Cincinnati United Way board chair resigns after week of controversy

Former United Way CEO Rob Reifsnyder (from left); board chair Julia Poston; and Michael Johnson.
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Former United Way CEO Rob Reifsnyder (from left); board chair Julia Poston; and Michael Johnson.

Following a week of controversy with allegations of having a “hostile work environment,” “subtle threats” and “discrimination,” the United Way of Greater Cincinnati board chair submitted her resignation.

At the end of Friday’s board meeting, Julia Poston announced she was resigning from the board of directors and as chairwoman, according to United Way officials.

The United Way of Greater Cincinnati serves the Middletown area and Hamilton, Clermont and Brown counties, southeast Indiana and northern Kentucky.

Poston’s resignation comes in the wake following Wednesday’s announcement that president and CEO Michael Johnson and the board agreed to part ways, effective Nov. 15. He had been at the helm for about four months. On Thursday, the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County in Madision, Wisc., announced Johnson would be returning to his former job.

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The United Way announced that Tim Elsbrock will be the chair-elect of the board. He will become chair on an acting basis until such time as the board elects a new chair.

Poston had served on United Way’s board since 2008 and was elected as chairwoman in 2017.

The resignation comes after an emotional staff meeting on Thursday that Poston attended and where several United Way employees asked for her to step down, according to our news partners at WCPO. One employee asked her to leave the room, which she did, WCPO reported.

“In the last week, we found ourselves at this difficult crossroad,” Poston said in her resignation letter. “I always wanted Michael (Johnson) and the United Way to succeed together and worked hard to make that happen, but in recent days, it became clear that it would be best for the United Way and for Michael to part ways.”

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She said the past few days have been emotionally challenging for all in the Cincinnati community. Poston said the most important question is how the organization moves forward to restore trust, unite and redouble the commitment to the United Way’s essential mission, according to the letter.

Her letter said, “Upon deep reflection, and with my unrelenting dedication to that mission, I’ve concluded that my stepping down from the Board would pave the way for focusing the dialogue on uniting and recommitting to our community and moving forward. As dedicated as I am to my service as UWGC Board Chair, it is clear to me that we can’t be distracted by this unproductive debate that feels singularly focused on my role. No matter the “fairness” of the debate; we must focus on moving forward constructively.”

On Thursday, about 30 United Way employees sent a letter to WCPO saying they would “welcome” the executive committee members to resign and demanded Poston’s removal as board chair.

The employees said they did not agree with the statement released by the board and did not support the actions of Poston and executive committee. They also said there was much work to do to address issues that led to this situation and structural changes needed to be made within the organization.

United Way officials said in the release that in his first 100 days, Johnson “connected with over 10,000 people in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and established or strengthened connections to critical constituencies.”

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According to WCPO, Johnson sent an email to the board on Oct. 26 alleging he had been misled during his interview concerning financial challenges facing the organization which is preparing to make up to 20 percent in funding cuts to the agencies it funds and laying off more than a dozen people. He also alleged being micromanaged and receiving subtle threats from Poston, the board chairperson.