More than 50 members of the Island community attended a meeting with board members of the Anna Maria Island Community Center April 21 to discuss alleged incidents between a center employee and female teens at the center. Moderator Ed Moss of Crosspointe Fellowship listens to board member Monica Simpson. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Anna Maria Island Community Center executive director Pierrette Kelly received the brunt of the accusations at a hastily called meeting between concerned parents and board members April 21. Several people at the meeting called for her resignation.
The meeting was called by the board with only a day’s notice to discuss center policies and procedures and to take public input after Kelly was notified that a staff member had sex with a juvenile under his care.
Andy Jonatzke, a 10-year employee became the subject April 1 of a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigation into alleged sexual activity with a juvenile and text messages that are alleged to be of a sexual nature with several girls.
Moderator Ed Moss, pastor of the CrossePointe Fellowship, said the meeting was “not to negate the pain we are feeling,” but to be “excited about the opportunity for us to educate our young people.” The board would use the meeting experience “for the greater good” and the board members would respond to questions, Moss said.
First, however, Kelly gave the audience a timeline of events.
She said was shocked when she was informed April 1 by Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby and Sandy Mattick that an employee allegedly had sexual relations with a 17-year-old female at the center.
“All the things I had feared the past 22 years were happening” after she heard of the allegations, Kelly said.
She said she followed procedure and filed a police report. She then placed Jonatzke on administrative leave to await the MCSO investigation.
Kelly said she then informed assistant director Scott Dell and other employees about the report.
But Mattick protested that she gave Kelly information in confidence, and Kelly promised her she would maintain that confidentiality.
However, Kelly, who first said she had not revealed Mattick’s involvement, quickly admitted she told chief operating officer Scott Dell about Mattick’s input. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I believe now I told some people your name in explaining the circumstances.”
Kelly said she next spoke to the mother of the 17-year-old who had been a participant in activities at the center about the accusation, but said she didn’t think she used Mattick’s name at that time.
But the center could not investigate the incident on its own, Dell told the audience. “We have to follow the lead of the MCSO, or we could have been accused of bias or cover-up. We are not detectives.”
Unfortunately, said Kelly, there were “a million different stories” about what had taken place between the employee and the girl.
The board then decided to conduct its own investigation into the allegations, along with a review of its policies and procedures for staff supervision of juveniles.
The MCSO dropped its investigation after the 17-year-old denied to its deputies any sexual activity took place.
Jonatzke resigned April 8 without returning from his leave, and the board was left with no investigation, Kelly said.
Mattick said she was upset Kelly violated her confidentiality when she informed Dell and the 17-year-old’s mother of her complaint. She said Kelly assured her she would not use her name, yet Mattick said she saw her name on the MCSO report.
As a result, Mattick said, within a few hours, her daughter and all the youths at the center knew who reported the allegations. Her daughter came home crying, Mattick said, claiming that some of her peers told her she should have kept her mouth shut. Mattick also said her daughter told her that later at the center most of the staff gave her the “cold shoulder.”
Mattick had learned of the alleged sexual activity and inappropriate texting from her daughter, who routinely participated in activities at the center. Her daughter also said a board member was told months ago about the allegations, but did not report them to anyone.
Even though it was all third-party reports,” I knew I had to report it,” Mattick said.
The matter might have ended for the center administration with Jonatzke’s resignation, but Dell said he and Kelly then learned of potentially inappropriate text messages by Jonatzke to other teen girls, and that those also were being investigated by the MCSO.
Mattick, however, was neither accepting a “sorry” nor an assurance from board chair Greg Ross that the board would review its policies and procedures related to risk management.
“I feel Kelly should resign,” Mattick said.
There are no risk management policies at the center regarding how staff interact with the juveniles, she said, only a sexual harassment policy between staff members. And there is no policy on staff texting or using Facebook with youths at the center about subjects other than center activities, she said.
Furthermore, Mattick added, the center had offered no outside guidance counselors to talk with her daughter or the other girls who verified the text messages from Jonatzke and had been “harassed” by staff and other kids.
An anonymous voice in the audience said, “This is the sort of thing causes teens to commit suicide.”
Mattick also was upset to learn there is no training for board members and that a board member knew of the allegations regarding Jonatzke before Mattick reported them, but said nothing to Kelly or Dell.
Former Anna Maria City Commissioner Christine Tollette agreed.
“How do you open a center without risk management policies in place as it relates to children?” Tollette asked Kelly. Tollette said it was “almost criminal” to have no background checks on volunteers at the center who come in daily contact with youth.
