A revolt is brewing among some Long Island Council of Churches board members and other local religious leaders over the Rev. Dyanne Pina’s ouster Friday as leader of the organization.
Two board members said Tuesday they planned to seek Pina’s reinstatement at a council meeting Thursday, being held in part to discuss the internal crisis at the main umbrella group for 800 Christian churches across the Island.
“I think it’s unfair how it was handled,” the Rev. Marjorie Nunes said in an interview. She learned Pina had been let go when she read about it in Newsday on Saturday, she said.
“My vote is going to be to get her back into the job. I’m going to vote for her to be reinstated,” Nunes said. “For me to be on the board and not to know and see it in the newspaper, I’ve never seen this happen. ”
Another board member, the Rev. Tracie Saunders, who also is a physician at Stony Brook University Hospital, said she too wanted Pina to be reinstated.
Pina assumed the post in June 2016 at an annual salary of $81,000. She was the first woman and the first African-American to lead the group since its founding in 1969.
The council’s leadership on Friday cited financial reasons for letting Pina go and said the post would not be filled immediately.
Hank Boerner, a member of the executive committee that eliminated Pina’s position, said Tuesday it was purely a financial decision. The council’s finances are in dismal shape, he said.
“We are aware that there are board members that have been supportive of Rev. Dyanne Pina,” Boerner said. “In fact, the board was very supportive of her, overall.”
But he added, “There is a financial shortfall. . . . This was something we had to deal with and do.”
Nunes said the five-member executive committee did not inform the full board of directors before acting.
Boerner said the board members had been advised the council was having financial problems and was considering a restructuring.
Saunders, in a letter Tuesday to council leaders, wrote, “I am appalled at the disrespectful and unethical behavior of the Executive Committee, the Task Force and the Board of Directors, as well as certain LICC Board members toward Rev. Dyanne Pina. I truly believe that the decision to terminate Rev. Pina will directly lead to the end of the LICC.”
Boerner also said, “I won’t make predictions about what is going to happen at a meeting [Thursday] at which other people may have a variety of opinions to put on the table and then have a discussion and then have decisions made.”
“We’re going to have a discussion,” he said. “I can’t forecast the future. I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said.
Pina, who said she was fired, said she was bringing a badly dysfunctional organization “into the 21st century.”
She said Tuesday she believed she was let go because she was exposing the council’s “lack of leadership” and direction, which she said had repeatedly left the group on the verge of shutting down over the years.
Boerner said the restructuring has nothing to do with shortcomings of the council’s longtime leadership and is driven only by fiduciary concerns.
The controversy has spread to groups outside the council.
Dr. Irma Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, said Pina has worked hard to collaborate with those of other religious beliefs, including Muslims.
“She has done an incredible job at LICC in bringing communities together,” Chaudhry said.
“She’s an incredible leader. Why would LICC take a step to get rid of her? I am beside myself.”
About 800 congregations are members of the council, although only about 200 are active, donating money and in-kind services, Pina said. The council operates food pantries in Hempstead, Freeport and Riverhead, and provides social services.
It also advocates on social justice issues and seeks to promote understanding and cooperation between Christians and non-Christians.
Shortly after she took over, Pina shut down the council’s main food pantry in Freeport because of what she called “appalling” conditions that had existed for years, including backed-up toilets, mold, holes in the roof and exposed electrical wires.
Pina eventually relocated the pantry to a building elsewhere in Freeport run by AHRC Nassau, a nonprofit that assists people with special needs and developmental disabilities. The two groups formed a partnership.