The troubled agency that cares for homeless LGBT youth in Atlanta reinstated its executive director on Friday, a move that came after a week of public turmoil and mass resignations from its board.
The action came during a half-hour meeting of the remaining members of the Lost N Found board, an action intended to help steady the organization eight days after it passed a plan that demoted the top leader of the non-profit and shifted its Chief Operation Officer to operations director. Co-founder Rick Westbrook (top photo) was returned to his position as executive director. COO and attorney Clayton Skinner resigned on Wednesday.
The action on Friday came as nearly 40 people – supporters of the non-profit and Westbrook, LGBT activists and former volunteers and board members – crowded into the board room at Lost N Found’s offices off Cheshire Bridge Road. But reinstating Westbrook – and overturning a reorganization plan approved Aug. 18 – came with a cost. Yet another board member – Liliana Bakhtiari (second photo) – resigned as the board considered reinstating Westbrook.
Bakhtiari was the eighth board meber to resign since Monday, leaving just four people on the 12-member board.
“I always want Rick to be the face of the organization but we grew to such a size – we had a lot of issues,” Bakhtiari said. “This organization is bigger than Rick, bigger than anyone in this room. It is about our youth and this past week, people have completely lost sight of that.”
Bakhtiari said the organization will face legal issues if Westbrook is reinstated and Lost N Found has faced safety issues concerning the youth in its care.
“We had people that weren’t taking care of our youth. We can’t be hiring people off of Facebook and Craigslist and these are the things that are being done,” she said.
Bakhtiari supported the Aug. 18 reorganization of the Lost N Found leadership, though she did not attend the meeting. On Friday, she opposed reinstating Westbrook and resigned when it was clear other members favored putting him back atop the non-profit.
The remaining four board members – new board Chair Bruce Garner, Treasurer David Little, Marci Alt and Jesse Peel – then approved rejecting the week-old reorganization plan and reinstated Westbrook as executive director. The board also assured Programs Director Brittany Garner that Westbrook would not interfere with her department.
“I don’t care what Rick’s title is. He can be executive director. He can have that title. I need full autonomy over programs,” Garner said.
“I want to help Rick,” she added.
'Nothing done to calm the fears'
The Aug. 18 reorganization ignited an outcry on Monday when it became public. As criticism mounted, Skinner and six board members resigned by Wednesday, including board Chair Charlotte Cagle. A seventh – Maureen Kalmanson – resigned, as did volunteer and special events coordinator Debra Ranfels, according to the Georgia Voice.
On Thursday, three former board members – Justin Ziegler, Daniel Pierce and Skyler Akins – spoke out against reinstating Westbrook, according to the Georgia Voice.
Ziegler attended the meeting on Friday and said the board’s actions did little to address his concerns.
“There has been nothing that has been done here that can calm the fears,” Ziegler said.
After the board action on Friday, Westbrook said Lost N Found will host a public meeting in September and work to provide more transparency of its operations and finances. The non-profit operates a shelter for LGBT youth, a massive thrift store and is embarking on a $1 million capital campaign to fund the renovation of a building on Juniper Street to expand its shelter and other operations.
“I realize I am human and not perfect in anyway,” Westbrook said after the board meeting.
“If I had the chance to do it over, I would have gone back to my true self. I would have stopped playing corporate and being nice to everybody. I would have stood up for the kids a lot quicker than I did,” he added.
Westbrook said Lost N Found has an $800,000 budget this year, though the organization is likely to bring in nearly $1 million. He added that by June, he had raised some $288,000 for Lost N Found – a jump from the $174,000 he raised last year. The uptick in fundraising came because Lost N Found added Skinner and Garner, freeing him up to raise more funds, Westbrook said.
But Westbrook added that he welcomed an operations director to run the business side of Lost N Found.
“The outpouring from the community has been the only thing sustaining me this week,” he said.
Being reinstated and the leadership change in the board will help Lost N Found move past the turmoil, he added.
“It feels good. I know we’re on the cusp of doing a lot of great things,” Westbrook said.