Rescue Mission director placed on probation but keeps job after WTHR investigation

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MARION, Ind. (WTHR) — Despite growing pressure to step down, the executive director of the Grant County Rescue Mission will keep his job after a closed-door emergency meeting by the charity's board of directors.

The GCRM board voted Monday morning to retain Tom Ballard to lead the charity's day-to-day operations, according to Jim Bowman, a board member who attended the meeting. But the board decided to place Ballard on six months of probation. It is not clear what the probationary penalty means, and neither Ballard nor GCRM board president Tom Mansbarger have responded to WTHR phone calls to explain.

Rev. Tom Ballard talks to 13 InvestigatesRev. Tom Ballard talked to 13 Investigates during a tour of the Grant County Rescue Mission.

The meeting and vote were triggered by an Eyewitness News investigation that raises serious questions about leadership and management at the rescue mission. The undercover investigation showed filthy conditions; a massive infestation of rodents and bedbugs; and mountains of donated clothes, furniture, toys and food that had been stockpiled and neglected at the charity's Gallatin Street headquarters and homeless shelter. The donated items were so contaminated by urine and feces from mice and cats, most of it had to be dumped or burned.

13 Investigates' undercover video also showed a truckload of food and beverages donated to the rescue mission was taken by the board president to his church and his home. Mansbarger admitted to WTHR that he and some of his church employees and church members had been consuming food donated to the rescue mission for years because "it's there to take" and there is too much for the mission to use.

And when WTHR questioned Ballard on the whereabouts of pizzas that were regularly donated to the rescue mission, the charity's executive director said he had taken many of the pizzas to his house to feed his pets.

Decided by a single vote

Following the 3-month investigation, Ballard told GCRM board members he would resign if they wanted him to do so. The board president quickly rejected that idea.

"We're very pleased with Rev. Ballard, and he's done a great job, and his leadership has been a real plus to our community," Mansbarger told Marion radio station WBAT just hours after seeing WTHR's investigation.

Janet Pearson, another board member, told the Marion Chronicle-Tribune the board unanimously rejected Ballard's offer to resign at two previous board meetings.

But other board members told WTHR the first formal vote on whether to retain Ballard did not come until Monday. It was far from unanimous.

"There was a very spirited discussion. It was extremely emotional for everyone," said Bowman, who declined to disclose the actual vote tally.

Other sources tell WTHR the final vote was 5-4, with four board members voting to accept Ballard's resignation and five voting to keep Ballard as the charity's director.

Ballard has said he's willing to accept blame for the widespread problems that WTHR and health inspectors discovered at the rescue mission.

"It's just one of those things that got past me. That's my fault as leadership," he said.

Courtesy of Grant County Health Department.

Since the Grant County Health Department and Indiana State Department of Health inspected the facility and ordered a massive cleanup, most of the problems involving mice, bedbugs and other safety issues have been corrected – or at least improved.

"We went to work and got all of our men up here and got it cleaned out," Ballard told 13 Investigates during a recent tour of the rescue mission. "We're better off for it."

But questions and concerns about leadership linger.

Donors backing away

13 Investigates saw donated pizzas being taken into the mission, but residents say they are rarely served pizza.

Last week, Walmart announced it has stopped sending food to the rescue mission after seeing WTHR's investigation.

Today, Little Caesar's Pizza in Marion confirmed it has done the same following the realization that GCRM's director was taking some of its donated pizzas home to feed his dogs and fish. Ballard told WTHR the pizza restaurant knew where the pizzas were going.

"That's absolutely not true. We were not aware of that," Little Caesar's store manager Josh Patterson said. "Everybody here is really surprised to hear that. There are so many other charities in town that can use donations."

The company that operates the Little Caesar's restaurant in Marion was surprised, as well.

"I cannot believe [Ballard] had the audacity to tell you that we knew where those pizzas were going. That just blows my mind," said Aaron Brown, area supervisor for franchisee Ultra C's. Brown said the company has suspended its pizza donation program to all charities in Grant County in the wake of WTHR's investigation. It will resume in the coming months with a tighter screening program to ensure donations are going to people in need, but it is unlikely the rescue mission will receive future donations.

"I don't see that happening. Not unless they get in new management," Patterson told WTHR this afternoon.

Other donors have called and written 13 Investigates to say they, too, will not continue to support the charity under its current management.

That is why Bowman was disappointed by the outcome of Monday's meeting, and he took immediate action.

Frustrated board member resigns

After the board meeting, Bowman resigned his seat on the GCRM board of directors – a decision he calls "really tough."

"I ended up resigning because I don't think things are going in the direction they need to go with the current leadership," Bowman told WTHR. "The scariest thing to me is we've already lost a lot of donors because of what [Ballard and Mansbarger] did. Tom Ballard has done a lot of great things for the mission and given a lot of people second chances, so maybe he deserves a second chance, too. But I just don't think we're going to get donations back until those two resign, and they don't seem to understand the depth of the public's anger. I don't know the public will trust the mission again as long as those two are there."

Regaining trust is now the board's focus, and that is what the group spent much of its time discussing behind closed doors Monday morning.

New policies and procedures

“I really hope there is more transparency and more checks and balances and that things get turned around”

According to Bowman, the board talked about adding a new policy prohibiting board members from taking or even transporting donated items, including food.

Board members discussed hiring a company to audit the charity and its finances -- something that hasn't happened in at least a decade.

And they also talked about personally inspecting the mission once a month to see conditions for themselves, while having more interaction with residents to hear any complaints and concerns.

"I really hope there is more transparency and more checks and balances and that things get turned around," Bowman said. "It's an organization that does so much good and changes so many lives… It just needs to overcome some really bad choices."

The Grant County Rescue Mission is expected to release a public statement soon detailing a formal action plan. It is hoping to salvage public contributions and donations that make up the majority of its roughly $750,000 annual budget.

In the meantime, public pressure is not letting up.

The Marion Chronicle Tribune polled some of its readers Thursday about leadership at the rescue mission, and nearly 80% say Ballard should resign.

Nearly 600 people have signed an online petition asking both Ballard and Mansbarger to step down. Organizers will present that petition at a community protest scheduled at the rescue mission later this month during GCRM's next board meeting.