Covid-19 is scary, but have you ever dealt with Lynelle Johnson, Carole White, and Hospitality Center?
I was asked that question today and I will leave it somewhat to you readers to judge what is the scariest proposition. All I can do is lay out what's been happening recently at ye olde Hospitality Center based at 101 North Franklin Street in Fort Bragg, our county's second largest municipality. Hospitality Center (HC) is supposed to be a subcontractor providing mental health services on the coast. Lynelle Johnson and Carole White are the President and Vice-President of HC's Board of Directors. Carla Harris is the executive director of HC.
When the Covid-19 pandemic precipitated the shelter in place order from the public health officer, Hospitality Center staff looked for a place to house the homeless after scheduled funding and sites for the winter shelter ran out. They found that in Fort Bragg's Motel 6. A goodly number of folks, down on their luck, found a place to shelter at that motel. Ms. Harris, the executive director at HC, possessed a list of a handful or so of other people who had worn out their welcome multiple times with HC and its subsidiary, Hospitality House (which provides a roof over the heads and meals to as many as twenty-four homeless people each night). Due to misdeeds, this same handful of people were banned from staying at Motel 6.
Along came Lynelle Johnson and Carole White, the leaders of HC's governing board, to contradict the ruling of their executive director. Johnson and White made their own deal to house the otherwise banned people at the Ebb Tide Motel in Fort Bragg. Of course, this didn't sit well with the executive director, who is paid to make such decisions on her own. It didn't sit well because Johnson and White's actions violated HC's own rules established in a document called “Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center Covid-19 Shelter Protocols.” Quoting from those protocols, under a section labeled 'Intake,' “The Wellness Center Coordinator screens for eligibility and if the person is deemed eligible by the Wellness Coordinator, the Executive Director is contacted to make the final approval.
“If the Executive Director approves of the referral, the Wellness Center Coordinator contacts the Motel staff to ensure the person is not on the banned list.”
A little background for HC Board President Lynelle Johnson. Let's briefly look at a November 20, 2019, AVA piece about a meeting of that board. “You didn't hear about it before hand, you say? No surprise. The leadership at Hospitality Center, specifically the Board of Directors leadership under the eye of one Lynelle Johnson, doesn't like to expose decisions that effect the public to… Well, let's just say, the public.”
The gist of that November, 2019, article was about the failure of HC to get the winter shelter going in time. It did not open until December 15th and only then through last minute financial backing from the City of Fort Bragg and the county despite the fact that HC had been offered adequate funding in July. The delay from the July funding offer to HC going begging for money in December was mostly due to Ms. Johnson's desire to locate the winter shelter at a single spot on Main Street despite the willingness of the faith based communities to house it on a rotating basis. Ms. Johnson's desire for a single location apparently derived from the fact that said locale would not be subject to the city's permit process. No permit process meant no public input needed.
The November, 2019, piece went on. “Ms. Johnson lives on an isolated road south of Little River, a protected enclave far removed from the [day to day life of Fort Bragg's central business district]...
Ms. Johnson is out of touch and has been for some time. She has repeatedly told falsehoods to city officials and business owners as well as inquisitive souls like yours truly. Readers familiar with the AVA's online archive should check a November 16, 2016 piece in which Ms. Johnson features somewhat prominently.
“More information on Ms. Johnson's failings at Hospitality Center and Hospitality House can be found in a February 1, 2017, AVA piece and perhaps most tellingly in a February 22, 2017, article, which concluded that 'the truth is not in Ms. Johnson...' “
That November, 2019, article alluded to worries about there being no homeless winter shelter growing so widespread that at least one Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) board member discussed the matter at an August, 2019, MCDH Board of Directors meeting. Indeed, the idea of the hospital exploring the possibility eventually landed on the agenda of MCDH's Planning Committee on the next to last day of the year. HC Vice-President Carole White is a member of that committee. When the agenda item came up, including how it might change HC's role in the winter shelter process, did Ms. White recuse herself from the discussion? Simple answer: Carole White did not.
Supervisor Ted Williams and Fort Bragg City Council member Bernie Norvell participated in the discussion about the city and county's potential expanded roles in running the winter shelter. Fort Bragg's City Manager, Tabatha Miller, was present in the audience and added a couple of comments. Remember, the agenda item concerned the seemingly innocent process of the hospital, or hospital district, merely exploring the possibility of taking on some role in the winter sheltering of homeless people.
Apparently, Carole White felt so threatened by the potential concept that before most people had returned home after the Planning Committee meeting adjourned she was raging, according to a reliable source. Reportedly, White told staff at Hospitality Center not to speak to Supervisor Williams, Councilman Norvell, nor City Manager Tabatha Miller under any circumstance.
