Tom Keathley and his fellow members of the Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center Board of Directors have left me at a loss for words. How can they profess to be committed to the lives of veterans and children with disabilities when all but one of them voted to close out the 2019 audit without even studying evidence of problems that Chairman Karen Signal tried to present at a November meeting? They stated that they hadn’t seen the audit deficiencies prior to the meeting and still voted for it to be closed?
Audits come with all kinds of warning signs and valuable information. The responsibility of the board is to ask probing questions and interpret the findings.
Keathley admitted in a Dec. 16 letter to the editor that five of the six members had been on the board only since June. I fail to understand why he and the others would vote to close out the audit when deficiencies had been identified. Keathley even offered to pay $10,000 for the audit to be closed with the stipulation that it never be mentioned again.
Was he aware that FETC has had past audits that revealed multiple recurring deficiencies? Is this how he plans to secure the donations made by stakeholders.
According to Nov. 18 meeting minutes, Signal attempted to present evidence to the board but was cut off many times by Keathley and Michele Schuman. I was astounded to see Schuman become a board member immediately following my departure from the board due to her conflicts of interest as a representative of a company that does financial business with FETC. She was the representative for a mutual fund and life insurance policies that FETC bought.
In October 2019, the auditor called me with questions about the audit. I questioned why she was calling me. Her reply, “You are the chairman.”
Our former chairman and another board member had resigned in October 2019 three weeks after a contentious meeting. The board had not elected a new chairman at that point.
Later, I found out that FETC CEO/founder Bonnie Rachael had listed me as the chairman since August 2019 without my consent or knowledge. When I discovered that, I decided to embrace the role and in May 2020 notified all board members at that time of audit deficiencies. That includes current board members Patsy Zeigler and Billy Springer.
They should be able to see recurring deficiencies. I have seen checks that Bonnie wrote to herself from herself. The auditor said, “That is a big no-no!”
Keathley is believing one side of the story — as all of us have in the past. None of us want to take away Rachael’s title as founder but she is not the only one who has put her heart and hard work into making FETC what it is today. He said that none of the staff other than Executive Director Fran Todd elected to discuss grievances with the board before departing. Todd, however, represented the staffers at their request during her phone call with him.
Todd made it clear that the staff would leave if the board didn’t take appropriate actions regarding the audit. He questioned if the staff had the best interests of FETC in mind. The staff still held a volunteer appreciation Christmas banquet through the sponsorship of generous donors at no cost to Faith. No current board members attended even though they were invited. So, who really has Faith’s best interest in mind?
Keathley also had the opportunity to discuss audit findings with an attorney to better explain the legal issues surrounding FETC’s audit and provide suggestions as how to move forward. It seems to me that he led the board down a narrow path as to what was presented.
The staffers that the board let walk away had a part in making FETC successful. Hallie Myers and Leslie Williams, along with others, expanded the school program that has involved so many students. This program was available at no cost to the entire Effingham County School District. They have even put together ways to monitor growth of knowledge and skill.
April McKinnon was the volunteer coordinator who keeps volunteers available for every lesson and is a volunteer herself.
Signal, the chairman the board unceremoniously ousted this month, has been named Volunteer of the Year. She was also a horse leader, side walker, horse exerciser, summer camp art instructor and barn helper as needed..
Myers and Jackie Garman are PATH instructors/equine specialists and have touched so many lives with their talents.
Michelle Hand was a talented PATH CTRI instructor for veterans and a horse exerciser/trainer. She is also an equine specialist.
Larry Fort left prior to this time but was also a board member who poured a lot of work and finances into the center.
Todd brought so much new life and experience to the center and the entire staff. She and Signal worked diligently to get things going, trying to find accounts, passwords and policies. I could go on and on.
I applaud the staff. They showed so much integrity and class by walking away from their jobs right here at Christmas. Their hopes that the board would do the right thing were dashed.
Rachael has stated that these deficiencies wouldn’t have occurred if she had a “working board.” Our biggest fault was that we trusted her. We purchased and completed the Board Source program, which opened our eyes to what we really needed to be doing.
The more we learned the more Rachael would say we didn’t trust her. She even stated that we were taking away her vision for FETC. I still do not see why that vision couldn’t belong to all of us.
The past board was only giving the financial information that Rachael wanted us to know. Finances were always discussed at the end of the meeting when the hour timer went off.
The former staff and previous board members gave countless diligent hours and finances to FETC. How many of the five members who voted for the closing of the audit and for it to never be mentioned again have even worked out at FETC? How many have unloaded 180 bales of hay? How many have cleaned stalls and fields in the cold, rain or heat? How many have come to work at 6:30 Sunday morning so that they could get their work done in order to make it to church on time? Did you ever talk to the staff to see if there was anything they needed?
I have been at FETC since 2014 and I know that Rachael works in various jobs at FETC. I am aware that Zeigler worked in the school program for a while. I am also aware that Keathley and Tim Stevenson have donated, attended the annual gala and brought summer work groups to the center.
All of this could have been handled before it reached this regrettable point if the board had done its job. Instead, it voted to close the audit and cover up.
I think that is what saddens me most. The board closed its eyes and hearts to what is going on at Faith. It has let the students, parents and veterans down.
I totally agree with what Trevor Hess said in his Dec. 16 letter to the editor — shame on you!
former FETC Board of Directors chair