Emotions ran high last week as the Anna Maria Island Community Center board members and directors heard from the public about how to address the recent allegations of sexual abuse at the center.
"We, all of us, can use this opportunity to heal and to make things better," said Ed Moss, who served as moderator. Moss is pastor at Crosspointe Fellowship.
Executive Director Pierrette Kelly gave a timeline in which she went over the sequence of events involving allegations that a staff member had sex with a 17-year old girl and sent inappropriate text messages to that girl and also a 14-year old girl.
"I was so shocked when I heard about this," Kelly said to the audience at the April 21 meeting. "I immediately talked it over with Scott (AMICC Director Scott Dell.) We called the Abuse Hotline and placed the staff member on administrative leave."
Kelly said the center has long had policies and procedures in place to deal with just this kind of situation.
As Kelly continued outlining what happened when, she noted that a board member had known of the allegations at least two weeks before Kelly found out.
A staff member also knew about the allegations.
"He told the kids to wait until after the Affiaire, and then they could all go out to dinner and discuss the situation," Kelly said.
Under Florida law, both the staff and board members are in a custodial relationship with children who use the Center, and thus are required to report allegations to the Department of Children and Family Services.
Sandy Mattick, who brought the issue to light on April 1, first went to see Mayor Mike Selby. Selby called the city attorney and Sgt. Dave Turner, who commands the Manatee County Sheriff's sub-station in Anna Maria.
Selby then called Kelly and asked her to come to his office.
Mattick said at Turner's request she wrote a letter outlining the allegations she said she'd heard from her daughter. Mattick was upset that Kelly copied her letter of complaint and handed it out to AMICC staff members.
"You promised me confidentiality," Mattick told Kelly. "My daughter got a text message in school just an hour after the meeting with the mayor. She was devastated that I had reported what she confided to me."
Kelly said she probably had violated Mattick's privacy.
Policies and procedures
There were questions about policies and procedures for handling allegations of sexual abuse.
"If you read these policies and procedures, you can't help but see that they deal with sexual harassment among staff members," said Chris Tollette. "There's nothing in here about the safety of children.
"I'm appalled about what's going on here. How can you open a center where children come and not have a risk management policy in place? I'm outraged."
Tollette told the AMICC directors and board members that they should be ashamed of themselves for not even noticing that there was no real child protection policy in place.
Board Member David Teitelbaum responded to Tollette:
"I am," he said. "I'm ashamed of myself and of all of us. We should have known and we should have done something."
Cindy Thompson, president of the Island Chamber of Commerce and the owner of a day care center, said she also thinks that the Center's policies are lacking.
"You need a risk management policy," she said. "You need to work with those policies all the time. You need to practice. It does no good to have policies and procedures gathering dust in the files. You have to make sure your staff knows them so well that they automatically do what they're supposed to in a case like this."
Thompson said she agreed with Tollette and was surprised there were no risk management rules in place.
"The risk management in the Community Center is fine," said Brian Stephenson, a commercial lines account executive with Boyd Insurance and Investment Services. Tollette responded that risk management policies and procedures for the protection of children are different from the risk management policies an insurance company would consider sufficient.
Members of the board agreed that a risk management policy is necessary and that policies and procedures need to be rewritten.
Board Chair Greg Ross asked Thompson and anyone else who has expertise to join the board or to help advise them as new policies and procedures are drawn up.