Miami-Dade County

Suspended head of Camillus House pushing back against board chair

Camillus House CEO Shed Boren, in the black shirt, kneels down and talks to Amos Moss as Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Steve Leifman (rear, in white shirt) gives a tour of a site for a new mental-health facility in Miami in this 2014 file photo.
Camillus House CEO Shed Boren, in the black shirt, kneels down and talks to Amos Moss as Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Steve Leifman (rear, in white shirt) gives a tour of a site for a new mental-health facility in Miami in this 2014 file photo. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Before he was suspended as CEO of Camillus House, Shed Boren said he questioned board chairman Bob Dickinson about the homeless shelter paying for his assistant and renting space from a building the volunteer leader co-owns across the street from the charity’s main Miami campus.

Boren reported the conversations in a Friday meeting with trustees of a related health charity, according to three participants in the meeting. A Camillus spokesman confirmed the two arrangements with Dickinson, a former top cruise executive and major force behind the shelter’s fund-raising, but said there was nothing improper with either.

“There really is no there there,” said Sam Gil, vice president of marketing for Camillus. Boren declined to comment, and Dickinson, who Gil said is out of the country, did not respond to an interview request Monday evening.

Boren’s pushback against Dickinson offers new details behind a rupture at the top of one of Miami’s leading charities and a nonprofit at the center of Miami-Dade’s network of homeless providers. Dickinson, CEO of Carnival Cruise Line until 2007, has been the central leader of Camillus for more than a decade, while Boren was hired two years ago to run the organization.

In an email to board members Saturday, Dickinson said Boren was placed on administrative leave “pending an investigation as to whether he has created and maintained a hostile work environment.”

The day before, Boren met with board members of Camillus Health, the non-profit arm of the homeless shelter that functions as an autonomous charity. While both organizations are under the umbrella of the Catholic charity that controls Camillus House, federal healthcare regulations give Camillus Health more independence. Boren holds the CEO title in both organizations, and the board of Camillus Health on Friday voted to keep him on the job during the investigation into his alleged misconduct, according to the meeting participants.

At that meeting, Boren outlined what he said were concerns he had about the Camillus lease with a Dickinson property and with a Camillus staffer performing secretarial work for the chairman.

Camillus House disclosed the lease arrangement in its 2015 financial statement, saying that during the year it entered into a lease for property near its campus with a company partially owned by an undisclosed board member. The lease pays the company about $47,000 a year. The passage refers to a rundown building next to Camillus’s main campus on Northwest Seventh Avenue that Dickinson and a partner purchased in 2014. The property includes a two-sided billboard advertising Lyft and Kendall Regional Medical Center.

Gil said the arrangement provides much-needed storage space for Camillus, a shelter that at one point was crowded enough that it placed mats on outdoor courtyards to provide more sleeping space for homeless people. Gil said Dickinson’s plan is to eventually donate the property to Camillus, but for now the space is used to store donations and other items that Camillus wants nearby.

“It makes sense,” he said. “It’s right across the street.”

It wasn’t clear if the lease began under Boren’s tenure, since he started in the middle of the charity’s 2015 fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2014.

Camillus also pays an employee to serve as a secretary to Dickinson. The full-time employee, Dickinson’s longtime assistant from his Carnival days, places calls for the chairman when he wants to set up meals and meetings with donors and Camillus board members, Gil said. Along with other duties, Gil said the staffer, Janet Simpkins, is active in the fund-raising and event-planning side of Camillus, which in 2015 reported nearly $8 million in cash donations and in-kind contributions.

Simpkins works out of her house, Gil said, and receives compensation from Dickinson as well her pay for a 40-hour week at Camillus. “She’s a valued member of the team,” he said. “Bob is very active.”

Jennifer Holland, director of consulting for BoardSource, which focuses on nonprofit governance, said it’s unusual for a charity to assign a staffer to a board chairman. “I have not seen that before,” she said. She said the key in judging arrangements that might benefit a board member is the degree to which decisions are made independently, and whether the employee is hired through the same process as other workers. “There aren’t a lot of perfectly bright-line tests around conflicts of interest,” she said.

Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, said business relationships with nonprofit leaders can be acceptable if they’re delivering significant value to the charity. “Mixing business can get dicey,” he said. But “you don’t want to discourage it if he’s giving the charity a great deal.”