Saturday, April 29, 2017
Judge bars two from Cleveland Head Start board
Court says Rev. Charles Lucas, Amos
Mahsua have overstayed their terms, can no longer serve.
Efforts by the former chairman and treasurer of the Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland to terminate the agency’s president and chief executive officer boomeranged yesterday when a Common Pleas Court judge ruled that the board members’ terms had expired and they are ineligible to serve.
In a ruling issued yesterday afternoon, Judge John P. O’Donnell found that Rev. Charles P. Lucas Jr. and CPA Amos Z. Mahsua, were holding their seats in clear violation of CEOGC’s code of regulations. The judge found it likely that the two have not been eligible to serve since at least September 25, 2016.
The case is important because CEOGC, a nonprofit agency, administers numerous area antipoverty programs including the federal Head Start program and local programs for home energy assistance, job training, and work force development. The agency’s budget is close to $40 million, most of which comes from the federal government through Ohio’s Development Services Agency. The dual nature of the funding sources means that CEOGC officials are accountable to both the State of Ohio and the HUD office in Chicago. Officials in both Columbus and Chicago have indicated that funding could be withheld or withdrawn if CEOGC remains outside of compliance with its code of regulations.
The preliminary injunction was issued in a lawsuit filed March 1 by seven current board members, including Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Charles Patton and Quiana Baskin, who heads the agency’s policy council. She was elected to that role in October, automatically elevating her to a seat on the CEOGC board. Defendants in the suit are Lucas, Mahsua, and six other current board members, including Rev. Cecelia Williams, Robert Black, Monique Olowa, and Arlene Anderson. The latter three are understood to be the primary faction seeking to oust the CEOGC’s chief executive officer, Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm.
Chisholm was hired in May 2015 and signed a three-year contract to run the agency. Her predecessor was charged in August 2014 with fraud, bribery, and conspiracy for accepting more than $23,000 in cash, home renovations and other things of value in exchange for steering work to specific contractors, and is now serving time in a federal penitentiary.
Chisholm, who has three degrees from Case Western Reserve University, including a doctorate in psychological and educational anthropology, in addition to certificates in management from a host of the nation’s top colleges, was brought in to restore the agency’s reputation and clean up its act. She soon began to butt heads with a few board members, and in October 2016, several board members, led by Lucas and Mahsua, tried to fire her. Chisholm refused to acknowledge the affirmative vote, considered it illegal, and responded by filing suit in Common Pleas Court on December 8 against Lucas, Mahsua, and other directors. The defendants had the case transferred to federal court, but legal counsel have informed The Real Deal that it may be remanded back to Common Pleas.
Conversations with several CEOGC insiders — who each spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the pending litigation — paint the agency as doing good work efficiently, even as the struggles at the top continue.
Several questions remain as to the agency’s governance, however, including the status of four new trustees elected at the CEOGC’s annual meeting in January. If O’Donnell’s ruling becomes final, and Lucas and Mahsua are permanently tossed off the board, any official board actions they participated in may be subject to challenge. The new board could ratify those decisions, but it is an open question how the reconstituted board will function.
The Patton lawsuit is set for pretrial on May 10; a final resolution of the agency’s internal struggles will likely have to await further court rulings.