Reanetta Hunt eagerly returned to her native state earlier this year to take charge of the Baptist Health Foundation. On her 90th day of employment, two business days after signing off on an audit, she was terminated.
Was Hunt an at-will employee fired for arriving late, running off staffers and arguing about accounting practices? Or was she a by-the-books nonprofit professional fired for trying to get the foundation’s accounts in compliance with legal requirements? That’s the dispute a jury will be asked to settle if the lawsuit Hunt filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court goes to trial.
Hunt and Baptist Health agree on very little about her short tenure. She was offered the $185,000 job on Feb. 7, was added to the payroll on Feb. 21 — even before moving from Chicago to Little Rock in early March — and was terminated on May 21. The condition of the operation that she inherited, her embrace of public roles and the reception she received from the foundation staff are all in dispute.
While Hunt questions why the foundation’s endowment shrank from approximately $60 million to about $30 million between 2012 and 2018, Baptist Health insists that “Baptist Health Foundation spent the money on projects and improvements … that are clearly visible and in use,” and that the expenditures “were the primary reasons the money was raised from donors.”
Through a spokeswoman, Baptist Health declined to comment on the dispute. Hunt is represented by attorneys John W. Walker and Sarah Howard Jenkins, both of Little Rock, but neither responded to calls from Arkansas Business last week.
In the Beginning
Baptist Health advertised for a new chief development officer to succeed Missy Lewis. (According to her LinkedIn profile, Lewis left the position in December after 12 years and is now self-employed as a consultant.) Hunt, who was then CEO of the Chicago State Foundation and interim vice president of advancement at Chicago State University, applied.
Her resume included a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as well as her previous work as a reporter and anchor at KATV-TV in Little Rock.
She interviewed for the position over a three-day period, Jan. 30-Feb. 1, and “expressed her excitement” when she received and accepted a job offer the following week, according to her lawsuit, which was filed June 28.
A March 28 press release announcing her hiring included this quote from Baptist Health President and CEO Troy Wells: “Reanetta brings an incredible depth of experience with more than 25 years working in nonprofit leadership capacities addressing some of the more challenging aspects of development and fundraising. I am convinced that with her proven leadership and vision, Reanetta will bring about innovative, inspiring solutions to some of the specific challenges that are unique to the Baptist Health Foundation.”
Hunt asserts that she was “the consensus candidate among the three interviewed by the Foundation staff,” but Baptist Health appears to deny that part of her narrative in the answer filed by attorney Byron Freeland on July 25.
Whether or not the staff was enthusiastic about Hunt before she was hired, both sides agree that staff changes commenced almost immediately after Hunt arrived in March.
Erin Childress’ move from the foundation staff to the marketing and communication staff had been approved before Hunt’s arrival. Baptist Health says three other foundation staffers resigned in April “because of [Hunt’s] behavior and conduct.” They were Amanda Smith, a part-time program manager; Emily Ryan, a full-time grants prospect manager working remotely from Texas; and Greg Orewa, the staff accountant.
As soon as she arrived in Little Rock, Baptist Health asserts, Hunt “began alienating and offending the staff of Baptist Health Foundation and the employees of Baptist Health with whom she came into contact.”
Hunt’s lawsuit described Smith and Ryan as close friends of her predecessor and says Orewa resigned in order to move to Alabama and pursue a doctorate. Orewa’s LinkedIn profile says he has been an accountant for the United Way of Central Alabama in Birmingham since June.
It was Orewa, Hunt says in the lawsuit, who made her aware that the foundation’s endowment “shrank from approximately $60 million in 2012 to approximately $30 million in 2018” and that “the Foundation was unable to track those fund or funds raised during the recent capital campaign.”
In its response, Baptist Health said foundation assets were spent on the projects for which they were raised. “Defendants can account for every dollar of the Baptist Health endowment funds spent on the projects at Baptist Health,” the response says.
Baptist Health also denied another of Hunt’s claims: that she had to order two-signature checks to replace single-signature checks that she said were routinely used by Doug Weeks, Baptist’s executive vice president, and others for foundation payables.
“Defendants used a two-signature approval system for all checks,” Baptist said. “Defendants never use a one-signature check as alleged by the Plaintiff.”
Hunt said she “met by phone” with external auditors from BKD LLP for approximately two hours on the afternoon of Friday, May 17, and was immediately asked to sign off on the annual audit due to a “time crunch.” She agreed to do so “if BKD provided her with copies of all the documentation it received” from the Baptist Health accounting staff.
The following Tuesday, she was fired. “Was the purported ‘time crunch’ BKD referred to Ms. Hunt’s looming termination?” her complaint asks. “Defendants deny that any documents signed by the Plaintiff were used for any purpose by BKD in connection with the audit of Defendants,” Baptist Health responded.
As chief development officer, Hunt was the top fundraiser and was expected to be the face of Baptist Health Foundation.
But her lawsuit and Baptist’s response suggest significant miscommunication about the job. For instance, Hunt says she was never told that she needed to be at the office at 8 a.m. every day, but the work hours were on the job description that she included as an exhibit in her lawsuit.
She apparently believed that she didn’t need to be present throughout the Bolo Bash fundraising events in April, but her absence from “most” of those events was reported to Doug Weeks, Baptist Health’s executive vice president, and cited when she was terminated.
Baptist Health Foundation Inc. by the Numbers
As of Dec. 31
|Net assets without donor restrictions||$14,781,683||$13,346,462|
|Net assets with donor restrictions||$19,305,301||$19,535,978|
|Total net assets||$34,086,984||$32,882,440|
|Contributions without donor restrictions||$445,644||$594,054|
|Contributions with donor restrictions||$2,538,252||$2,014,254|
|Change in net assets||-11,340,008||-1,204,544|