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Mayor, homeless shelter supporters meet

COVINGTON -- Supporters of Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter met with Mayor Ronnie Johnston Wednesday at City Hall to "try to pull all together and get on the same track," in the words of Rev. Sam Perryman, a member of the homeless shelter board of directors.

Perryman said he was disturbed by comments made by the mayor that there are problems with the board and there is negative public perception of the shelter.

Perryman said the shelter has faced criticism over the years and said that based on news articles, it appears the mayor is now critical of the shelter and "we need to get with you as the mayor to understand how you see our organization."

Perryman, Lett and other supporters of the shelter called for Johnston to make a retraction of his comments at recent board meetings, including his statements that "If there's nothing we're going to do, it's a slow death;" as well as his stating he would not personally ask the public for more donations given that his calls for reorganization and transparency have not been heeded; as well as that there is a cloud hanging over the shelter, referring to negative public perception.

Johnston has urged the shelter board to undergo an audit and make finances more transparent to the public.

Perryman said that while not all board meetings can make every meeting, they are continually informed about operations at the shelter and regularly see financial statements.

"Our entire board has given Pastor (Clara) Lett, our executive director, a full vote of confidence. We have no question about what she has done, what she can do and what she will do," he said.

He also noted that, "This organization is only accountable in terms of financial statements and financial matters to the shelter's board, the state of Georgia and to the federal government, not to the city of Covington, not to the mayor."

Johnston said that he is learning that in public life, when newspapers are present and recording what you say, things can get taken out of context. The Citizen stands by its reporting of the recent board of directors meetings at the homeless shelter.

Johnston said his frustration has been with the board, not Lett, noting that there has only been one quorum of members since he started attending meetings in October at the request of former mayor and board member Sam Ramsey.

Johnston said he came to his first board meeting understanding that the shelter was in crisis, with utilities already overdue. He said he asked the city to extend the cutoff day in order to keep the shelter open, for which he said he faced criticism from some City Council members because, he said, he has learned that the mayor does not have the authority to make such an exception.

At his first meeting, he said he was frustrated by what appeared to be a lack of concern and action by the board. Johnston said when he saw 10 to 15 kids at the shelter, he was motivated to ask the public for donations to keep the utilities on.

"In my mind this is a crisis, where is everybody, this place has got a serious challenge, the electricity could be cut off, why isn't this a serious concern," he said.

Some in attendance reported that some donors have stopped giving and volunteers have backed off following news reports of Johnston's comments and that residents at the shelter now believe the mayor is in charge.

Johnston said he never stated the shelter was not being run right, but stood by his statements that there is a public perception problem that needs to be addressed.

He did apologize for anything he said that was perceived as attacking Lett's character.

Ramsey said he, too, has been concerned about a lack of quorums. In his year on the board, he said there are some members he's never seen.

"We've got to do a better job as a board, operating as a board should," he said, noting that there is a different level of accountability involved when "you start asking the public for money."

Ramsey said if not for Johnston's involvement, the shelter might have had to close down.

"He hasn't said one word during the whole process that I wasn't saying, 'Amen, Amen,'" he said.

Ramsey reported good news: He spoke with city officials earlier that day and they agreed to consolidate the multiple meters at the shelter into one meter, which should result in savings, he said.

Perryman said the board met earlier Wednesday and "we all pledged to do better," make an assessment and figure out how to move forward.

"We'll work on it; and let us invite you back," he said to Johnston.

Johnston said he applauds the board for deciding to go through that process. "I am fully supportive of that and if I can help with any of that I would be happy to help with any of that," he said.

Lett ended the meeting by thanking the mayor and said that forgiveness is needed to heal.

"It's wonderful to know we can come together and stand for the same cause and the same purpose," she said.

Comments

pcwizard 1 year, 4 months ago

If this organization feels that "This organization is only accountable in terms of financial statements and financial matters to the shelter's board, the state of Georgia and to the federal government, not to the city of Covington, not to the mayor." then maybe the city needs to let them fail on their own. If their own board does not think it's important enough to show up for meetings then why should anyone else try to step in and help them. Let Conyers and Rockdale county send their homeless to Atlanta if they are not going step up and support the shelter.

