Embattled Whitefish Ministry Says It Will Continue Operating
Whitefish-based Potter’s Field Ministries says it no longer intends to permanently close its doors. The ministry ceased much of its operations this summer following allegations of psychological and emotional abuse. The ministry also faces allegations that it skirted state and federal labor laws.
Potter’s Field released a statement on its website this week saying that it intends to reorganize the ministry rather than shut it down. The ministry closed all of its affiliated Mudman Burger restaurants in the Flathead Valley this summer and shut down its ministry training school and internship program. All that’s left open is a donation program that helps feed children in impoverished countries.
In-house counsel Sharon DiMuro says the ministry initially intended to hand-off the donor program to another nonprofit and shutdown, but she says both nonprofits that make up the ministry need to stay open for at least two years.
"They have to stay long enough for people to bring civil suits, and that’s a two statute of limitations and so you can’t just wave your magic wand and dissolve them."
No lawsuits have been filed so far.
In its online statement, Potter’s Field also says its board chair Rob McCoy will be stepping down. McCoy came in to help the ministry shut down after leaders Mike and Pam Rozell backed away from day-to-day operations. The Rozells are named in many of allegations the ministry faces. They have not spoken publicly and are directing all questions to DiMuro.
DiMuro says the Rozells still maintain their spots on the board and will help guide the reorganization of the ministry.
"For right now, it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. So we’re just keeping it as it is and we're brainstorming is there other ways to bring money in."
DiMuro doesn’t think the ministry will be quite as big as it once was. But former Potter’s Field workers fear that’s exactly what will happen. Kenzie Kinney, who attended the ministry’s missionary school and worked at its Mudman restaurants, says she almost threw up when she read this week’s statement.
"In that moment, felt like nothing was gonna be changed, nothing was gonna be different and they were still gonna do whatever they want."
However, Kinney thinks that local media coverage of allegations against Potter’s Field and ongoing investigations by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry will prevent the ministry from making a full-scale comeback.
"I feel like this community is so, so strong together and so supportive, and I feel like that bridge is just burned."
The state labor department is still investigating agreements Potter’s Field had young adults it called interns sign. The agreements asked them to work 60 or more hours per week with some of those hours being volunteered. The agreements may violate state and federal labor laws. If Potter’s Field becomes liable for the claims, it could shell out nearly $120,000 in unpaid wages.