That pretty much gives you the idea who we are dealing with here. This pair of HC Board members decided they knew better than their paid staff, ignored directives to not house certain persons deemed unmanageable, yet went ahead and put those same people into the Ebb Tide Motel during the Covid-19 crisis. In their world view, they know better than the HC staff, they know better than the motel business owners who would be effected, they know better than the entire community.
It only took a matter of a few days before reports popped up about multiple methamphetamine deals going down in those Ebb Tide Motel rooms as well as other problems. The problems were mentioned by the city manager and police chief at the next city council meeting. They also showed up in police logs of April 8, 9, and 13, citing individuals who were on the Motel 6 banned list.
In mid-April HC held a board meeting (you can bet the general public was not made aware of it). According to further sourcing, the executive director wasn't provided an agenda. At the time the Ebb Tide problem was ongoing. The management of the motel wanted the troublemakers out. Supposedly, around this time, county Health and Human Services officials as well as leadership at Redwood Quality Management Company (RQMC) were made aware of the Ebb Tide situation. Folks like Tammy Moss Chandler, at Health and Human Services, and Camille Schraeder of RQMC, who essentially control the funding stream that goes to Hospitality Center for mental health services, have not made public statements on the matter. However, logic and common sense tells us they can't be too happy with HC board members who contravened their own paid staff's orders, especially when that override turned into the fiasco at Ebb Tide.
On April 15, having learned something about the Ebb Tide situation, I sent an email to Lynelle Johnson, which read, “Can you explain what is going on at Ebb Tide Motel, keeping in mind that I am getting multiple reports about it from multiple sources who are all at least fairly reliable to impeccably reliable. Part of that includes multiple meth dealings at the motel, managers/staff asleep at the wheel while other shenanigans occur, belying the 24/7 watchdog staffing claim of HC - not to mention that some of placements at motels were made at yours and/or Carole’s insistence, overriding decisions made elsewhere.”
I also included an inquiry about a meeting Ms. Johnson reportedly had with city officials several weeks earlier. “Topping that off is the rumor that multiple weeks ago you were requested to resign by city officials, yet no such action has taken place. Part of that rumor included you removing Carole [White] from [the HC] board as well as yourself and possibly [another board member] too. If there is even some truth to that then you are essentially defying a City edict. I would think that would have far ranging ramifications regarding HC and/or HH [Hospitality House] funding from county as well as making all deals with City problematic.”
The next day, Lynelle Johnson responded via email, “I have forwarded your email on to Tabatha and to Carla so that they can address these issues for you.”
Perhaps Carla Harris could add some insight, I considered contacting her, but held off awhile. I needn't worry, Ms. Harris contacted me. She sent a text on Wednesday, April 22nd, time stamped at 11:12 pm. “Do you want a real interview? Based on real facts?”
I considered the possibilities, yet texted back the next morning, “When would you like to speak?”
The Harris response, a little while later, “Maybe tomorrow. I'm exhausted today.”
I replied, “Tomorrow is good. Pick a time and let me know.”
Friday morning, Harris texted, “I'm going to have to hold off on that talk for today.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Harris was texting someone else. As you read her communication it will become apparent how and why this is available for the public to peruse. Here's the HC executive director's recent communication referencing the interference of HC board leaders Johnson and White. “[P]lease talk to Camille [Schraeder of RQMC]. I need her to talk to my board and get Lynelle and Carole and Jerry [HC board treasurer – not the other HC board member referenced earlier] to resign.”
At this point I have to interject to point out that Harris' communication contains many typos and errors of all sorts. Where needed I have omitted confusing wording. Harris goes on, “Our rqmc contract [is] on the line... I need a replacement board... otherwise I can't do this job.
“Okay, I am going to be transparent here and feel free to put this out publicly [emphasis added]. I have worked [in] nonprofits and social services for over 30 years. As a result I have determined that enabling folks is not the way to help people. The mchc [Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center – 'HC'] is a culture of enabling due to the current leadership... meaning Lynelle Johnson and carole white whom reside in little river. I as the current executive director will not move forward with this organization in good faith knowing that these leaders are not cognizant of the fort bragg business community and the fact that people are continuously being enabled in their addictions as well as their mental health issues. Based on my 30* years of experience I am absolutely opposed to how things are being handled in behalf of MCHC leadership and staff. I have tried continuously to make solid recommendations and directives to mchc staff in an attempt to clean things u[p] and ensure an end to homelessness in fort bragg and only been met with retaliation by this board and to be faved [sic] with constant undermining techniques.
“Has left me no choice...
“This is why I think we have a high percentage of homeless in fort bragg and I personally held the mchc board of directors responsible for that. They fail and have failed miserably in holding folks accountable...
“And this makes me mad and frustrated as the executive director... The mchc board fails miserably.”
As of April 26th, the miscreants had been removed from the Ebb Tide and reportedly behaviors there have returned to normalcy. As of this writing, Lynelle Johnson and Carole White remain in their positions atop the Hospitality Center Board of Directors.