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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: FETC Board rebuts accusations

Given the one-sided nature of the article published in the Effingham Herald on Dec. 8 and the subsequent article on Dec. 10, the board members of Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center (FETC) have an obligation to offer a response.

 The board at FETC remains committed to improving the lives of veterans and children with disabilities. It is unfortunate that individuals professing this same commitment are now working to impugn the reputation of FETC and its board, most without the knowledge or details to assess whether the allegations made against the board are accurate.

The auditors hired by FETC presented their findings from the 2019 audit during the November board meeting. For most of the board, this was the first time any information regarding the audit was provided. Contrary to what has been published in prior articles, at no point during the presentation did the auditors state there was any misappropriation of funds from anyone associated with FETC.

 As is appropriate after an audit, all corrective actions were assigned to the executive director. It is also notable that five of the six current board members have only been on the board since June and every defect identified in the audit occurred prior to their appointments. At the end of the board meeting, there was only one dissenting vote against closing the audit. All other members of the board, including the treasurer, voted to close the audit.

After the auditors left the meeting, the dissenting board member, proceeded to make allegations of misappropriation of funds against another board member, the founder of FETC. These accusations were made without a board investigation, engagement by the board and with no opportunity for the board member accused to respond in advance. None of the allegations had been referenced or mentioned by the auditors. A letter from the dissenting board member alleging violation of our bylaws was not provided to the board until after the meeting was adjourned.

It is true that several board members were both surprised and offended by the accusations made against the founder. Several board members stated that it was inappropriate for a single board member to act unilaterally without the engagement or approval of the board and especially without the courtesy of a call or discussion with the founder to provide her with an opportunity to respond to the allegations. The board has always been willing to review any information presented to it. In this case, the dissenting board member elected to act on her own accord, withhold relevant information from board review and accuse a fellow Board member without Board concurrence.

It is the duty of the FETC board to examine allegations made against the organization. Prior to the December board meeting, the founder provided a written response to the accusations. During the December board meeting, each allegation was reviewed in detail by the board. The board determined that all expenses in question were legitimate and incurred on behalf of FETC. Additionally, the board agreed that the founder had no intention to accept, nor did she accept any expense reimbursements that were not part of her compensation package nor incurred during legitimate business for FETC. 

In the single case where an expense reimbursement was overpaid, the founder had acknowledged an error and had already agreed to repay the overpayment. It is relevant to note that the written response from the founder was received and distributed prior to the publication of the Dec. 8 article. The reporter did not attempt to contact the FETC board until Dec. 7 nor did he communicate that he was going to publish an article the next day. The reporter made no attempt to discuss these matters with the board prior to publishing his article on Dec. 10. It appears that there was no intent to provide perspective from the FETC Board in either article.

The board of FETC believes it is unfortunate that no staff member other than the executive director elected to discuss their grievances or their departure with the board. After the board meeting in November, another board member called the executive director to discuss the path forward for FETC. The executive director insisted that the conversation be recorded and issued an ultimatum that if the founder and another board member did not resign, she would resign, along with other staff members. The Dec. 8 article expanded that ultimatum to include the entire board with the exception of the dissenting board member. The implication was that if the current board resigned, the threats of staff resignation, criminal action and further attempts to discredit the Board would be discontinued.

The Board of FETC is asking readers to evaluate whether the individuals quoted and referenced in these articles have the best interests of FETC in mind. Creating a negative media campaign, threats of resignation, criminal action and ultimatums requiring the resignation of the board do not inspire confidence in a common vision of FETC’s mission. The Board of FETC sincerely hopes these tactics will come to an end and that the community will continue their support for the work of this worthy organization.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The reporter left phones messages for FETC founder and board member Bonnie Rachael, and board member Tom Keathley on the morning of Dec. 7. Neither responded despite being told about the subject of his inquiry -- threatened resignations by FETC members.

In regard to the Dec. 10 story about the last FETC board meeting, which featured the ouster of Karen Signal and the acceptance of five staff resignations, the Herald reported Keathley's claim that their accusations about financial wrongdoing is "full of misstatements, inaccuracies and untruths."