SMILE leadership being questioned amid “harassment and hostile” allegations

Posted at 10:49 PM, May 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-31 23:49:48-04

Amid allegations of harassment and a hostile work environment, leadership is being questioned at the SMILE Community Action Agency.

The agency helps serve the communities of St. Martin, Iberia and Lafayette Parishes.

But tonight, CEO Chris Williams is on leave and was the subject of a special board meeting.

KATC’s Dannielle Garcia spoke with Williams on the phone earlier, he’s been on leave for about a week saying it’s a family medical leave, but it comes amid allegations within the agency.

Thursday, board members went into executive session to discuss whether or not to put him on administrative leave.

The board refused to take any action.

And no board members would comment on why that was even being considered.

But KATC Investigates has obtained e-mail threads from a board member.

They show a SMILE employee resigned just over a month ago, citing "I am resigning under a state of duress because I fear for my safety and well-being. The agency’s culture has become an environment of harassment and hostility and I wish to no longer endure such a place of work."

In those e-mails, board member’s requested Board President, Marlon Lewis, to investigate the matters.

To which he replied quote "words like investigation make me cringe and my job is not to investigate."

Board members won’t confirm who is the target of any such investigation.

"Any and all allegations are warranted. We have a fiduciary responsibility to assure that there’s equal rights for all employees and we as a board must come together and investigate any matter. Our best interest is in the results of the community," said one board member, Africa Arceneaux.

But another board member, Richard Portier, did mention that they need to appoint an interim consultant as CEO until the "investigation" is done regarding Williams.

"The board is asking that we appoint a consultant to lead the agency since we don’t know how long the leave is going to be until that investigation," said Portier.

At a meeting earlier this week, the possibility of at least one lawsuit from another employee was brought up alleging discrimination.

"There was an open discussion of a perspective lawsuit. At this time I’m unaware that it has been filed," said Arceneaux.

Though even some board members dispute that.

When asked if anyone mentioned a potential lawsuit at that meeting, Geri Brown, the SMILE Board Secretary said, "no, that’s a rumor. No one mentioned anybody being sued at the meeting," as she walked out of the room.

As of 6 pm Thursday, no lawsuit has been filed against SMILE.

The board did appoint an interim CEO, St. Mary Parish councilman Craig Mathews, who applied for the position in 2016.

But KATC talked to him on the phone and said he was never called or notified of being appointed.