for Change employee quits over ‘inappropriate’ request
Phil Diehl,, November 20, 2019
says nonprofit required support for donor’s development project.
former employee of the Vista-based nonprofit Solutions for
Change said this week she felt compelled to quit her job because
of the way she was treated by her boss after she declined
to embrace the organizations support for a controversial
bused in about 50 employees, clients and graduates of its
program to a Nov. 6 Oceanside City Council meeting to advocate
for the 585-home North River Farms project proposed by Integral
Communities. The council approved the project on a 3-2 vote,
despite opposition from a majority of residents and previous
recommendations for denial from the citys Planning Commission
of the nonprofit, which helps homeless families get back on
their feet, were informed on the day of the council meeting
that they would send a group to support the project for Integral,
one of their financial donors, said Cynthia Schopen, an Escondido
resident who had started her job at Solutions in January.
got an email to the staff to drop everything for the rest
of the day, Schopen said. I was nervous about
it, because I had a lot to do.
Executive Director Chris Megison made it clear at the staff
meeting that employees would be going to Oceanside City Hall
to court a donor who gives us a lot of money and
that anyone who didnt want to go could look for
another job, Schopen said.
said Tuesday that no one was threatened, but he declined to
discuss the specifics of Schopens case.
do not force (anyone) to go to these meetings, Megison
said. He said the idea to support North River Farms came from
graduates of the Solutions program.
Solutions group was provided with bus transportation, pizza,
and green Yes on NRF T-shirts and signs by the
developer. They arrived well before the council meeting and
took many of the seats in the front and center rows, which
forced opponents to sit outside the crowded room.
tactic angered many residents and added to the hard feelings
in the council chambers.
did not attend, but a Solutions employee who was there, Jennifer
Pankey, said Tuesday she knew little about North County Farms,
but she went because she wanted to see how the local government
process works, and the Solutions program encourages civic
have never experienced anything so crazy and hateful as that
meeting in my entire life, Pankey said. I guess
I stepped into a hornets nest.
for Change has 47 employees in programs spread across locations
in seven North County cities that help about 600 people daily.
took a job as a full-time case manager in January after moving
to Escondido from San Bernardino County with her military
husband. She has a bachelors degree in social work and
is completing a masters degree.
at the Solutions staff meeting were divided into three groups,
she said. Two groups were given written instructions and bused
to Oceanside City Hall. The third group stayed behind to provide
child care for those who went on the buses.
the staff meeting broke up, Megison asked Schopen to come
into his office, she said. He told her he did not like her
body language, facial expressions and attitude in the meeting,
and that she should take the rest of the week off.
started crying, she said. He didnt fire
me, but I was upset ... that was incredibly inappropriate
on so many levels.
submitted her resignation a few days later, she said.
said the groups participation in the City Council meeting
was cleared by Solutions attorney.
is a company (Integral) that has supported us for 10 years,
he said. Its directly benefiting our residents.
We help a ton of people from Oceanside.
independent attorneys who were asked about the Solutions activities
both said the effort appeared to be inappropriate.
is certainly something unethical about that, said Everett
DeLano, an Escondido attorney who often represents nonprofit
law requires open meetings to encourage public participation,
he said Tuesday. However, an effort to pack the chambers with
people to distort the view or prevent others from speaking
doesnt sound right to me at all.
Tenenbaum, senior counsel at a Washington, D.C., firm that
represents nonprofits, said Tuesday that its not illegal
for a nonprofit to require employees to support its mission.
For example, he said, Solutions could require its employees
to lobby for a low-income housing project that would help
house the organizations residents.
theres no low-income housing included in North River
it is wrong to enlist employees to support something that
benefits a private entity, such as the developer, more than
it benefits the public, he said. The North River Farms homes
will be sold at market rates and are unlikely to be available
to anyone facing homelessness.
have some real private-benefit concerns, Tenebaum said.
This is a problem for sure, on its face.
215-acre North River Farms site is on North River Road, between
Stallion Drive and Wilshire Road, on the southwestern corner
of the Morro Hills region that has been farmed for tomatoes,
cut flowers and citrus for generations.
with an agricultural theme, the project will include neighborhood
gardens available to residents, a farmers market, different
types of housing in separate villages, and a commercial
core with a restaurant, brewery or both, and space for offices,
retail shops and community activities.
of the project have called the development urban sprawl at
its worst. Supporters say it would bring much-needed homes
and improvements to nearby streets, sewer and water systems
and public safety.
has built more than 30 master-planned communities in California,
including Palomar Station, a 370-unit apartment complex near
Palomar College in San Marcos, and projects in Oceanside,
Vista, Escondido and San Diego.
housing advocates, were proud of our relationship with
Solutions for Change, Integral project manager Ninia
Hammond said last week. They are a transformative organization
that has been dedicated to changing lives and ending homelessness
in North County for 20 years.
and Hammond both declined to say how much Integral donates
developer also supports the Boys and Girls Club of Oceanside,
the YMCA, the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, the Oceanside
Charitable Foundation and other nonprofits.