Southwest Georgia United's Racist, Condescending, and Counterproductive Leadership Must GO

Southwest Georgia United's Racist, Condescending, and Counterproductive Leadership Must GO

205 have signed. Let’s get to 500!
Petition to
Southwest Georgia United Board President Michael Bowens and

Why this petition matters

Started by Davontae Hunt

Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone, Inc. is incorporated under the laws of the State of Georgia to promote economic opportunity, sustainable development, community based partnerships, affordable housing, and a strategic vision for change to empower communities affected by chronic poverty, economic distress, and social inequity, through the capacity-building , self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurship of their residents in order to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life. 

The corporation also has as its purpose to provide hosing counseling services and promote fair housing; to facilitate the strategic and tactical planning, community involvement, coordination, resource development, technical assistance, and administration necessary to implement community strategic plans; to provide direct services in support of designated communities and their residents; to operate economic development, community development finance, business incubation, workforce development, asset management, affordable housing development, and other businesses and enterprises as may be approved by its Board of Directors in support of the Corporation's purpose and vision; and for the purposes stated in the Corporation's Articles of Incorporation. 

The Empowerment Zone identified the following problems, goals, strategies, and objectives in its 1998 funding application: 

  1. Downtown areas are riddled with abandoned buildings, many of which are in such poor condition as to create a safety problem.
  2. Business climate needs improvement
  3. There is a need for safe, and more comfortable and affordable housing 
  4. Childcare hours of availability need to be increased 
  5. Opportunities for cultural activities are limited 
  6. The scope, proximity and availability of recreational activities are limited
  7. It is perceived that the local governments do not cooperate with one another adequately, resulting in duplication of services. 
  8. There is no public transportation system; the transportation needs of the disabled are not being met. 
  9. The health needs of the disabled are not being met. 
  10. The region has ahigh dropout rate and job skills are low 
  11. Child Abuse, elderly abuse and domestic violence are high
  12. There is a lack of minority leadership skills
  13. Too many youth are abusing drugs, delinquent and becoming pregnant. 
  14. Many welfare recipients still need jobs. 

On May 2, 2022 Southwest Georgia United Executive Director Robert Cooke and Deputy Director Joseph Brown, along with the alliance of disgruntled and compromised team members like: 

  • Lisa Dixon, who is an openly racist Program Assistant who speaks poorly to her counterparts and youth participants in condescending tones that are in direct contrast, not only, the employee handbook of the organization, but to what it means to be apart of the change that this organization was incorporated to conceptualize and usher in.
  •  Interim Program Manager Charlotte Dobbs, who has sat as the leadership of Asset Management and has used her biased allegiance to the organization's leadership to aid them in their mismanagement of funds, and drainage of their majority black tenant base by increasing rates, not attending to hazardous property issues that has affected the health conditions of renters, and used her position to help pressure productive team members to resign in fear of their illegal operations and malpractices being uncovered.
  • Case Manager Cynthia Rodgers who has acted as a liaison to confusion and has shown little to no support for participants within the organization that face real life situations and even racism within the organization and instead of shedding light on the improprieties, due to her unethical practices, she stood silent and continues to stand silent. Cynthia Rodgers and her husband who have been recipients of loan funds and the owner of commercial property that SWGAU has rented with NO usage for 6+ months, yet they have collected funds from the organization with the approval from Executive Director Robert Cooke. (Article x 'Conflict of Interest' Section 3 'Related Persons' states "The prohibition against receiving a financial benefit from a grant project shall apply to the covered individuals and those with whom they have family or business ties, for one (1) year following their tenure in the covered position.") 

In addition, Two employees (Program Manager- Tanya Powell & Placement Specialist- Davontae Hunt) were forced to resign from their positions under duress from threat of termination from Robert Cooke and Joseph Brown. This action is a direct result of insubordinates questioning their leadership, highlighting racial issues, and threatening undertones that have gone unaddressed for years within the organization and the Citizens of Cordele, South Georgia Youth Council (Who are made up of participants within Empowerment Pathways YouthBuild), and other interested parties are relentlessly urging that Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone, Inc. Board of Directors Take immediate action. 

This petition is to urge the Board of Directors to terminate EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY Robert CRooke, Joseph Brown, Lisa Dixon, Charlotte Dobbs, Cynthia Rodgers, and any other team members that do not support the mission and vision of Southwest Georgia United as it relates to the relations of the City of Cordele and any other entity that is affected by the operation of this organization. 

