Agency CEO fired after tumultuous leadership

EOPA board orders departure by June 30

1/8/2013
BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
James Powell
James Powell

The board of a Toledo anti-poverty agency has ousted its chief executive officer, a longtime agency employee whose years heading the organization were marked by several controversies, most notably the potential loss of the agency’s Head Start grant.

During a special meeting Monday night, board members at the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo voted to terminate CEO James Powell; he must step down by June 30. He declined to comment afterward.

Two Lucas County Sheriff’s deputies were present, sitting at either entrance to the room where the board was meeting in closed-door executive session.

“I think Jim Powell has done a good job, but I think it’s time for a change,” board member Vince Davis said after the vote. Mr. Powell has been EOPA’s leader since 2009 and was the agency’s deputy director from 2001 until 2008.

EOPA runs a number of social-service programs, but the bulk of the agency's $17.2 million budget comes from its local management of Head Start, a program with an unclear future within the agency. Officials are waiting to hear from the federal government if EOPA will continue to administer the program for children from low-income households.

New board leaders had hinted last month that leadership changes might be in the works.

“We’re looking to provide a new EOPA,” the Rev. Donald Perryman said after he was elected chairman last month. “The board members as well as the community have stated they wanted a changed EOPA.”

In September, the board voted to approve a review of the agency’s structure and begin a succession planning process, although members said at the time the move was not intended as a criticism of Mr. Powell. “We have an excellent CEO,” board member Sylvester Gould said in September.

However, Mr. Gould said Monday night he thought Mr. Powell should have been terminated immediately. “Our grant is still in jeopardy,” he said, referring to the agency’s $13 million Head Start grant. “I think we had a better shot [of keeping the grant] under new leadership.”

A measure to terminate Mr. Powell immediately was voted down by board members.

Mr. Gould said the sheriff’s deputies were present at the meeting in case security was needed.

Richard Jackson, the board’s immediate past chairman, said he did not think that the deputies’ presence was appropriate or necessary and said he had not called them.

Agency leadership has deeply divided the EOPA board in the past.

In 2008, turmoil followed the death of EOPA’s longtime executive director, Oscar B. Griffith. EOPA observers described what occurred after Mr. Griffith’s death as a struggle between factions of board members, one favoring Mr. Powell, and another wanting an outside candidate to lead the agency.

More recently, a clear schism developed between board members outspoken about demanding Mr. Powell’s retirement and others who have supported him.

A 1963 graduate of the University of Toledo, Mr. Powell headed a minority business program, was a general manager of a paper company, and held several other jobs before working at EOPA. Agency tax records show he was paid a salary of $112,839 during 2011, plus $18,787 in other compensation.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.