By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
Michael Johnson, the embattled CEO of three months of United Way of Greater Cincinnati, will be returning on Dec, 1 to his former position as president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin, after reaching an agreement with United Way here to step down.
“Michael Johnson and the Board of Directors of United Way of Greater Cincinnati have agreed to amicably part ways,’’ it was announced in a statement issued Nov. 1 by Teresa Hoelle, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
Johnson, the first Black CEO in the local United Way’s 100-year history, will step down from his duties as CEO of the organization effective Nov. 15, according to the statement. He is taking a leave of absence during his remaining time with the agency, with Ross Meyer, the community engagement vice president there, serving as interim CEO.
Johnson began working at the United Way on July 9 after serving 10 years at the Wisconsin Boys & Girls Club.
In a letter Johnson sent to United Way board members on Oct. 15, he addressed his concerns in working in a “hostile environment’ ’ created by his boss, Julia Poston, the board chair.
In recent days, Johnson said he has had several employment offers from other organizations, but jumped at the offer to return to his old position in Wisconsin after officials there reached out to him. “So, I will be going back to the place I love,’’ he said. “But I am thankful for and loved my work here. I have met a lot of great people.’’
Johnson said in the remaining time he is in Cincinnati, he will use it to help bring people together, and to support and educate the community.
Johnson said in his email to the United Way board:
“I have worked with 10 board presidents in three different states, receiving outstanding reviews. I’ve been a successful nonprofit leader for more than 20 years. I have never been micromanaged and disrespected the way I am being now. I have communicated my concerns in writing. I’ve tried to communicate my concerns to the others in a careful manner, but to no avail. I have no other choice but to raise this issue with the full board, as I have received subtle threats from the board chair.”
Johnson said Poston “is unfairly attacking my credibility with key stakeholders and creating challenges within our organization.” He said she had subjected him to a hostile work environment, required him to report to a subordinate, and labeled him an “angry man.” Johnson said Poston told him “she has fired two male CEOs” and told him to reduce his presence in the community and on social media.
In relocating to Cincinnati, he and his family had moved into a home they had purchased and his wife Toya was being interviewed for the top position at a nonprofit here.
“Michael supports United Way of Greater Cincinnati, has committed to assist in the completion of the annual campaign and will assist interim CEO Ross Meyer in transitioning important relationships with key stakeholders to facilitate United Way’s continued participation in the important community dialogue initiated in recent days, which it considers an important role that it can play in the community,’’ the statement reads.
Johnson has been impactful in his short time at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, particularly in focusing on one of the key organizational objectives of his hiring—the expansion of the organization’s outreach to the communities it serves, United Way officials said. In his first 100 days, he connected with over 10,000 people in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and established or strengthened connections to critical constituencies, they said.
Following his 100-day review, United Way did not ask Michael to resign and was surprised to learn of his allegations through his email to the board, the statement said. “The claims of discrimination don’t represent what United Way stands for and it will stand by its actions and those of Julia Poston, a volunteer with a longstanding track record for her work with United Way and the communities it serves.’’
“United Way’s board of directors has a long-standing track record of advancing equality and access that have strengthened Cincinnati and remains committed to this vision,’’ officials said.