I wrote to Firefly House directly with some of the questions in my last post, and David Salisbury, a HP of Firefly, responded and gave me permission to share his responses.
Are you calling for a boycott of OHF?
No. Neither Iris nor FIrefly are calling for a boycott of the Open Hearth Foundation. The statements made were merely to publicly express our decisions to discontinue our support for the time being. Although it is not our intention to see other people and groups discontinue their support for the OHF, we understand that once others are aware of the current situation, they may feel the same.
This is an equivocation. I understand that they are not explicitly calling for others to leave, but they freely admit that their actions will have the result of making others leave. They are clearly withdrawing support in order to pressure the organization to take specific steps, as the next answer shows.
And if you are, what actions are you calling on OHF to take?
We had hoped that once the OHF was made aware two months ago of the abuse and manipulation that had occurred inside their organization that they would wish to preserve the highest ethical quality and take steps to remove the governor in question.
I don’t know why the communications from Firefly are giving Sean the you-know-who treatment. They are insisting that OHF remove Sean.
Again, this causes me to ask if that is even possible for the organization as an organization to do. There is nothing in the bylaws that I saw that creates any mechanism for impeaching a board member, and if there was, it might only be possible to do so if the board member acted wrongly with respect to her or his role within the organization.
Under what conditions will you return your support to the organization?
As a matter of principle, we are unable to return our support to the OHF as long as the governor in question is still on the board. However, the failure to timely address the situation when it was brought to their attention and increased appearance of support for said governor has left us with more concerns about the leadership of the organization as a whole. Our return of support will depend on OHF response and the steps taken in the next few months. While we do not wish to see the community center fail, as Firefly members have also donated a lot of time and energy to the project, the response of the organization to this situation has been highly questionable. Why did no one follow up when Iris told them what was happening? Why were her claims ignored? Why wasn’t action taken sooner? It is concerning to think that abuse by leaders in the community is acceptable.
This is troubling. I understand them insisting that Sean step down or be removed. But the “concerns about the leadership of the organization as a whole” part suggests that if Firefly is not completely satisfied with OHF’s response – and since they may be asking for something the organization is legally unable to do, that’s a potential outcome – Firefly would continue to refuse to support OHF.
Capital Witch has released an article about this, and the quotes from other individuals show that people are following Firefly’s lead and boycotting OHF.
OHF did release a statement today. They make some critically important points.
Third, neither the community nor the organization are best served by removing leadership because of allegations that are unrelated to the professional work of the OHF or the execution of the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board of Governors. Moreover, the board cannot comment or act on pending legal matters that do not involve the organization.
Let me explain that as I understand it. Please note I am not speaking on behalf of OHF, just trying to expand on the details of these matters as I see them.
As the beginning of the statement points out, people who work with OHF are supposed to be professional and separate their personal life from OHF as much as possible. That has clearly failed here. But the fact that some people have failed at it does not mean that the organization as an organization is now party to their personal disputes. It is the right thing to do for the organization to try not to take sides in a matter like this. It’s the only way we can successfully build a community center that is neutral with respect to disagreements between individuals.
And while it is very satisfying to declare someone “unfit to lead,” that is a personal, ethical judgment and also not something the organization can necessarily act on. People can be thrown out of less formal organizations on the basis of allegations and because of personal disagreements. But again, it’s not clear that Sean’s actions – whatever actions those were – represent malfeasance with respect to his position on the board. He may be a scumbag; he may not be; but if he’s not an incompetent governor, for the organization to remove him (again, if that’s possible) for things unrelated to his duties makes the organization less professional.
Even if you are absolutely positive that it is totally justified in this case, sometimes tolerating people who have done bad things is the price of working together. Iris brought up Bill Clinton in her original post about the matter; well, Clinton was not removed from office for precisely these reasons. Being on the OHF board of governors doesn’t mean that OHF endorses you as a right and trustworthy human being. We can wish that it did, but it doesn’t.
Finally, that part about not being able to comment on certain matters must be understood. This is an incorporated organization with specific rules, laws, and obligations that it must follow. A divorce is a legal action, and Iris has said a divorce is pending. Therefore the OHF cannot comment on the situation between the two of them. This is not a matter of OHF stonewalling or protecting Sean.
Edited to clarify: I wrote that the OHF was legally forbidden from commenting. That is not precisely accurate; it is not external law that keeps OHF from taking a position or making public comments about an ongoing legal matter, it is the internal duties that the officers owe to the organization. They must not make the organization liable to be drawn into the proceedings and must maintain the organization’s impartiality. They can look into the matter as an internal affair, which they are doing – see below.
It’s not their job to adjudicate the private situation between Iris and Sean, and moreover, since there are people adjudicating that situation, it is specifically something the OHF needs to stay out of.
OHF must not take sides for reasons of professionalism and staying out of legal proceedings. And I think that once we’re aware of this, all of us and especially Firefly need to think very carefully about whether we’re putting them in an impossible position by creating one side and declaring that OHF is de facto the “other side.”
The OHF is restricting communication through a spokesperson, Eric Eldritch, and has also appointed a new ombudsman, Angela Raincatcher. I strongly encourage anyone interested in this issue to contact them and work with the OHF as an organization in an effort to keep this professional and to work to preserve the community building the organization has done.
Edited to add: I have contacted Angela with my own personal position on what the OHF ought to do. She is listening to all opinions and guaranteeing confidentiality. If you have a position on this matter, talk to her.
Finally, I want to note that OHF will not act on this matter immediately. I know we all want to see justice done – whatever that might mean – as quickly as possible. But OHF needs to listen to the community, they need to assess their internal situation, and they need to weigh the alternatives. Whatever it is, this matter is not cut-and-dried, and working through issues like this takes time. Please, everyone, acknowledge that, and stay engaged with the OHF as they work through this.