The city relinquished in spite of misgivings.
A wary Holmes Beach Commission released $22,500 budgeted last year for the Center of Anna Maria Island at its May 8 meeting.
The money had been withheld as the center dealt with financial concerns over the past year, including questions over recently departed executive director Kristen Lessig’s handling of funds.
At the urging of Commissioner Rick Hurst, who advocated for the community center and coaches soccer there, the commission voted 3-1 to release the money despite reservations expressed by the mayor, two commissioners and a member of the public.
“They have done a great job,” Hurst said. “They are in the black right now. I think we have punished them enough for what happened four or five years ago. We’ve got to be done with that.”
Hurst said the center’s financial snarls have been untangled. He cited figures posted on the center’s website as evidence of transparency.
Questions also were raised about Chris Culhane, who was announced May 4 as the new center leader.
Commissioner Pat Morton wondered why Culhane wasn’t at the meeting asking for the money instead of Hurst.
“I don’t know the man,” Morton said. “I’d just like the new gentleman to explain some situations.”
Commissioner Carol Soustek said she questions the center’s posted financial results, citing $100,000 in “unbudgeted capital expenditures,” and asked why center leadership is doing so little fundraising.
Soustek also voiced reservations about the center’s board, reservations she said she’s harbored a long time.
She called for the center to furnish audited financial figures.
“Every time I tried to get figures from the center, they changed all the time,” Soustek said. “I’ve just got a lot of unanswered questions.”
Mayor Bob Johnson said it’s not been a smooth road working out the financial kinks with center officials over the past couple of years, although there has been progress. It’s been months, however, since he received detailed financial reports from the center, the mayor said.
“I don’t think we’re in a position right now, tonight, to say ‘yes,’ because we really don’t have a financial view,” Johnson said.
Hurst responded that the mayor can reference audited financial information online at centerami.org.
“Do you want them to walk up and hand them to you?” Hurst said.
The mayor said center officials should be present to discuss the financial situation.
Resident Nancy Deal raised another concern in citing a story in the May 9 issue of The Islander. She called for caution in dispensing funds to the center and its newly appointed, unproven executive director.
The Islander reported Culhane characterized himself as a sovereign citizen not subject to state laws in settling traffic and divorce court cases.
“Can he please reassure us taxpayers that he is a trustworthy caretaker of taxpayer money?” Deal asked during public comment.
“Until we meet the man, I don’t think any of us are going to be comfortable he’s the appropriate selection,” Titsworth said.
Holmes Beach has supported the center over the past two decades with more than $500,000 — an average contribution of $26,816 per fiscal year.
The top amount was $51,000 in 2006-07, the year before the start of the Great Recession.
“I personally think we’re nitpicking them to death,” Hurst said. “It’s going to fail if we as a community don’t support it.”
Hurst, Titsworth and Morton voted to continue the giving streak. