3 Leaders Quit Effort To Aid Gulf Churches

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006

The two most prominent members of an interfaith committee set up to distribute $20 million to churches affected by Hurricane Katrina abruptly resigned in recent days, saying their grant-making decisions were being undermined by the directors of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Rev. William H. Gray III, co-chairs of Interfaith Advisory Committee, submitted their resignations late last week. Another committee member, the Rev. William J. Shaw, said by telephone that he resigned over the weekend; he declined to comment further.

Gray said board directors and staff members of the Katrina Fund -- established by former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- would agree with the committee's recommendations in meetings and then do the opposite. He said that he, Jakes and Shaw resigned when the staff sent $35,000 to a church without their knowledge, then refused to explain why. That particular church had not been inspected to determine its need, Gray said.

In his resignation letter to the fund's co-chairs, Donald L. Evans and Alexis M. Herman, Jakes wrote that he could not "continue to participate in an initiative that ignores my recommendations, decisions and opinions." He implored them to verify the authenticity of each claim before doling out funds.

"We would make recommendations and the staff would say yes, and without consultation they would change everything," Gray said. "The bottom line is Bishop Jakes and I agreed we're no rubber stamp."

Herman, a labor secretary in the Clinton administration, confirmed that the three men have left the committee. "We appreciate the leadership that these individuals gave to this effort," she said in a statement. "They were instrumental in getting it off the ground. We are continuing to follow through."

Jakes, Gray and Shaw were the committee's marquee names. Jakes, pastor of the 30,000-member Potter's House in Dallas, has been named as a possible successor to the Rev. Billy Graham. Gray, a former congressman, recently presided over the United Negro College Fund. Shaw is president of the National Baptist Convention, an organization of black churches.

Gray said that as many as eight of the committee's nine members submitted resignation letters, but that could not be verified. Evans, a former commerce secretary, and Herman have been in meetings with committee members, encouraging them to remain.

The interfaith committee of preachers, rabbis and Muslim clerics was created late last year to advise the Katrina Fund on how to distribute money to devastated Gulf Coast churches.

The panel had meetings with ministers in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Ministers said their churches were devastated, and that tens of thousands of their members were in shelters and apartments nationwide.

The committee set a grant ceiling of $35,000, helped draw up applications and inspected the churches of ministers who said they were in need. Later, the committee agreed that a higher limit of $200,000 was needed.

Gray said the committee had hoped to start distributing money in the spring, but that decision was delayed until this month as the new funding ceiling was approved and applications were processed.

But the president of the fund's board, Mary Ann Wyrsch, disagreed with the new cap, Gray said. He said the board wanted to stay with the original maximum, regardless of the committee's decision. It was around that time that a minister called, thanking the committee for $35,000.

"That's how we found out," Gray said. "I have no idea how many checks were sent out. The information was refused to us and our staff. Why, I don't know."

The Katrina Fund's managers said they were not in a position to immediately respond to Gray's allegations, other than to release Herman's statement. They said a fuller explanation is forthcoming.

Gray said that he and Jakes feared their reputations might be stained if the fund delivered money to churches that did not deserve it.

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