Unplanned?: Parenthood board members resign
Shortly after Planned Parenthood opened the doors of its gleaming new million-dollar clinic on Hydraulic Road, the Herbert C. Jones Jr. Reproductive Health and Education Center endured pro-life protests and a legal challenge to its zoning. Now an internal controversy could prove far more damaging than picketers out front.
At least four board members have resigned, and a seven-page no-confidence statement obtained by the Hook questions the leadership of president and CEO David Nova.
Dated October 10, the memo by four departing board members describes the situation in Charlottesville under Nova's leadership as "deteriorating" and its funding base in the community "eroding." The statement alleges "dysfunctional" programs and inadequate staffing, and calls the clinic a "failing business," noting that several capital campaign pledges have been withdrawn with other major donors threatening to follow suit.
"I think if the materials in that document were true, I would be no longer working for Planned Parenthood," says Nova.
"I know there were a fair number of inaccuracies [in the statement]," says Al Knighton, a Roanoke attorney and treasurer of Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge, the umbrella body that oversees Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, and Charlottesville. "I think those four board members were acting in good faith. I think they were misguided."
The no-confidence statement alleges that the Charlottesville clinic is overly dependent on donor contributions– using 50 percent of them to meet expenses– because of low revenues for its services.
Not true, protests Nova, who was hired in 1990 and became CEO in 1997. "It's not 50 percent– it's 1.7 percent based on audited numbers" between 1997 and 2004, he says. He adds that in the new building, a preliminary audit shows medical revenues up more than 15 percent over last year. "I don't know where the [board members'] numbers came from," he says. "They don't match our audited numbers."
Another charge by the departing board members: the loss of large donors. "Nova has failed to address or otherwise successfully handle the concerns of a prominent Charlottesville former donor and volunteer," they allege.
Nova says he knows of a few donors who say they're not going to give, but he doesn't think the no-confidence memo is the reason. Knighton is aware of one pledge that's been withdrawn.
There has been some talk of Charlottesville seceding from Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge to become a separate affiliate– an idea the national organization frowns upon.
Sherri Moore, Amanda Megargel, Antoinette Brewster, and Jack Marshall are the four Charlottesville members who resigned, in addition to one from Roanoke, and they remain mum about their motives. Moore and Megargel did not return phone calls from the Hook, Brewster's number is no longer in service, and Marshall declined to comment, other than to note his term was ending anyway. "I love this organization," he says.
A draft of a resignation letter is circulating among the 25 members of the Charlottesville advisory council, the local fundraising arm.
Janet Miller is one of those resigning. "It's making a statement to the board– 'You need to pay attention,'" she explains. She believes the dissension is an internal matter that will be resolved– and she prefers not in the press.
As for her continued financial support of Planned Parenthood, Miller, who makes her donations at the end of the year, admits, "I have not made a decision" about whether she'll be writing a check this year.
Another concern of the departed board members is that the Charlottesville clinic is underutilized.
"I think to some extent that's true," says Nova. Concern that the Virginia General Assembly would force abortion clinics to meet hospital standards motivated Planned Parenthood to build to those standards.
"It was built for future and current needs," says Nova.
And the departed board members take a jab at the timing of Nova's paid sabbatical. He recently completed a five-month hike of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Dubbed "Pophike," the trek raised population awareness and money– but less of each than the board members may have hoped.
"We question if the President was aware that [Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge] financial affairs were in critical condition prior to leaving for sabbatical," says the statement. "If he was aware, we question the wisdom of taking leave for five months."
"As the treasurer, I would dispute that," says Knighton. "The reaction of the board is best evidenced by the fact when it was asked to vote to dismiss David as CEO, the board voted to retain him."
However, Knighton notes that fundraising is difficult for many nonprofits. "I wouldn't say Planned Parenthood is having an easy time," he says. "These are tough times. We will survive."
Nova supporters and detractors are united in their worry that the controversy could affect fundraising. "It sure isn't gonna help it," says Knighton. "It's not the best of times between Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge and Charlottesville, especially donors."
With the resignations, "David now has the full support of the board," reiterates Knighton. "Charlottesville remains important to us. We know we haven't handled the situation perfectly, and we intend to improve on that."
Patricia Branch, a Planned Parenthood volunteer and daughter of the late Dr. Herbert Jones, was unaware of the turmoil until a reporter's call.
She finds the volunteer support of the new facility "unbelievable" and thinks the resigned board members will be replaced with "equally capable people." Does she worry that the internal strife will affect donations? "I don't have any concern or any qualms that it's going to be affected," she says. "It's too important to this area, and there are too many good people working there."
And what would Dr. Jones have thought about the discord at the clinic bearing his name?
"He was an avid supporter," says Branch. "I don't think what goes on behind closed doors would change that. The goal is supporting women and their rights. I don't think it changes Planned Parenthood and its ultimate goals."
Knighton agrees. "There is a great commitment to Planned Parenthood, even among those who've resigned."
The new clinic hasn't performed as many abortions as neighbors might have thought.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Avid hiker David Nova expects to raise around $100,000 in pledges from PopHike.
PHOTO FROM THE PPBR WEBSITE