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A petition circulating through Utah's gay community is calling for greater accountability at the Utah AIDS Foundation, citing concerns over the leadership of its Executive Director Stan Penfold, who is also a Salt Lake City councilman.
The petition demands an immediate review of Penfold's performance by the foundation board and cites the need for "clear rules" separating his duties as an elected city leader from his agency responsibilities.
"Hours worked for the City Council should not be billed to Utah AIDS Foundation (UAF) if there is no clear reason why the two responsibilities overlap in a specific arena," the petition states.
Critics say Penfold is often absent from the office, and when he is there, his attention appears to be more focused on city business, rather than the needs of the foundation, which provides free HIV testing, sexual health and prevention education for the public and medical professionals and runs a food bank and other services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Penfold denies being an absentee leader and said he devotes more than 40 hours a week to the foundation.
Not everyone agrees.
"I think the foundation does great work, but I think it could be even better and could better meet the community's needs with better leadership," said Brian Rogers, a former AIDS Foundation prevention coordinator and the author of the petition. "[Stan] is largely absent in terms of his leadership."
As of Thursday, nearly 250 people had signed the petition found online at bit.do/StrongerUAF which launched about two weeks ago after Ben Holdaway, a programming director, was fired.
UAF board Chairman Todd Olsen said he was familiar with the petition's assertions and said the board would review concerns raised by organizers if they provide a copy.
"We are always interested in how we can improve our organization," he said. "So if we see something that we feel will benefit us, we will put it in place."
Olsen said the board has no concerns about the way Penfold uses his time or manages the dual responsibilities of being UAF's executive director and a city councilman, a post the board believes benefits UAF.
Olsen said the board is preparing to do its annual performance review of Penfold and understood that such reviews have occurred on a regular basis over his 18 years with UAF.
Penfold said he was trying to "sort through" the criticism to look for information and feedback that could help the foundation.
"I find it a lot like politics," he said. "Even when people are really angry with you, there's a piece of that that can be helpful."
Penfold has been the AIDS foundation's director since 1999. Tax records for 2015 show the foundation had a budget of just under $990,000, with Penfold drawing a salary of $68,000. The foundation runs on state and federal funding, along with grants and donations.
Penfiold is serving a second term on the City Council representing neighborhoods near the state Capitol and the upper Avenues. When he first ran for the post in 2009, and again when he stood for re-election, Penfold said he held "very deliberate" conversations with board members about what that would mean for the foundation.
"They totally gave me their blessing," he said.
Penfold acknowledged that his council duties have reduced his hours at the foundation, but said that in the past he routinely worked 60 or more hours a week. Penfold said he now spends about 45 or more hours on UAF matters and 20 or more on city business a claim The Salt Lake Tribune can't independently verify.
"Tuesdays are pretty much City Council days," he said. "But I'm still accessible."
Not all of Penfold's working hours for the foundation are in the office, he said. "My job is to be in the community," he said.
But critics, including the fired Holdaway, say Penfold doesn't do enough to promote UAF and had at times discouraged partnerships with other community groups working on AIDS prevention and sexual health.
"I think by not being visible in the community, people don't know the great work that the Utah AIDS Foundation is doing," Holdaway said.
Holdaway said he wasn't given a reason for his termination, but he believes it may be tied to a recent, private fundraiser for another nonprofit. The foundation, he said, was there providing sexual-health education in a sexually risqué environment. That may have been a concern, Holdaway said, as Penfold had in the past skipped some events with more overt sexual themes.
"I don't think he's prudish," Holdaway said. "I think he's a city councilman" concerned about the impact on his public image.
Penfold said he could not respond to Holdaway's statements because of privacy concerns, but added that UAF carefully documents its decisions related to personnel matters.
Rogers said the petition's goal is not to push Penfold out, but for the foundation to adopt accountability practices that are consistent with other nonprofits. That includes an annual evaluation of the executive director, no matter who it is.
"My understanding is that [Penfold] hasn't had one of those in 15 years," he said.
That claim is untrue, Penfold said. "One of the challenges of an organization is that just because one person isn't aware of an employee evaluation for another person doesn't mean that it isn't happening."
The petition also asks for the board to enact policies that require specific annual performance benchmarks for the director, annual goal-setting for fundraising, programming growth and client services for the foundation as a whole and reviews of board-member performance every two years.
It also asks the board to limit a director's term to five years and states that UAF needs a director who can provide the agency with a "clear vision" for client and community programming that strengthens and expands the foundation's reach and services.
Penfold said he does not object to those sort of organizational goals.
"They make sense and some of those best practices are already in place," he said.