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John 1 year, 4 months ago

Your comments make sense to me. Accountability, Accountability, Accountability & Accepting Responsibility are keys for success. If all board members don't want to be proactive and can't actively participate, accountable & responsible for the end results... they need to go!!! Popcorn talk don't 'git er dun". Popcorn is full of air with very little substance.

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eyematter 1 year, 4 months ago

If we lose all that we have...with the best planning WE THINK we have....where woould we go........The residents of the Shelter were once productive in our society just as we are. We need to help guide them back to a normal existence and not make this a PERMANENT abode. Thanks for CARING, ACCOUNTABLE leaders in our community stepping up. Mission starts at home then abroad ! !

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proudmommy 1 year, 4 months ago

I have heard from different individuals that the residents at the shelter who are employed are asked to pay rent and that the residents who are not employed are asked to turn over their food stamp cards to the shelter, is that the way a shelter is supposed to operate?

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getitright2012 1 year, 4 months ago

Yes, Proudmommy. You heard correctly. It's all about money for Pastor Lett. Not helping those in need.

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alexander 1 year, 4 months ago

Pcwizard post shows that s/he information is based on the same level as Mayor Johnston. Old line Covingtonians call this kind of logic "KOOL AID TALK OR OBS".

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djwalden 1 year, 4 months ago

We have a community and community leaders who believe that the Garden of Gethsemene Homeless Shelter needs to exist to serve those who are in need of temporary shelter. Pastor Lett founded this shelter, and had done her best to serve all of those who come seeking help.

I have first hand knowledge that the work at the shelter is well managed and essential to the community. Mayor Johnston and former Mayor Ramsey are men who understand the importance of both the shelter and the support behind it. But in order for this shelter to thrive and be sustainable, it needs an active board that meets regularly to make decisions for the shelter's (and it's residents') best interests. Let's not blame the messengers for the difficult, yet realistic decisions that have to be made.

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John 1 year, 4 months ago

It would seem that the shelter might need to a bit proactive in gaining confidence in the public & the mayor to make donations if the public knew more - the mayor donations actually would come from the city and/or county tax payers). For example, be more specific as to what does the word "temporary shelter" really mean without specific information it is just a word. One gets a "temporary license plate" that is good for 30 days, one also gets a "temporary" drivers license that is valid for 45 days or a temporary password that is good for one, day, one hour or .... Maybe the shelter director & board should provide information to the public like what is the average time some one stays at the shelter (past & currently); what percent of the occupants that are working now and making contributions and what have been the average over a given time period; what is the current level of occupants now & what has been the, average over time. How often does the board meet and for how long and what is the average percentage of attendances by each board member? Certainly, there is other tangible information that can be made public, if you wish support of the community. I would think this information should be readily available from records & minutes of board meetings.

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getitright2012 1 year, 3 months ago

John, you are absolutely correct. As a former resident of the shelter, I can confirm that there are people...mostly elderly...that have lived at the shelter for over two years...primarily because their Social Security checks and Food Stamps are being collected by the "executive director". I say this because I have personally spoken with these people and I was told this by them. It's a shame that these people are not being served properly by being giving the resources and direction available to them so that they can obtain adequate housing on their own. SAD BUT TRUE.

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getitright2012 1 year, 3 months ago

You will never receive "transparency" or "financial statements" when money is being misappropriated in an organization.

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John 1 year, 3 months ago

Finally, my two years of high school algebra becomes useful after 49 years. here is the solution: No transparency or No financial statements equals No support from No one. What say you?.

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John 1 year, 3 months ago

Just a little addition I want to make to my previous post regarding my algebraic equation. "And that reminds me of two "good ole'" boys one from Abbott (just north of Waco, population 356), Texas & the other from Mount Vernon (north east Texas, population 2662) the late "Dandy" Don Meredith, that had a bit in common besides coming from small towns. Willie Nelson wrote & sang a hit song titled "Turn Out The Lights" and on MNF when the game got out of control or a yawner Meredith would sing a whole phrase "Turn Out The Lights The Parties Over". Not on the residents that truly need temporary assistance but on those that are in charge.

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