The Long Island Council of Churches on Thursday reaffirmed its decision to oust executive director the Rev. Dyanne Pina as the head of the umbrella group for 800 Christian churches on Long Island.
After a three-hour meeting in Commack, some 15 board members present said through one of their leaders that financial pressures were forcing them to sustain their decision to eliminate Pina’s position.
A five-person executive committee decided last Friday to oust Pina, the first woman and the first African-American to head the organization since its founding in 1969.
“We affirmed the decision of our executive committee,” said Tom Wallace, who is chairman of the board of directors and also a member of the executive committee.
“We are committed to a plan of restructure,” he said. “Our biggest concern right now is to continue to carry out the mission and ministry of this organization.”
Pina, who started the job in June 2016, said she was outraged but “not surprised” by the decision.
Most of those on the 31-member board who support her were not at the meeting, she said. They were not allowed to take part in it through a phone conference or to vote, she said.
She criticized leaders of the council who she said engineered her ouster.
“Those individuals who claim to be Christians, to follow Christ, they are poor examples of what that means,” she said. “They are not a just group of individuals.”
While Wallace and others said Pina’s position was eliminated because of financial pressures, Pina said she was fired after just 15 months because she was exposing the group’s long-term dysfunction and trying to bring it “into the 21st century.”
Wallace said he disagreed. “We have had fiscal problems, yes. She was hired in part to address those,” he said.
But “we have a budgetary shortfall, a financial condition that requires us to make structural changes,” he said. “And we have more structural changes that we have to make.”
Wallace said the group received a large bequest about six years ago that helped it cover the deficits, but that money was coming to an end.
Pina said the group’s finances were tight, but that it was operating in the black and she expected even more improvements in the near future.
The council will now be run by the executive committee, including himself, until the restructuring is completed, Wallace said.
“This was a painful, painful decision,” he said.
Wallace acknowledged Pina had gained the support of many community and religious groups including Muslims, Jews, immigrant advocates and the Long Island Progressive Coalition.
“She did a great job with certain things, and she was very respected in the community for the job she did,” he said. “And we respect her.
“I don’t want to disparage her. She did some good things on the financial end, too. We made a decision to restructure. And God bless her, she did a good job.”
Some of Pina’s supporters contend her race and gender played a role in her ouster, but Wallace denied that.
“We welcomed the diversity, we embraced the diversity,” he said. “There is no question whatsoever that that had anything to do with that situation” of eliminating her position.
Wallace also said the board of directors was not consulted about the decision to eliminate the executive director position because of time constraints.
“It was a ‘time is of the essence’ matter,” he said. “I’m not going to go into details of our financial analysis, but we needed to make systemic decisions right now.”
Pina said her adult son had been going through a serious health crisis over the summer, but board officials assured her “not to worry about anything, just take care of your son.”
She came back to work on Aug. 15. “Less than one month later, I was terminated,” she said.
The reaffirmation of the elimination of her job came after a member of the executive committee resigned Thursday.
The Rev. Vicky Eastland, a member of the executive committee, said she was not present when the decision to eliminate Pina’s position was made.
Eastland said she was quitting because of “personal and ministry stressors in my life” and that “the timing of my resignation is due to the internal conflicts that are occurring within the LICC.”
“At the time that the Executive Committee met and deliberated their decision to eliminate the position of Executive Director due to what was explained to me was for financial reasons, I was in Missouri managing a family emergency with my parents,” Eastland wrote in a letter to the LICC on Thursday.
“I was not part of those deliberations and was not given the full details of the deliberation.
“It was explained to me that there is an addendum to the minutes that says that I concurred with the decision made. I am requesting that this be removed as I feel I did not have enough information to have it stated that I concurred.”
She also said she was resigning as chair of one of the two main boards of the council. That also means she is leaving the executive committee, which includes the chairs of the two boards.
Pina said she was “very disheartened that Vicky had to resign.”
She said the executive board had made Eastland “seem like she was part of [Pina’s ouster] when she was not” and that was indicative of “the way they have handled the whole thing.”
Wallace said Eastland’s letter did not necessarily mean she did not concur with the committee’s decision, only that “now she wants to take a step back and re-evaluate that.”
Outside the building, a handful of protesters gathered at the start of the meeting to support Pina and call for her reinstatement.
“I’m praying for a miracle here,” said the Rev. Sheila Beckford of the Westbury United Methodist Church. “The work she has done in the short time she has been here shows her capability, shows her love for the community and shows that she is a powerful witness of our savior.”
While the executive committee has stated that the group’s dismal finances are the reasons they eliminated Pina’s position, “It’s clear it’s more than money that is going on here,” Beckford said.
The Rev. Carole Paynter of the Smithtown United Methodist Church said, “As Christians, we should be extra concerned about the appearance of fairness and propriety, and this process seems to have been just a railroading of Reverend Pina.”
The Rev. Gia Hall of the Church of the Good Shepherd in West Hempstead said many of the people the council serves in its three food pantries and through other services are of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and it is important for the group’s leadership to reflect that.
Pina “has been bringing diversity to the council and that seems to be an issue,” Beckford said.
Chester Hazel, a member of the council’s finance committee, said he has volunteered to work for free as the group’s accountant, replacing the accountant who is retiring and was paid a full salary. He never heard back from the council leadership, he said.
“Why would you let go of the director for financial reasons when you have a volunteer prepared to step up in a financial position which is currently being paid?” Hazel said. “That tells me this was not about finances at all.”
Pina said the demonstrations in her support Thursday morning were “very heartwarming. It just speaks to the confirmation this was an injustice to me.”