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Financial woes plague TACOLCY

CEO Taj Brown says agency ‘ain’t going nowhere’

Erick Johnson | 6/23/2014, 12:24 p.m.

Concerns are growing over the future of the Belafonte TACOLCY Center as allegations concerning mounting debts, staff terminations and financial instability threaten to end the Liberty City agency that has stood for nearly half of a century.

Last August, a small community group, known as The Concerned Citizens for the Preservation of TACOLCY, mounted a campaign to oust Chief Executive Officer Taj Brown and the board of directors, accusing them of financial mismanagement.

“Our concern is that TACOLCY doesn’t become another JESCA,” said Bettye Stokeling, a spokesman for the group, who was referring to the 80-year-old community service agency that went bankrupt in 2009. “We want to know what’s going on with TACOLCY.”

Calls for new leadership at the agency have intensified recently as support for Brown continues to weaken amidst reported clashes between himself and various employees who were either terminated or resigned. Many of them have questioned the center’s financial problems and Brown’s leadership style. They describe Brown as a “bully” who creates a hostile work environment. They say Brown has been this way since he succeeded former CEO Alison Austin who left in in February 2013.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Since the allegations came to light, TACOLCY officials have been silent over the center’s financial condition. But an email released by former chief operating officer Hesterline Hall showed TACOLCY had thousands of dollars in unpaid bills and no money to pay employees. Hall said in her email that a $15,000 grant was intended to fund a new senior literacy program but went to cover payroll instead. Sources said Hall grew frustrated with Brown who ignored her warnings that the agency was spending more money than the center was generating.

Sources said times are so tough TACOLCY recently implemented cutbacks including basic supplies, like toilet paper.

“I couldn’t order pens and other supplies, but I thought nothing of it because many non-profits were hit hard by the recent recession,” said Stephen Gilmore, a former assistant care coordinator who said he was terminated May 19, the same day Hall reportedly left TACOLCY.

“I think he (Brown) had a hidden agenda for firing me,” said Gilmore, who complained of being “bullied” and “harassed” by Brown on several occasions during his employment.

According to documents obtained online by The Miami Times, records show the City of Miami pays the center $86,675 to operate a recreational sports and cultural awareness program for young adults. Miami-Dade County gave $65,000 in grants from 2012 to February 2014.

Sources said that another employee, Debra Manning, resigned after the board decided not to fire Brown last August amid allegations that Brown used $8,000 of TACOLCY’s funds to rent a car and pay for gasoline and other expenses.

COUNTY INVESTIGATION

That’s when Miami-Dade’s Office of the Inspector General got involved. The OIG opened an investigation into the center’s alleged practices, according to former employees and board members. The Times was unable to confirm this since the OIB does not comment on any inquiries as part of their policy.

Stokeling’s group has issued a five-point demand, “part of a plan to preserve” TACOLCY. The demand includes firing Brown and replacing board members who are the subject of any investigation.