I dropped by Siloam Mission Thursday to ask a few question about the sudden and mysterious resignation of CEO John Mohan for unspecified "personal" reasons.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/12/2009 (4367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

I dropped by Siloam Mission Thursday to ask a few question about the sudden and mysterious resignation of CEO John Mohan for unspecified "personal" reasons.

It was a cold day to make a cold call.

Especially on a topic that's cooled considerably since it hit the 24-hour news cycle last week.

But I was still hot about it.

Not primarily because the personal reasons weren't elaborated on. Mohan's series of curiously named Mid-Life Crisis bike rides to raise money for the mission is suggestive of the answer. So is the fact that Siloam Mission board chairman Riley Coulter confirmed to me Friday that John is hoping to get back together with his wife Brenda, who is still working in a senior position at Siloam.

No, what bothered me was how Siloam handled the news.

As if it wasn't news.

In the space of nine years, John and Brenda Mohan had taken Siloam from a mom-and-pop soup kitchen to a slickly run, multimillion-dollar, one-stop shop for the homeless and poor.

But when John resigned on a Saturday in late November, Siloam didn't bother to tell anyone outside their building that the leader and face of Siloam was gone.

Why wasn't there a news release?

In June, Siloam proudly issued a news release when popular radio personality Larry Updike became one of the 70 -- perhaps closer to 80 -- paid staff members at Siloam. There was another news release in July trumpeting Mohan's recruiting of Sherwood Armbruster -- Mayor Sam Katz's chief of staff -- as Siloam's first chief operating officer.

But no news release when the face of the organization, the man who hired them both, resigned.

Of course the timing was as awkward as the abrupt and basically unexplained resignation. Christmas is Siloam's prime fund-raising season and it was the same California-based company that advises them on fundraising that advised them on the media strategy after Mohan departed.

Which might account for why Mohan's leaving wasn't publicly acknowledged by Siloam until Christianweek.org heard about it and inquired.

Only then did Siloam issue a brief statement. Thereafter the same statement was released the same way to the rest of the media -- on a need-to-ask basis. The Free Press published the news on its website Dec. 3, and in the paper the next day, nearly two weeks after the event.

That's what prompted the cold call on a cold day.

Sherwood Armbruster, the acting CEO, was left to answer the question: Don't you think the organization should have told the community that supports Siloam, not just the staff and volunteers?

"There's no, there's nothing being swept under the rug," Armbruster began. "There's nothing being hidden. The community has been notified. Whether there should have been a proactive or reactive media release... you talk to 10 different PR experts, you'll get 12 different opinions. It is out there. So in some ways it's a moot point."

There's the essence of the issue.

Siloam saw Mohan's departure from the public relations perspective -- as damage control -- when it should have treated it as an accountability issue. A transparency issue for a charity that relies on the public for its funding.

When I reached Siloam chairman Riley Coulter in Calgary, he suggested it wasn't Siloam's responsibilty to elaborate on Mohan's resignation.

"It's not our story to tell. John resigned and it's his story to tell."

In other words, it's personal. But if what I hear from a source inside Siloam is true, there was also a highly uncomfortable professional aspect that should have made it Siloam's story to tell, too.

Regardless, I suggested to Coulter, Siloam's ill-advised handling of the Mohan situation is not only a transparency issue, it's a trust issue.

Transparency being the currency of trust.

"I feel badly if we did anything to break the trust with the public," Coulter said softly and sounding sincere.

I feel badly, too.

I feel badly that an organization, which has worked so admirably over the years ladling soup and caring for the homeless, would forget who and what matters most.

And serve themselves first.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca