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Center child-protection policies near completion

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Anna Maria Island Community Center board member Scott Rudacille told board members at their June 27 meeting that new policies on child protection being drafted by his committee are almost ready for the board’s review.

“We can have something to the board in the next few weeks,” Rudacille, a local attorney, told the board.

Rudacille chairs a committee of volunteers that has been meeting since early April to review and rewrite policies after a police report was filed March 31 against staff member Andy Jonatzke for inappropriate contact with a teenage girl at the center. The allegations included text messages of a sexual nature from Jonatkze to the girl and a claim that Jonatzke had sexual contact with the girl.

Center executive director Pierrette Kelly immediately suspended Jonatzke, and the center launched its own internal investigation, but Jonatzke resigned April 8. The center then halted its investigation. At the same time, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office closed its investigation saying the alleged victim denied having sex with Jonatzke.

But the fallout surrounding the allegations and alleged inappropriate text messaging between staff and teens prompted the board to institute short-term measures relating to child-safety and staff interaction with youth at the center. At the same time, Rudacille and his volunteer committee of child-care professionals, teenagers and other volunteers began meeting to draft permanent changes.

The short-term measures included no texting or social messaging between staff and center youth except for official center activities, no after-hours interaction between staff and youth, a review of the staff code of conduct and an outside counseling program for youths involved in the April incident.

Staff are now required to sign a document that they have read and understand the center’s behavior requirements for staff-youth interaction, submit to a background check and agree to abide by all center policies.

The committee planned to have a draft of its policy recommendations ready by the June 27 board meeting, but Rudacille said the committee’s work got “pushed back” because Cindy Thompson, a child-care and protection professional, took a new job and was unable to attend several meetings.

“She was our child-care professional,” he said.

Board member David Teitelbaum wanted a community meeting as soon as possible to update people on the committee’s work, but chair Greg Ross said it would be better if the board looked at the draft first, made changes and then held a community meeting.

Board members agreed with Ross and a community meeting will be held in September after all board members have met and reviewed the committee’s proposals.

Rudacille said the committee is composed entirely of volunteers who have been spending three to four hours at each meeting discussing risk management policies.

“It’s important that we get this right,” he said.

Ross suggested Rudacille e-mail board members when the committee has completed its draft, let board members review the recommendations, hold a special board meeting to discuss the policy recommendations, then hold a community meeting. Board members agreed.

In other business, the board approved a 2011-12 operating budget of $1.04 million for the center with expenses projected at $973,000.

Kelly told board members the staff was being reorganized to “do more with less.” One position would be eliminated, essentially returning the staffing level to its 2009 level, saving the center an estimated $60,000 annually.

“We’ve restructured. We can manage the center with less managers and less expenses,” she said.

Kelly also informed the board that about $25,000 in pledges from the Affaire to Remember have not been honored, she’ll be contacting those people.

“This is the first year this has ever happened,” she said.

Teitelbaum said the party started too early, many people became inebriated and left without paying, and a lot of people somehow got in without a ticket to hear Lee Greenwood perform.

Kelly agreed and measures will be in place at next year’s event so pledges are honored, and everyone pays to get in. The board suggested asking Greenwood to perform again at the 2012 event, or possibly hold a separate concert.

Accountant Robert Lane said the 2009-10 audit of the center’s books was “clean,” who presented the audit at the meeting, but noted the center is currently renegotiating its mortgage with Northern Trust and BBT. The center did not make the balloon payment to Northern Trust, but has made every monthly principal and interest payment, he noted.

Money is definitely tight, but the center will continue to offer its full complement of programs and scholarships, Kelly pledged.

“The real goal of everything is to pay off the mortgage,” she said.

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