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Leadership At Emanuel Hard Pressed To Dispel Criticism
10/14/2015 2:56:02 PM

Rev. Norvell Goff at Mother Emanuel AME Church
By Barney Blakeney

Emanuel AME Church interim Pastor Rev. Norvel Goff Oct. 7 attempted to dispel critics who question his administration and the church’s handling of millions of dollars donated after the June 17 massacre of nine members at Bible study. Prompted by a Oct. 3 news article published by the Post And Courier that called into question Goff’s past handling of finances at previous church assignments, Goff held a press conference that may not be enough to satisfy some of the critics.

The Post And Courier report noted accusations from members of two churches Goff previously pastored who claim he engaged in financial undertakings that left them with concerns. The article included comments from members at Baber AME Church in Rochester, N.Y. who say Goff left the church with unofficially incurred debt and never repaid large sums of money borrowed from a deceased member. Members at Reid Chapel in Columbia say Goff also left them with debt.

But criticism also comes from members of Emanuel who say Goff and some church members are conspiring to bilk the fund that has amassed since the June 17 massacre at the church. Several have contacted The Chronicle to voice concern donations are not being handled properly despite assurances from the administration and its representatives.

Cash donations especially, are in question. The church has not publicly announced how much has been donated or how those funds are to be distributed.

Flanked by church leaders and officials, Goff on Wednesday denounced his critics saying some members of past congregations, using the tragedy at Emanuel, are seeking notoriety with undocumented accusations. He said he never received any personal loans from any member at Baber and incurred no church debts outside the regular confines of church protocol.

He said critics at Emanuel later will be called out by name to answer for their treachery.

Also at Wednesday’s press conference attorney Wilbur Johnson, hired as legal counsel in the church’s accounting of the donations, said from the outset the church has sought “to do the right thing” and to maintain a certain level of transparency. Though a narrative is occurring that indicates something inappropriate is happening, he’s seen no evidence of any inappropriate conduct on the part of the church, Johnson said.

Stathis Poulos, an accountant with the global firm BDO hired to oversee the accounting process, said there literally are thousands of donations to be accounted which were received over several months. The church has provided all the information his company has requested, Poulos said adding, “The biggest mistake you can do is to rush.”

Norvel said the church will not rush its process although the City of Charleston recently announced it will disperse donations it has received. The city announced last month it already has begun disbursement of the $2.3 million it received for the Emanuel Hope Fund.

Two weeks ago attorneys for the husband of Cynthia Hurd who was killed in the massacre, filed a lawsuit asking the court to prevent the church from making any disbursements from the donations until a full accounting of the donations are completed and that information is made available. Norvel said the accounting should be completed in the next few weeks. He said he does not know how much has been donated.

Norvel’s responses may not be enough for some who continue their criticism. Tyrone Sanders, who’s wife, son, granddaughter and aunt were victims of the massacre asked why church leaders have not provided spiritual counseling to his wife and granddaughter who survived the killing or to others in his family.

And while some critics have been leery about public condemnation of Norvel and other administrators, many privately continue accusations of impropriety and distance themselves from the process.

Goff said he won’t stand for any personal character assassination and reiterated the accounting and disbursement process will be completed soon.

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