One of the four employees who as of June 1 is “no longer with the Presbyterian Mission Agency,” has released a statement asking the PMAB to release the report of its independent investigation, because he feels that it “fully exonerates the four employees from any ‘ethical’ wrongdoing, and raises serious questions about the Agency’s actions throughout this matter.”
The Rev. Philip Lotspeich, who was the Coordinator for Church Growth for the PMA until Monday (June 1), issued his public statement on Facebook after learning via PMA’s press release that he no longer had a job.
“I have yet to be provided any reason for this separation. While the separation was news to me, it affords me the opportunity to at long last speak publicly about the events of the past year,” he said. “As a loyal employee working for the betterment of the PMA and the church, I have remained silent while my actions have been grossly misrepresented by an audit committee investigation that was woefully incomplete.”
In a telephone interview Lotspeich’s attorney, Schuyler Olt, confirmed that his formal requests for both the original audit report and the subsequent “Altston & Bird report” have gone unanswered or flatly denied.
Lotspeich’s statement reveals that he believes “that the Alston and Bird report fully exonerates the four employees from any ‘ethical’ wrongdoing, and raises serious questions about the Agency’s actions throughout this matter. I can’t state anything for certain, because they are not sharing the information they possess, but I know the truth that was there for a neutral, unbiased party to discover.”
Olt said, “We have asked that they be transparent and put the report out there. It is being withheld on the basis of attorney-client privilege. I couldn’t tell you if its 10 pages or 50 pages. I have no idea. But I ’ve got to believe that if that report said that my guys did something illegal or unethical my adversary would have put it under my nose. That’s what we – that’s legal standard operating procedure. In my opinion, if it vindicated the ethics charges they wouldn’t have taken down their articles and scrubbed their minutes.”
In his public statement, Lotspeich said that the PMA “flatly refused to share the results of the independent investigation with me, and now they are refusing to share them with you,” despite a statement by the PMAB’s executive committee which said it “continues to be committed to fairness and due process for all employees…and will seek ways to ensure healthy relationships and a positive, nurturing work environment for all employees.”
Lotspeich said those words filled him with hope, because until that statement was made — when the executive committee requested the independent investigation — “I had experienced a patently unfair process completely lacking in due process and transparency.”
Olt described his own experience with reference to Matthew 18 and the goal of resolving a disagreement through dialogue not litigious dispute. “If I’m trying to walk with my brother before things get to the judge then I would have thought we would have information sharing. There has been none.”
In fact, Olt said that he and his client learned about most of the developments related to the case through posts on Facebook, Twitter and via church-related media outlets.
As the PMA Board made decisions related to his client, Olt said, “we would learn about it on Facebook. No one ever called us. When the board hired John Sheller I read about it online and called him the morning after the meeting.”
That’s when Olt says, “we started down the so-called route of negotiations.”
Lotspeich revealed in his statement that he turned down all of the PMAB’s severance and settlement offers, “because they came with the stipulation that our voices would be silenced and the report would likely remain unseen. I believe that the church at large deserves to see the report that they themselves financed, and this was ultimately more important than my own financial gain.”
Olt commented of the Lotspeich’s that “these people are living it; they’re the real deal.” More than his attorney, Olt is Lotspeich’s longtime friend and colleague in ministry. Olt and his wife, also a PCUSA minister, attended Louisville Presbyterian Seminary at the same time that Philip Lotspeich’s wife was earning her M.Div. Subsequently, Olt’s wife worked with Philip at the PMA in the New Beginnings ministry. She witnessed first-hand what Olt describes as “the public shaming” of the four men at the center of the investigation during in November 2014.
Linda Valentine, executive director of the PMA said that the grant money was returned. Nothing was lost and much was learned. She also stated that there was no indication that any of the four employees were trying to benefit personally from the plan. So, according to Olt, “Linda Valentine makes a resolution of this in November 2014. She called an all hands on deck meeting of the PMA staff and had the four repent in front of them to all their co-workers. Then she essentially said, ‘we’re done. Go back to work.’”
The executive director, who has full authority over the staff, acting with full knowledge of the audit committee report, the subsequent measures taken to restore the funds, and the allegations of ethics violations, considered the issue resolved.
“But then,” Olt says, “the PMA Board gets involved. Allegations arose of ‘ethical violations.’ They decide to hire outside counsel to investigate. They put the guys on paid leave – no discussion, no negotiation.”
Then, Olt continued, “the PMA Board decided to hire a lawyer .” But they did so without considering the inherent conflict of interest in hiring someone who was serving in another capacity with one of the PMA board members. Olt recalls that “when that came to light it derailed the process. It took the board months before Alston & Bird got started.”
Apparently the PMA Board gave the firm a blank check and set no cap on spending. The legal costs, which are still rising, now exceed $850,000.
Olt said that the Alston & Bird process include individual meetings with the four men. “They met with the four employees individually. They brought with them notebooks of emails. Big thick notebooks. There are hundreds of emails where this corporation is referenced. Some of the emails include Linda Valentine and Legal and Finance and others.”
The report was received by the PMA Board in April but neither Olt nor his client have seen it. It has not been released. Lotspeich wants to see it and he wants the church to see what nearly a million dollars in mission funds were spent discovering.
Olt, for his part, continues to wonder why Linda Valentine’s resolution in November 2014 wasn’t good enough. “That question has still never been answered,” he notes.
Meanwhile, his client and three others have lost their jobs.
The four, now former, employees are:
- Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission
- Eric Hoey, director of Evangelism and Church Growth;
- Philip Lotspeich, coordinator for church growth, and
- Craig S. Williams, staff person for the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development
They were put on paid leave on Nov. 15, 2014, following an internal investigation which revealed the formation of an independent 501c3 California corporation called Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development Inc., which received (and returned) a $100,000 grant from the 1001 New Worshiping Communities project of the PCUSA.
In response to the charge of defamation, the PMA has removed all meeting minutes and related stories from the denomination’s website.
Read the complaint: Roger Dermody v. Presbyterian Church (USA), A Corporation
Presbyterian Mission Agency Board directory of members (revised 1/5/15)