According to the Employee Handbook of Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone, Inc. "No person who is an employee, agent, consultant, officer, board member or elected or appointed official of the Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone and/or Crisp/Dooly Joint Development Authority and who exercises or has exercised any functions or responsibilities with respect to funded activities, or who is in a position to participate in the decision-making process or gain inside information with regard to such activities, may obtain a personal or financial interest or benefit from the activity, or the proceeds thereunder, either for him/herself or for those with whom he/she had family, or business ties during his/her tenure or for one year thereafter. If Any real or apparent conflict of interest exists or occurs in the future, and if an exception is desired, the Executive Director will submit to the JDA and/or the Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone Board of Directors..." For this reason, we are urging the Board of Directors to carry out a Forensic Audit and Independent Business Analysis to better understand and advocate for reasonable fund usage and where funds have gone over the course of the 20 year existence of the program in Crisp/Dooly Counties. 

On March 16, 2022, Program Manager TanYah Powell and Placement Specialist Davontae Hunt instigated a meeting with Executive Director Robert CRooke and Deputy Director Joseph Brown and the results of the meeting was team members being yelled and cursed out by their leadership and even motioned to shut up. Upon the completion of the meeting, which was over a very important matter, there was no resolve and employees began to be harassed, endured racial undertones, and even faced counterproductive work efforts due to the illegitimacy of the Executive and Deputy Director. When the issues and racial actions were addressed by the staff, the Directors saw fit to retaliate against the victims who reported the issue when,  according the Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone, Inc. Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual, "The Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone will not tolerate any of the following actions or any other action which are inconsistent with the Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone's legal and moral  obligations." The policy goes on to say, "Disciplinary actions will be initiated commensurate with the seriousness of the problem up to and including suspension and/or termination." The employees who reported these issues never thought that it meant THEY would be retaliated against or that employees who are loyal to the ED and DD were safe from disciplinary action and the accusers would be threatened. 

In Some form or Fashion, Executive Director Robert CRooke, Deputy Director Joseph Brown, Program Assistant Lisa Dixon, Asset Management Director Charlotte Dobbs, and Case Manager Cindy Rodgers have violated the policies and procedure of Southwest Georgia United including some of the following: 

  • Incompetence or inability to do one's job 
  • Deliberate or negligent failure to perform job duties
  • Failure or refusal to carry out specific order or instruction 
  • Fight or threatening violence in the workplace; use of abusive/threatening language 
  • Insubordination or other disrespectful conduct against a supervisor or management 
  • Engaging in indecent or other unlawful conduct on Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone property at any time or while on assignment by the SWGAU Empowerment Zone. 

The Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual also states that the organization is "committed to providing a work environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and conduct that can be considered harassment, coercive, or disruptive, including actions, emails, words, jokes, comments, based on an individual's sex, race, color, national origin, or any other legally protected characteristics will not be tolerated."   

On May 2, 2022, Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone violated their own Personnel policies and placed underserving pressure and tension on the work place for their staff when the policy states "SWGAU Empowerment Zone is committed to providing the best possible working conditions for its employees. Part of this committment is encouraging an open and frank atmosphere in which an problem, complaint, suggestion, or question receives a timely response from Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone supervisors and management." It goes on to state that the organization "strives to ensure fair and honest treatment of all employees. Supervisors, managers, and employees are expected to treat others with mutual respect. Employees are encouraged to offer positive and constructive criticism." But when questioned with constructive criticism and concerns, Executive Director Robert CRooke and Deputy Director Joseph Brown, thought that it was best to retaliate against team members who have worked hard to change the purposeful negative connotations around the organization throughout the community. Even though, the Manual states, "if an employee disagree with established rules of conduct, policies, or practices, they can express their concerns through the problem resolution procedure. No Employee will be penalized, formally or informally, for voicing their complain with Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone a reasonable, business-like manner, or for using the problem resolution procedure." A procedure that entails a 6 step process, a process that was followed by Program Manager TanYah Powell and Placement Specialist Davontae Hunt, yet they were retaliated against, instead of treated in conjunction to what is stated in the personnel manual.  


Along with not aiding the business community in helping leverage the exposure that minority business receive and the support that is at their disposal, the enhancement of living conditions that their tenants face, the purposeful demise of important relationships and partnerships, the current leadership of Southwest Georgia United is counterproductive and does not represent the community they are supposed to serve. 


This petition is to urge the Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone, Inc. Board President Michael Bowens, the entire Board of Directors, and the Executive Committee to terminate the employment of Robert Cooke, Joseph Brown, Charlotte Dobbs, Lisa Dixon, and Cynthia Rodgers EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY and if the board and its entities do not take action, we the citizens of Cordele are left the believe that those individuals support the tactics and demise of this organization and the people it serves and we will take the appropriate actions. 

205 have signed. Let’s get to 500!