TACOLCY CEO ousted, decision applauded by some

Erick Johnson | 7/24/2014, 11:49 a.m.

Taj Brown is out of the Belafonte TACOLCY Center, but The Miami Times has learned that the CEO aimed to create a charter school next to the venerable institution, a proposal that worried longtime supporters and patrons.

The revelations come in the wake of Brown’s departure at TACOLCY amid allegations of financial mismanagement and high turnover at the Liberty City agency that’s nearly 50 years old.

A group of residents known as The Concerned Citizens for the Preservation of TACOLCY, has been calling for Brown’s removal since a whistleblower complaint was filed last August, alleging that TACOLCY ’s management was mishandling funds. The complaint sparked an ongoing investigation by Miami-Dade’s Office of the Inspector General. Residents celebrated the news of Brown’s departure.

“I am very happy with this decision,” said Bettye Stokeling, a spokesman for the group. “By removing (Brown), this will help the center move forward.”

Acula Scott, another member of the group, agreed.

“This is a big step in the right direction,” Scott said. “TACOLCY can begin to heal from the scars that were left.”

According to Lara De Souza, deputy director of administration for the City of Miami Parks and Recreation, Brown tried to have a for-profit charter school at TACOLCY which some feared would have changed the identity and culture of the agency.

Between March 6 and May 1, Brown had several meetings with city officials to discuss plans to build a charter school at TACOLCY, according to De Souza. For two years, the school would only include up to 250 children in kindergarten to second grade while a permanent building is being built to host a full charter school net to the center.

TACOLCY Treasurer Hattie Willis, Elaine Black, President of the Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust were among several other who attended the discussions, according to the De Souza.

Sources say an investor from the New York-Pennsylvania area was also in on the discussions.

De Souza said the meetings aimed to address specific zoning laws and legal aspects of the proposal.

There were also questions on whether a charter school should be allowed to operate temporarily in a park.

The last meeting ended with recommendations that the group speak with a city commissioner before getting city approval to waive certain requirements.