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TACOLCY’S CEO cancels meeting

Residents and activists planned to address mismanagement allegations

Erick Johnson | 6/26/2014, 9 a.m.

TACOLCY CEO Taj Brown and board members cancelled a meeting Friday with concerned community residents who are seeking answers to allegations of financial mismanagement at the Liberty City institution.

The meeting, which was scheduled at 9 a.m. at TACOLCY, was to form a Community Advisory Council, where residents would meet with leaders four times a year to offer input on issues and concerns to the CEO and TACOLCY board members.

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Taj Brown

But one day after an article about TACOLCY’S financial woes appeared in The Miami Times, Brown sent an email to the Miami Times informing the paper that the meeting has been cancelled. The letter read: “An article written on Wednesday, June 18 described our very positive and forward-thinking community engagement initiative as an expected “showdown” between TACOLCY’s leadership and a small group. To that end, we have decided to cancel the planned meeting.”

The letter did not say when the meeting was rescheduled.

Brown did not return a phone call and an email sent by The Times. In last week’s story, he defended TACOLCY and criticized the center’s detractors calling them “disgruntled” former employees who want him removed over frivolous allegations.

Brown’s letter referred to a story in The Times, which reported on growing concerns from residents and the group Citizens for the Preservation of TACOLCY who were planning to attend the meeting. They intended to confront Brown about the agency's finances and other issues at TACOLCY, which has experienced unusually high turnover in the past year with terminations and resignations of employees who have accused Brown of mishandling funds at the agency.

The group expressed fears that TACOLCY may be suffering the same fate as JESCA, the venerable, 80-year old agency that went bankrupt in 2009 after years of corruption and financial mismanagement.

At TACOLCY, one former executive accused Brown of ignoring warnings of excessive spending that left the agency crippled and unable to pay bills worth thousands of dollars. A $15,000 grant was allegedly used to cover payroll instead of funding a new senior literacy program. Staff members were allegedly told to cut back on purchasing basic necessities, including toilet paper and office supplies.

The problems peaked last August when a whistleblower reported TACOLCY to Miami-Dade County’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which opened an investigation into the alleged financial problems. The unnamed whistleblower alerted the OIG after board members voted to keep Brown as CEO despite allegations that he used $8,000 of TACOLCY’s funds to rent a car and pay other expenses.

But new concerns emerged Friday as several parents showed up at TACOLCY, unaware that the meeting had been cancelled. They expressed their dissatisfaction over several athletic programs that are allegedly running short on equipment and supplies. Many say they held numerous fundraisers, including car washes and baked sales to help with program expenses. Parents also said youth at TACOLCY do not go on as many field trips as in years past, although the financial recession may have played a role in those cutbacks.

Stroma MacDonna is a longtime patron whose 26 year involvement with TACOLCY included times when the agency had a day care center. She said her 27-year-old daughter has been enrolled in the agency’s many after-school programs since she was teenager.

“I just hope whatever is going on doesn’t hurt the kids,” said MacDonna. “I don’t want anything taken away from the kids. I don’t mind doing fundraisers, but I invested too much time here to allow something like this to happen. I just need to know some answers.”

“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Latoya Lawrence, another longtime patron of TACOLCY. “How could this meeting be cancelled? This has to get resolved right away.”

Bettye Stokeling, the leader of the Citizens’ for the Preservation of TACOLCY, said her group is drafting a letter requesting a town hall meeting with City of Miami officials.

“We’re going to put something together and see what happens from there,” she said.