Big changes come to Center board

Center of Anna Maria Island
The Center of Anna Maria Island has experienced a shakeup on its board of directors, opening a rift among members and prompting calls for a review of the nonprofit’s finances. - Kristin Swain | Sun

ANNA MARIA — The Center of Anna Maria Island is weathering more than a little upheaval of its board of directors.

Board Chair Bill Shuman resigned as chair June 12, electing to remain on the board as a member. Center Executive Director Kristen Lessig said Shuman’s reasons for resigning were primarily his health due to the stress of the position and scrutiny from the community.

“It weighs on him,” she said.

The move placed Vice Chair Patty McBean in the interim chair position and caused a rift between board members, as she was usurped by newly-minted board member David Zaccagnino in an emergency vote. Zaccagnino joined the Center board in April.

Events began unraveling when an emergency meeting was called June 12, attended by 12 board members with four attending by telephone. The meeting was not open to the public.

During that meeting, McBean made a number of suggestions as part of a plan to help the Center get a better hold on its finances. The plan was to allow the board to closely analyze finances to help the nonprofit better operate within its means and understand the Center’s sources of revenue and expenditures.

As a part of the plan, McBean requested copies of all of the Center’s credit accounts, employee expenses and bank statements for the board. She also suggested the Center’s budget be cut by $20,000 per month and the board review all employee benefit packages.

The next day, according to McBean, she met with former board member Mike Coleman. During that meeting, “Coleman told me I need to step down as chair and let David Zaccagnino be the chair to instill confidence in the board.”

She added that Coleman said that if she stepped down in a timely manner he would give $10,000 to the Center. Zaccagnino called this a “lobbying effort,” but McBean, who refused to step down, said she felt threatened. Minutes from that meeting also show that Shuman confirmed his resignation as chair.

Lessig said she has released some requested information to board members, including account passwords, to allow for board review of finances.

Part of the discussions during the Jan. 12 meeting included how or if the Center should use its endowment fund to help the nonprofit work through its financial problems and assist in building reserves before adding funds back into the endowment.

While the Center considers whether or not to use endowment funds, McBean suggested putting the funds in an escrow account until a board committee can scrutinize the finances.

McBean also said she feels that using the endowment funds should be a “last resort.” Instead, she hopes the board upholds its commitment to study the finances before accessing the funds.

Though she didn’t seek to be board chair, McBean said she felt very strongly that the Center’s finances need to be scrutinized and someone “needs to be held accountable for making sure that happens.”

Lessig said there is a plan in place to provide the board with a forensic accounting of the Center’s revenue and expenditures once the fiscal year ends June 30. The nonprofit has hired the Certified Public Accountant firm of Kerkering, Barberio and Co. of Sarasota to do an in-depth analysis of the books in conjunction with the Center’s accountant, Laura Chirichigno. The audit is expected to take several weeks to complete.

Use of the endowment funds is still a matter under consideration by the board with the leadership of its new chair, Zaccagnino.

Zaccagnino was elected in a 10-4 vote conducted via email after the June 12 meeting. In accordance with the Center’s bylaws, the vote will be confirmed at the board’s June 21 meeting.

While he didn’t seek the position, Zaccagnino said he hopes to bring stability to the board and help mend rifts between board members.

“We all have the same goals, to see the Center succeed,” he said. Additionally, Zaccagnino said he hopes to shift the board’s focus from his hasty election to the budget process currently underway. Both Zaccagnino and Lessig said they’re encouraged by the work being done to help cut expenses and identify revenue sources.

“Exciting things are coming in the next fiscal year,” Lessig said.

Though the June 21 meeting is closed, an open meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 28, at the Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Lessig also addressed concerns that she is buying drinks for people at local watering holes and taking others out on party cruises and using Center money to pay for it all. She said such rumors are “totally false.”

“We’re operating very leanly right now,” she said. “Right now it’s important to get a handle on the budget.”

Zaccagnino said he hopes that once the new budget is in place and the audit is complete, the Center will have a sustainable financial plan to show its “strength” to the Island community.