What’s happening at the City Mission? There’s strife inside one of the city’s oldest charitable organizations.

UPDATE (7/8/21): According to TCM Housetops, their campaign has concluded as of 6/25/21. “The City Mission has now entered a new era of leadership, and we recognize God’s hand in many of the organization’s internal changes since the campaign’s launch,” the website states. “We believe that this campaign has accomplished an astonishing amount of progress in the course of only ten weeks.” You can read their full letter here.

The City Mission, Cleveland’s venerable charity for the poor and the homeless, has trouble under its own roof.

Two former employees of The City Mission, a 110-year-old Christian rescue organization that provides housing, food and other services to people battling addiction and homelessness, have launched a website that levies incendiary charges. It claims that leaders discriminate against Black staff members, promote their own family members above existing staff, and retaliate against employees who speak up. 

They’ve collected testimonials from former TCM staff for the website, tcmhousetops.org, which calls for removal of the Chief Executive Officer Rich Trickel and other key leaders and an investigation by the board of directors. 

Justin Ross, a former resource center supervisor at The Crossroads Men’s Crisis Center at TCM, and Marissa Beller, a former data systems specialist for TCM, both worked at TCM since 2017 before quitting their jobs earlier this year because of these alleged ethical abuses. They launched the website April 13 to call attention to problems at TCM and pressure the board of directors. 

As of Wednesday, April 21, Trickel was no longer listed as CEO on The City Mission’s website.  Former Chief Strategy Officer Heather Foote, who is Trickel’s daughter, was also no longer listed on the website. Former Chief Operating Officer Linda Uveges has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer. 

The City Mission released a statement Wednesday afternoon stating, “The Board of Trustees of The City Mission announced today that it is implementing a previously planned succession process and has appointed Linda Uveges to the position of Chief Executive Officer. She replaces Rich Trickel who leaves the organization after 17 years of service. The Board thanks Mr. Trickel for his many contributions in that time.”

Screenshot of current City Mission leadership team page.
Screenshot of current City Mission leadership team page.

“We are excited to have Linda’s capable and compassionate leadership to bring The City Mission into the next chapter of our service to populations in need,” said Theodore Wagner, The City Mission Board Chair. “We are confident she can take the organization to a new level, building on our strong position as an important member of the community, driven to reach hearts and change lives. This also marks a historic moment in our organization as Linda is the first female CEO in our 110-year history.”

An email sent by Trickel to former board member Jason Carter that was shared with The Land shows that Uveges and Trickel have employed their family members, including Chief Strategy Officer Heather Foote (Trickel’s daughter), Marketing Director Josh Foote (Trickel’s son-in-law), and New Horizons Manager Abby Uveges (Uveges’ daughter). In total, there were 15 employees who have family relationships at TCM, according to the email. The leadership team is all white.

In an emailed statement before he stepped down, Trickel denied the website’s claims. “We are hurt and saddened that a few disgruntled current and ex-employees decided to create a website for the sole purpose of disparaging our good work, integrity and core values,” he said. Trickel wouldn’t sit down for an interview because of what he described as a pending legal action against Ross and Beller. “The website contains false information and distorted allegations about our organization and administration, and we are acting swiftly to preserve our good name.”

“At The City Mission, we work hard every day to provide help and hope to all people, and we do that through the transforming power of God’s love. It is not only our mission, but our life’s work. That is why these allegations are so disturbing.”

On April 13, The City Mission’s attorneys, Wegman Hessler, sent a cease and desist letter to Ross and Beller, stating that their allegations are “unwarranted and defamatory attacks against TCM, and that you have attempted to tortiously interfere with TCM’s relationships with its donors, clients and staff.”

Screenshot of Justin Ross and Marissa Beller on TCMhousetops.org website.
Screenshot of Justin Ross and Marissa Beller on TCMhousetops.org website.

The City Mission’s website states, “The City Mission empowers men, women, and children in crisis to overcome their unique, complex paths to homelessness. Because no one person’s needs are the same, we create individualized, comprehensive programs to assist clients in building their stabilized and independent future. Our mission to reach hearts and change lives in Cleveland has not waivered since 1910, and we will continue to provide basic needs, critical recovery resources, and practical paths to a sustainable future to all seeking help and hope here.”

According to The City Mission’s 2020 annual report, it served 1,602 individuals, 143 of whom found employment and 225 of whom found housing. The organization’s budget was $9,359,656, 87.5% of which came from individuals, 11.1% from foundations, and 1.4% from other sources. TCM says that 87.1% of every dollar is spent on programs serving the poor. 

Discrimination lawsuit

A current employee, Denise Eaddy, sued The City Mission last year in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Eaddy, who is Black, alleges that she was demoted from her position as Laura’s Home program manager and replaced with a younger, white male. In the lawsuit, she is seeking “to correct unlawful employment practices based upon race, sex and age because of demotion from management position, discipline and retaliation resulting in the elimination of essential duties and responsibilities of the position to which she was demoted causing her to sustain anxiety and emotional distress, loss of pay status thus entitling Plaintiff to back-pay and front-pay and any other relief to which this Court determines Plaintiff is entitled, according to the law.” 

Trickel denied the allegations in the lawsuit, which is currently in court. He stated, “The allegations on that website are not true and have been debunked, either by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or through comprehensive internal investigations.”

Screenshot of TCMHousetops.org website.
Screenshot of TCMHousetops.org website.

“In two proceedings, the EEOC found that The City Mission did not violate any rules, procedures or laws, and ruled in favor of our organization.  These same claims are now the subject of a lawsuit brought by the same employee, and we are vigorously defending our position.  The allegations in the complaint simply are not true and we fully expect to be successful in the lawsuit.”

Seeking action

Ross and Beller say they created the website because their concerns were ignored by the board of directors. Former board member and attorney Jason Carter, who is Black, told The Land that he resigned from the board after becoming aware of an anonymous letter from employees outlining similar concerns as well as other issues within the organization. 

On the website, Ross and Beller call for the board of directors to “remove Chief Executive Officer Rich Trickel, Chief Operating Officer Linda Uveges, and their family members – including Chief Strategy Officer Heather Foote, Marketing Director Josh Foote, and New Horizons Manager Abby Uveges – from employment at The City Mission.” That’s not all. They want the board to “hire a consulting organization to conduct an investigation of workplace culture and financial concerns,” and “establish an independent pastoral task force of local ministers to provide accountability and outside support during this process.”

Ross and Beller recently added two more testimonials from former staff members to the website, and they say more are coming. 

“At this point, The City Mission leaves us with no other choice than to resort to the final step: tell it to the entire Church of Cleveland,” the website states.

Lee Chilcote is editor of The Land.

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