Rep. Williams out as John Hope chair as nonprofit partners with YMCA complainants

Photo: Walt Buteau/WPRI-TV

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State Rep. Anastasia Williams has stepped down as board chair of the troubled John Hope Settlement House, as the nonprofit announced a partnership with a group formed by three women who recently filed harassment complaints against the Greater Providence YMCA.

Williams, who will remain on the John Hope board, said she was “absolutely not” asked to resign as chair, adding that her term was about to expire. Board member Jameela Dunston was voted in as the new board chair.

Williams, D-Providence, blamed the organization’s financial problems on the nonprofit’s “past administrations.”

John Hope’s new partner is PEOpeople LLC, which said it will work with John Hope “at no cost.” PEOpeople organized March 7, according to corporate filings with the Rhode Island secretary of state.

Gayle Corrigan, Karen Cooper and Linda Dykeman, who have all recently filed gender discrimination complaints against the YMCA, said they are co-founders of PEOpeople.

“No comment,” Corrigan said when asked if John Hope is the outfit’s first client.

PEOpeople will “conduct a comprehensive operational assessment and develop a strategic plan to bring [John Hope] to solvency and sustainability,” according to a news release.

John Hope has faced serious financial problems for a number of years.

A report released last month by R.I. Auditor General Dennis Hoyle warned the nonprofit’s financial condition “has steadily deteriorated” and argued it will likely need to file for receivership if the R.I. Department of Children, Youth & Families succeeds in revoking the license for the group’s day care center. A hearing on that dispute is scheduled for later this month.

The PEOpeople foudners’ complaints with the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission alleged they were harassed, intimidated and bullied by the YMCA’s current CEO, former R.I. State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell.

Dykeman was the YMCA’s chief financial officer and Cooper was the chief development and marketing officer. Corrigan chaired the YMCA board for about seven months and was vice-chair for a year before that, until she was voted out in January.

The organization’s current board chair, Jamia McDonald, who was also named in the complaints, has said the dispute with Corrigan was initially provoked by board members’ concerns over multimillion-dollar financial problems that were discovered at the end of last year.

Among other financial strains, McDonald said the YMCA is facing an estimated $30 million shortfall for necessary capital improvements.

Corrigan’s employment history includes working as chief of staff in Central Falls while the city was in receivership.

She was fired from her job as deputy director of Rhode Island Housing in December 2013, then filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. She was reinstated in the same position in May 2014.

Corrigan is currently the district manager for the Central Coventry Fire District, which went through Chapter 9 bankruptcy in recent years.

It should be noted that O’Donnell is a contributor to Eyewitness News, as a law enforcement analyst.

Walt Buteau (wbuteau@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook