October 1, 2013; Marquette Tribune
A Milwaukee nonprofit board of directors filed for a restraining order against its previous executive director, who is also the founder. The organization, called Repairers of the Breach, is, according to its website, “Greater Milwaukee’s grassroots homeless outreach, provider of the area’s only daytime refuge and resource center for homeless people.” Created in 1994, Repairers provides food, clothes, sleeping bags, shower facilities, free medical services, birth certificates, and other services for the Milwaukee homeless community.
According to the Marquette Tribune, members of the board fired MacCanon Brown on August 26th, and according to court papers, she refused to leave her post and continues to act as the organization’s director. The papers state that earlier in the week, Brown and several others “took over a board meeting August 22nd and elected themselves as the organization’s new board.” (Four of them— Bernard Cohen, Will McGraw, Dorothy Jackson, and Sheila Grady—are listed on the Repairers website as comprising the current board, with George Martin listed as “member at large.”) The documents also said Brown created a letterhead for Repairers indicating they were the organization’s board.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says that “Brown contacted the financial institutions that do business with Repairers and told them to remove the current board led by [current board chair Joyce] Roesler from the accounts, and substitute her name and [website board treasurer Sheila] Grady’s name. The website of the agency was altered with the names of the ‘new board,’ and Brown contacted the landlord and asked her to change the locks to the Repairers offices without authority.”
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After the firing of Brown, the board appointed Carolyn Young, previously the organization’s director of finance, as interim executive director to replace Brown. According to court documents, Young was terminated by the board led by Brown, and last appeared at the center on August 26th, along with Jonalyn Paden, administrative assistant for Repairers, who stated in an affidavit, “I have not physically reported to work since Aug. 26 due to the atmosphere MacCanon Brown created at Repairers.”
While the outcome of the standoff is unsure, those who will lose out in the short-term might be the volunteers and potentially those being served. Allen Samson[JS1] , a junior in the College of Nursing at Marquette University who was interviewed in the Tribune article, began volunteering at Repairers recently through her work with another nonprofit serving the homeless, and said she was disappointed after hearing about the lawsuit. “It would be sad if Repairers of the Breach’s services suffered due to this disconnect.” Marquette provides an average of about 20 Marquette student volunteers at the center each semester as service learning students, according to Maryann Radowski, service learning coordinator at Repairers.
An October 10th hearing has been scheduled relating to an injunction that seeks to stop Brown and the five others cited above from claiming they have any legal standing with Repairers, from entering the Repairers center, clinic or office, and from having access to the Repairer’s website.—John Brothers
NPQ has repeatedly suggested that long-time leaders do succession planning so that the notion of separating the person from the organization at some point can be discussed by everyone involved. Particularly in the case of founders, this is a question of good practice. You can read more about this topic in the following features: “Flying Monkeys: Organizational Considerations in an Executive Transition,” “Rediagnosing ‘Founder’s Syndrome’: Moving Beyond Stereotypes to Improve Nonprofit Performance,” “Departing? Arriving? Surviving and Thriving: Lessons for Seasoned and New Executives,” and “Founders and Other Gods.”