diana Rajchel, Executive Editor of Pagan Newswire Collective, reviewed this story prior to publication.]