October 9, 2018; San Antonio Express News
Leadership transitions can be difficult for staff, volunteers, and clients, but they are smoothed by clear communication and respect for the dedication to the organization of all involved.
Those qualities, especially communication, appear to be sorely lacking at the Green Beret Foundation (GBF) in San Antonio, Texas, where the departure of founder and executive director Jennifer Paquette and finance director Melissa Pucino has devolved into a circus of allegations of bad faith and competing claims of who occupies the moral high ground.
Things seemed to be going well. Last December, Paquette and her husband Roland were profiled in San Antonio Magazine to highlight their work with GBF.
According to Sig Christenson at the San Antonio Express-News, the lawsuit filed by GBF alleges that Paquette’s “performance had deteriorated significantly” in 2018 and “her behavior became increasingly unprofessional, erratic and destructive.” (Most of the documents, including the original filing, are behind a paywall in Texas’ district court online system.)
The GBF says that Pucino and Paquette submitted resignation letters on September 19th that included “unreasonable demands for payments, benefits, and even the removal of half of GBF’s board and their replacement with Paquette’s candidates.”
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However, a document filed by Paquette’s lawyer, Melinda Gaul, claims that Paquette intended that letter as the start of negotiations in a longer process. (Hint to readers—negotiations should generally not be opened with a resignation letter) She wrote, “As a result of issues which had arisen between Paquette and other board members, on September 19, 2018, Paquette submitted a proposal to every member of the GBF Board of Directors to transition out of her position as Executive Director over an 8–10 month period, with severance and the opportunity to remain on the Board of Directors,” and requested the negotiations be handled by an attorney.
Instead, says the document, the board sent an email on September 22nd, accepting her resignation. On September 24th, GBF posted a letter from the new Interim Executive Director Angie Fennen, thanking Paquette and Pucino for their service and reassuring clients that services would continue uninterrupted. Fennen called the transition “personally and professionally challenging.”
Paquette and GBF disagree about most of the following events; GBF claims that Paquette froze access to the group’s records, withheld or changed passwords, interfered with content on social media pages, and more, in an attempt to sabotage GBF’s work. Paquette’s attorney claims that “As a board member, Paquette has access to all the information of GBF, like the other members of the board. In fact, she has more right to access the information than James Kester, Rone Reed, and Tim Slemp, who have exceeded the term limits set by the GBF bylaws.” Paquette herself was executive director, vice president, and a board member (as well as the founder) of the organization, which, while perhaps not against GBF bylaws, is certainly a questionable ethical position from which to be a stickler about term limits.
The document filed by Paquette’s attorney does not comment on the ostensibly deleted Facebook content, but it seems apparent from the discussion thread that some posts have been removed. The post announcing Paquette’s departure begins “now that we have regained control of our main social media channel,” but does not specify how and when that control was lost. The discussion is erratic; board director Amy Tucker Kester responded to requests for further explanation by saying, “Thanks for having patience…while things are sorted out. The GBF staff and Board are working diligently to get FACTUAL information out there, but it does take time. Thanks for your support.” (Kester is listed on the 2016 Form 990, but not on GBF’s board directory site; all those listed on the site are men.)
By all accounts, GBF has served its clients well; many Facebook posts thank the organization for its support in a time of need, and the ratings site GreatNonprofits.org contains nearly 100 stories from grateful clients, volunteers, donors, and others. We hope that the organization continues this tradition of service, but it seems a heart-to-heart about foundation values and leadership practice may be called for.—Erin Rubin
This article has been altered from its initial form.