Kelly was “derelict” in her duties and should resign, Tollette said. “Safeguarding our children should be her main concern.”
But Kelly had supporters at the meeting who disagreed.
Board member Monica Simpson, a single mother, said she would have moved from the community were it not for the center and Kelly. She was moved to tears by the accusations against Kelly.
“I can’t believe we are so divided right now. The purpose of this meeting was not to bash people. It hurts me to see us so divided,” Simpson said to a round of applause.
Pat Seymore, a mother with three children who attend center activities, praised Kelly for her services, but said she’s been concerned lately that “somewhere along the way, it became all about the money.”
She said Kelly spends a lot of time writing funding grants or focusing on fundraising activities.
“All I hear from the kids is that the staff is concerned about money. People don’t trust this place because money is more important,” she said.
Kelly, however, is still doing a great job, she indicated.
“Pierrette Kelly has integrity. I’m grateful she is here,” Seymore said, again drawing applause.
Others in the audience said the center needs a strict policy of confidentiality, a policy on social networking between staff and youths, and staff and board members need training in dealing with children and teens.
Tollette said the center should “role play” what a staff member should do when hearing about inappropriate sexual messages or activity.
Board member David Teitelbaum, who initiated the public meeting, said Mattick and others made some valid points. He’s not had any risk management training in his two years on the board.
“Policies and procedures are limited here. How do we save this wonderful place and how do we learn from this and grow?” Teitelbaum asked.
Mattick said one way is for an outside agency to conduct an independent investigation. “We can’t settle this until we know the truth,” she said.
Resident Janet Aubry agreed. The incident is not over with some new policies and procedures and a public meeting.
While some on the board claimed the allegations were unfounded, Aubry was quick to correct them. “That’s not true,” she said, adding that she learned that the MCSO is still investigating Jonatzke, “and you could too” she told Ross.
Mattick said the MCSO’s child protection investigation division is reviewing Jonatzke’s relationships with the juveniles.
Ross said he hoped the review would lead to some resolution. Everything he’s hearing is “third party” and he doesn’t want an innocent person ruined.
Resident Steve Lardas cautioned everyone at the meeting about the potential to ruin people’s lives whether the allegations are true or not.
Something like this has not come up in the 50 years the center has been open, and it’s a learning experience for everyone, Ross said.
“We thought there were polices and procedures, but we learned we didn’t have anything to cover this, and we should,” said Ross.
The board is reviewing policies and procedures as a team and anyone who wants to volunteer for “this very difficult task” is welcome, he added.
Ross agreed that it’s “absolutely not appropriate” for staff to send text messages or go on Facebook to chat with youths at the center. A written policy will be put in place as soon as possible, he said. “This whole social networking is new and it’s almost impossible to control.”
Ross adjourned the meeting with a pledge to hold another public meeting once the board has put together some policies and procedures.
Mattick, however, suggested that wasn’t soon enough and said it will take more than policy revisions to clean up the mess that has been uncovered.
She wants Kelly held accountable, a clear policy on confidentiality of people making reports of inappropriate activity, training in risk management for staff and board members, independent counseling for youths who have become “victims” because they stepped forward and told the truth, and a clear policy and training on how staff interacts with youths at the center.
Efforts to reach the MCSO’s CPID were unsuccessful April 22.
Efforts to reach Jonatzke for comment also were unsuccessful.
Board explores new policies
The Anna Maria Island Community Center board met April 18 and identified a series of concerns and corrective actions needed to protect youth members.
The meeting took place just days before a public forum took place at the center to discuss alleged sexual activity involving former employee Andy Jonatzke and a teenage girl who was involved in center programs. Jonatzke also is alleged to have sent inappropriate text messages to other youths involved in the center.
At the April 18 meeting, staff and board members discussed existing center policies, but mostly the need to implement new policies:
• Prohibiting one-on-one interaction between adults and children.
• Requiring additional sex-abuse prevention training for staff.
• Restricting communications between center staff and volunteers and children enrolled in center programs, specifically restricting the exchange of information on Facebook or via Twitter and text messages.
• Providing training for board members on best-practices for safety.
• Conducting background checks for center volunteers who deal with children.
The center already screens potential personnel and requires training under Florida Department of Children and Families rules.
On the board
The Anna Maria Island Community Center’s executive board includes Gregg Ross, chair; Scott Rudacille, vice chair; Monica Simpson, secretary; Randy Langley, treasurer.
Board members include Andy Gidus, Kelly Joseph, Jason Sato, Blair Schlossberg, Wayne Sewall, David Teitelbaum and Andy Price, emeritus.
The Island city governments also liasons to the center board.