Councilmember Carlos Garcia, resigns from Puente Human Rights Movement
A leadership crisis at Puente Human Rights Movement is threatening to shut the doors of the nonprofit after 14 years of support for immigrants, civil rights and police reform.
Its two executive directors resigned in October. Phoenix Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia and Jovana Renteria, both co-founders of the Phoenix-based nonprofit, stepped down.
Sharon Zapata, one of three board members, confirmed the resignations and said another interim leader was in place although she wouldn’t name the person.
Phoenix activists founded the nonprofit in 2007, launching protests and lawsuits as recently as September to fight against policies that hurt the undocumented community, and helping propel Garcia’s career from activist to council member. The nonprofit offers services including legal help, a food bank, and a youth program that instructs children on matters like how to protest against school resource officers. It owns a former church and two-story building near 19th Avenue and Adams Street.
It was not immediately clear what was behind the recent drama.
At least some employees have been let go, according to May Tiwamangkala, one of those workers.
Tiwamangkala said she was told the nonprofit was “shutting down.” Zapata did not directly refute the idea but implied that significant changes were imminent.
“We’re working with our membership, who represent the community, to make a plan for the next steps,” Zapata told The Arizona Republic. “I don’t think we need to disband. I think there are some different options. We want to make sure our work, especially with the immigrant community, will go forward.”
Zapata said answers for the public about changes at Puente may come next week, “maybe Tuesday.”
The nonprofit had assets of nearly $1 million in 2019, the most recently available online IRS tax forms show. Garcia was named as the “principal officer” of the group, working 40 hours a week and making just over $32,000 in salary as executive director, according to the 2019 records.
Renteria didn’t respond to The Republic’s request for comment.
It’s unclear when she became co-executive director, but she included that title in a May 2020 email to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego on behalf of Puente, and has used it since. Before that, she was Puente’s legal director.
Garcia, who took office as Phoenix councilmember in June 2019, sent a short response to The Republic’s questions about what happened, confirming he left his Puente position last month.
“My departure was always part of the plan as I transitioned to my new role,” Garcia said by text. “Jovana did tremendous work for over a decade. Organizations have cycles and I’m excited for the members to figure out next steps.”
Garcia didn’t respond to a question about why his departure came around the same time as Renteria’s.
Tiwamangkala, the former Puente worker, said Renteria hired her about six months ago as part of a “restructuring” of the nonprofit to expand its membership and services. Her duties included community organizing based on criminal justice issues.
“We all believed in the vision she had of Puente, and she had our 100 percent support and trust,” she said.
But after Renteria unexpectedly resigned, Tiwamangkala heard from a board member that Puente was closing. Tiwamangkala and four colleagues were told their positions had been eliminated. She’s now looking for another job.
“We were all at the peak of our careers and set long-term goals and obligations revolving around us being with Puente,” she said.