It was three Fridays ago that I received a phone call from this newspaper asking my opinion, as a Board member, about the appointment of Michael McGuigan to the position of CEO in light of allegations that had been made against him for child abuse. At the time, I was unaware of such allegations, and apparently, there have never been any charges or convictions against him. My immediate reaction was that they must have been hearsay, and I reasserted my lawyerly conviction that everyone should have an opportunity to defend themselves.
It was later in that same conversation that the reporter informed me that McGuigan agreed, just this past summer, to have his adopted child taken from his home and he also agreed to have his home de-certified as a licensed foster care facility. That was a different story.
When the Executive Committee of the Board at Broward House accepted the resignation of its longtime CEO, the same committee made the decision to hire McGuigan. It was their decision to make, not that of the board itself, and we now know that they were fully apprised of McGuigan’s background at the time they promoted him to the position of CEO.
Broward House is an HIV-AIDS service organization, having tended to the needs of thousands of indigent and often addicted individuals who are affected by the disease, especially in the area of housing, case management, and insurance subsidizing. Its primary clients are adults, housing what few children are there in connection with the care given to their parents.
Whether there are two or 20 children in housing provided by Broward House, it was wrong for the organization to associate with a person who clearly had some answering to do. It was also wrong for the executive committee to try to ignore the revelation in The Herald , hoping it would go away. Once local child advocates burst onto the scene, it was clear their hand was forced and they finally heeded to the call to convene a full board meeting. The Board accepted McGuigan’s resignation, but it was wrong for some members of the executive committee to express remorse over his removal.
Many have speculated as to why all of a sudden did this matter come to light. Was McGuigan’s past already old news? Or did his new position as CEO subject him to greater scrutiny. I have even heard that other agencies, those competing for the same funding dollars as Broward House, were looking for an opportunity to reduce it by scandal, and thereby be able to capture some of those dollars for themselves? Honestly, these days, nothing would surprise me.
Out of all this, Broward House is strong and will remain strong, but it must make changes.
First, the board must reconstitute itself. I would encourage those who quit to please return so that we can get on with the business of making things right.
Second, we must change the by-laws, so that the executive committee not have the level of power to make management decisions unless and until the entire board is fully informed of all facts upon which such decisions are made.
Third, we must establish stricter guidelines on hiring qualifications. Anyone with a history such as we learned these past few weeks should never be considered for employment when its clients or programs could possibly be impacted by such questionable conduct.
Finally, the board and its senior staff need to assemble a retreat in order to know from each person involved how the situation materialized, what their beliefs are on conduct outside the agency, and how we might best be able to cleanse our practices so that we will never have to confront a problem such as this again. There are too many souls in need that make this goal so imperative.
Dean J. Trantalis, a lawyer, is a board member of Broward House.