Executive Director of St. Joseph's says she and staff - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Executive Director of St. Joseph's says she and staff will likely resign if old board returns

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- The executive director of the St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society said in an court affidavit filed Thursday that she and her senior management will likely resign if a group previously in control of the board of trustees is put back in charge by a judge.

Pamela Cotton also said donors will leave, a capital campaign will "unravel," construction of cottages for the children will be jeopardized and St. Joseph's "will lose credibility.""

The claims in the affidavit came in a motion asking a Jefferson Circuit Court judge to allow the society's acting board to hold a Nov. 20 meeting, which is supposed to include a vote on the resolutions that were passed on Feb. 6 that ushered in a new board.

But the group whose members claim they were ousted illegally from the board of trustees asked Judge Brian Edwards to prohibit the special meeting of the 1,400-person organization, at least until there is a ruling on who is in control of the board.

Judge Edwards said he would issue a ruling on Monday on whether to stop the meeting.  

The meeting would be the first since a dispute in February changed the makeup of the board and led to a lawsuit.  The 164-year-old agency provides housing for neglected and abused children and organizes an annual summer fundraising picnic on the Frankfort Avenue grounds of the St. Joseph Children's Home.

The request for an injunction comes after the Kentucky Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the lawsuit, determining that the case hinges on whether the organization's bylaws were followed and not religious issues.

Walter Sales, an attorney for the current board members, told Edwards the meeting has been called by 292 members of the organization, in part to talk about the lawsuit, claims of sexual harassment by a former board member and resulting media coverage, among other things.

"This lawsuit is taking a toll on the staff … taking a toll on donors," Sales said, arguing that not letting them meet would be a violation of their First Amendment rights. "It's the children at stake here."

Sales said the former board members want to halt the meeting to quell any more bad publicity over what lead to the rift.

The makeup of the board had been in flux since August 2012, when the trustees didn't get enough votes to remove a board member accused of sexually harassing staff members. At least a dozen board members resigned in the wake of that vote.

WDRB.com reported last month that an independent consultant had recommended that the board ask for the trustee, Earl Hartlage, to resign in 2008 because of a harassment allegation.

Hartlage, a former Jefferson County commissioner, remained on the board. He has called the allegations against him "untrue" and "baseless."

On Feb. 6 a group led by Thurman Senn, who had resigned as trustee following the August meeting and now chairs the board, took over as board members.

But William Walsh, an attorney for the ousted board members, said his clients don't think the current board would be calling a special meeting if the Feb. 6 takeover had been done properly and added that his clients want a chance to defend themselves. He also told Edwards that the meeting should be postponed until there is a decision by the judge on whether the current board is legitimate or not.

The current board, Walsh said, is attempting to "legitimize themselves after the fact."

If the meeting does go forward, Cotton said in her affidavit that she has hired retired Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Tom Knopf to serve as a moderator and hired an accounting firm to count any votes taken.

If the meeting is canceled, she said, it will cost about $2,000 to send a notice to the society's members and again district staff from "their core job of meeting the needs of the children we serve."

A representative for Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz plans to attend next week's meeting, but not vote, Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Louisville, has said.

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