Oishei on Buffalo ReUse
by Geoff Kelly - posted 4:05 pm, August 25, 2009
You’ve heard what Michael Gainer has to say about being fired from Buffalo ReUse, the organization he co-founded and led. You’ve read statements by the board and Harvey Garrett, the interim executive director who let him go. And you’ve learned that some members have called a special meeting at which they intend to oust the current board and reinstate Gainer.
Now the money guys are putting in their two cents.
This afternoon, Robert Gioia, who is, among other things, president of the Oishei Foundation, sent out this statement via email:
The Oishei Foundation made an initial operating grant to Buffalo ReUse of $200,000 about two years ago. For about the past 10 months, on learning of a number of issues, the Oishei Foundation has been actively working on and financing a reorganization of the structure and operations of Buffalo ReUse. All of these organizational issues arose subsequent to the grant being made.
In addition to many hours of staff time of the vice president and the senior program officer, the Foundation has underwritten the costs, which now exceed $15,000, of addressing serious legal and financial compliance issues with the services of CCS-NYS (now known as New York Council on Nonprofits). In addition to the organizational and board training work that NYCON did, the Foundation separately hired their executive director, Doug Sauer, to provide executive coaching and mentoring to Michael Gainer.
Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, and the toxic stalemate that had developed between staff leadership and the board at that time, the Foundation requested that the board of Buffalo ReUse bring in an outside administrator on an interim basis to oversee the implementation of the legal and financial corrections that were required, and to establish new controls and systems for the organization going forward. Harvey Garrett was brought in as that interim administrator, and Stephanie Simeon was elected president of the board.
Since Stephanie and Harvey have begun working on BRU’s issues, a great deal has been accomplished. While still not in complete financial compliance, the majority of the financial issues have been resolved. New controls have been put into place regarding expenditures and reporting. The remaining issues should be resolved shortly. The legal issues having to do with the incorporation and early activities of BRU have been resolved. Several new board members were recruited from an open call and formal interview process (in which the Foundation had no role at all), including three that had been recommended by BRU staff. Indications were that BRU was stabilizing, and that it would emerge from its crisis intact and in position to move forward rapidly.
It was because of this concrete improvement that the Foundation agreed to release a $50,000 payment of grant funds to BRU. It was also the basis on which BRU was recommended by the Foundation to the owner of a building as an ideal candidate to receive the potential donation of the building. After several conversations between the parties, it was decided to go forward in the due diligence process. The Oishei Foundation has offered to pay for legal counsel through the initial phases, which is currently estimated to be about $10 – 12,000 over the next few months.
We recently were informed by the chairperson of the board of new, previously unrevealed and serious developments dating back more than several months. Our understanding is that action on these developments is being undertaken by the board. We are now aware of the contemplated action by some of the members of BRU to remove the board, reinstate Michael Gainer as the executive director, and presumably have staff and members select a new board.
In our view, such action would seriously set back the possibilities for BRU to move forward, and negate all the work and effort that has taken place to rectify what was, by all public accounts, a very badly managed organization under the previous leadership. We have provided extraordinary support to Michael Gainer via BRU and in other ways, and we believe he may still have a role to play at BRU. However, should such action by a subset of members take place and successfully reinstate Mr. Gainer as the CEO, the Oishei Foundation would seriously reevaluate our current and any future relationship with BRU.
We firmly believe BRU is now poised to become a truly great non-profit serving a need and a population desperately needing to be served in Buffalo. We believe that the current chairperson and the nominated (and currently serving) board members — which, again, the Foundation had no role in recruiting or selecting — are well-chosen and capable. Finally, we believe that this leadership team, particularly Ms. Simeon and Mr. Garrett in his interim role, has clearly demonstrated extraordinary competence operating under tremendous pressure. They have our complete support.