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CEO resigns after controversial tenure at Hope Villages of America

Under Kirk Ray Smith, the Clearwater nonprofit was sued and lost funding for homeless shelter.
Kirk Ray Smith, president and CEO of Hope Villages of America resigned this week. It comes after every member of a volunteer fundraising committee resigned saying that he "ranted" at them for more than 20 minutes on a video call.
Kirk Ray Smith, president and CEO of Hope Villages of America resigned this week. It comes after every member of a volunteer fundraising committee resigned saying that he "ranted" at them for more than 20 minutes on a video call.
Published Dec. 9, 2022|Updated Dec. 9, 2022

The CEO and president of Hope Villages of America resigned this week, ending an often tumultuous seven-year tenure at the Clearwater nonprofit.

Kirk Ray Smith’s resignation came after board members held an emergency meeting Nov. 28. They met to discuss why all six members of a volunteer committee had resigned after raising $72,000 for The Haven, a women’s shelter run by Hope Villages. Committee members told the Tampa Bay Times in November that Smith “ranted” at them for 20 minutes during a video call, telling them that he should be respected and that he should be treated like the “president of a billion dollar company, or the sheriff.”

A statement released late Thursday from the nonprofit’s governing board said Smith had resigned to pursue other opportunities.

“On behalf of the board of directors, we thank Kirk for his service and wish him the very best in his future endeavors,” the statement read.

Smith could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Related: Clearwater women’s shelter volunteers quit after CEO’s Zoom ‘rant

Melinda Perry, the group’s chief operating officer, will serve as its interim leader. A former executive at the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, she joined Hope Villages in 2017.

“HVA remains fully committed to those facing hunger, serving homeless families, supporting those in need of affordable housing, and addressing abuse,” the statement said. “We are excited to work with Melinda in a new capacity.”

After the resignation of the fundraising committee, the board appeared ready to continue to back Smith. A statement posted on the group’s website and attributed to the board stated, “We stand behind our CEO and executive management team.”

It included a statement from Smith that the comments made by the volunteers were not accurate and they had gone to the media to “tarnish his character.”

Related: Three former workers allege discrimination and retaliation at Pinellas non-profit

Smith was hired by the nonprofit, then known as Religious Community Services of Pinellas, in 2016. In addition to the women’s shelter, it also runs a food bank. It reported raising $11.1 million in contributions and grants in 2018, according to the most recent tax return available. Smith’s salary that year was roughly $117,000.

Under his leadership, the nonprofit was forced to close the county’s largest homeless shelter for families this year after it lost $400,000 in annual funding from the Juvenile Welfare Board, which awards property tax revenues to social service programs. The group voted unanimously in December 2020 to end the contract over concerns about finance and management, including high staff turnover, a lack of sound financial practices and two deaths of occupants from suspected overdoses.

This year, Smith and the group agreed to a confidential settlement after three former female employees claimed in a 2019 lawsuit that he frequently made sexually inappropriate comments. The lawsuit claimed that Smith told female employees they should wear lipstick and appeal to his ego by telling him how nice he looks.

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Related: Women who previously worked for Pinellas CEO echo allegations of discrimination and verbal abuse