Donated Items Pile Up

Donated items began to pile up on the Agape House loading dock Feb. 1 when no volunteers showed up to carry items into the building and the lone loading dock employee was sent home. Volunteers left the building Jan. 30 to protest a board decision to fire Carrie Guffey, daughter of executive director Jeanne Guffey. Directors say they are working to find a way to reopen the resale shop, which funds much of the operation. -- Missourian Photo.

A Pacific resident is questioning the makeup of the Agape House board of directors, which includes a number of people who work for the Meramec Valley R-III School District.

Angela King said after reading articles in The Missourian regarding the firing of Carrie Guffey, due to the group’s nepotism rule, she was surprised to learn the makeup of the Agape House board. Carrie is the daughter of Jeannie Guffey, the former executive director, who was fired shortly after Carrie was let go.

“I’m puzzled because they’re concerned about nepotism . . . yet it seems there’s a double standard when half of the board works for the school district,” she said.

Five of the 12 board members have ties to the school district, including four employees and the wife of an employee.

Board members Dawn Dean, Tracy Payne, Jenifer Lawler and Ketina Armstrong are school district employees. Angie Hardcastle is the wife of a school district employee.

Other members of the board are Lindell Nickelson, Dave Hoven, Craig Schmidt, Ben King, Sarah Brundick, Joanne Wilken and Dennis Oliver.

King is not the first person to raise the issue of board members with ties to the school district.

One volunteer, who asked not to be named, said having so many board members who worked together jeopardized the Agape House’s tax-free status.

“Charity boards can’t be people who work together. With so many members with ties to the school district, anyone they disagree with is out,” the volunteer said. “That’s not fair and the Agape House could lose its 501(c)(3) status.”

Having a large percentage of board members who work for the same company appears to be a conflict with IRS 501(c)(3) guidelines, which state that public charities must maintain a governing body that is mostly made up of independent individuals, which means board members should be unrelated by blood, marriage or business.

“To guard against insider transactions that could result in misuse of charitable assets, the board should include independent members and should not be dominated by employees or others who are not independent because of business or family relationships,” the guidelines state.

The penalty for violating the guidelines is a loss of tax-free status.

The Agape House board is a self-perpetuating board in which members of the existing board appoint new members. The board voted in December 2017 to increase the number by three members, one of whom is a school district employee.

A number of residents have contacted The Missourian about the firing of Carrie Guffey, raising questions about the board of directors.

“This board is stacked with people who have loyalty to each other because of their work connections,” one critic said. “Having all these members that work together at the school district is wrong,”

Jeannie Guffey said during her tenure as executive director she was questioned about the number of school district employees on the board, but she didn’t have influence on the issue.

“I told them the board selects who they want on there,” Guffey said. “I don’t have any say in that.”

Craig Schmidt, Agape House interim president, did not return a call from The Missourian, but board member Ben King, public relations and communications chair, said the concern had been brought to the attention of other board members and they planned to discuss the issue in a board meeting on Sunday.

“We’re having a meeting on Sunday and this is one of the things we’ll be discussing,” King said.