More details about the ousting of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission’s long-time executive director were revealed Tuesday, but the cause for his suspension and how it may affect the mission remains a mystery.
Bob Stahler, chairman of the nonprofit’s Board of Trustees, said a brief discussion with Bill Southrey about the two severance options extended by the board was inconclusive.
“We’re just continuing to discuss his position and his role,” he said. “We’re still talking amicably. No decision has been made.”
Tuesday’s meeting came after a more than four-hour meeting Monday, with a rally of Southrey supporters outside, in which the board voted to extend the options. Both are incumbent on Southrey signing a confidentiality agreement, Stahler said, a move he called “standard procedure” at the mission.
Southrey did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. He had previously said he needed to discuss his options with an attorney before revealing the details of his discussions with the board.
Board members had previously ruled out criminal, financial or moral reasons for Southrey’s suspension last month. Stahler said he could not elaborate on the board’s reasons.
Although Stahler said the public does deserve a reason for the 30-plus year employee’s suspension, he said that now is not the time.
“We’re reluctant to get into things out of respect for him,” he said.
“There’s potential that it would not be positive if I went into a bunch of details,” he added.
In the absence of an explanation for Southrey’s suspension, many of Southrey’s supporters have focused on the growing scrutiny local and state officials have placed on the Rescue Mission and Atlantic City’s large homeless population.
County Executive Dennis Levinson said that’s unfair.
“It’s only speculation that it’s because of political pressure,” he said. “I haven’t spoken to anyone on that board. There could be a myriad of reasons he was removed — it wasn’t the politicians that removed him.”
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said he had spoken with Southrey prior to the board’s suspension about relocating part of the mission to the mainland, while maintaining a smaller operation in Atlantic City to process homeless people who arrive at their door.
“He was certainly willing to participate in a conversation with a different model going forward,” he said, adding that he had also introduced Southrey to John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
But Whelan said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen now.
“Nobody’s talking and nobody’s talked to me,” he said. “Who knows what it means?”
Stahler said Chief Operating Officer Daniel Brown is currently in charge of the mission; however, his position has not changed. All operations should be continuing normally, he said.
“To my knowledge, no projects have been interrupted significantly due to this,” he said. “Things are moving forward.”
Stahler said the board voted on the initial suspension Sept. 18. There were no interim votes until Monday night, when the two options were offered.
“We went into continued dialogue with Bill to remedy the situation,” he said.
Several board members did not respond to requests for comment.
Whelan said Bill Southrey has never been the problem with the Rescue Mission.
“The issue is the Rescue Mission has an totally open-door policy,” he said. “If they change Bill Southrey and continue to take everyone from everywhere, we still have the same problem.”
Levinson echoed that sentiment.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Bill Southrey or anyone else running that mission,” he said. “The problem is with the amount of homeless who are coming into our city.”
In better times for the casino industry, Levinson said, the city could accommodate the flow of transients. Now, he said, it can’t.
And the Rescue Mission is part of a problem that includes abandoned and deteriorating buildings, as well as other services — such as a methadone clinic — in and around the Tourism District, he said.
Stahler said the mission will continue to provide services and stressed that the board is not working on any specific policy changes.
“There are several things for certain,” he said. “Among them, there is this: Bill’s heart and the heart of the board is to ensure the needy are taken care of and that continues.”
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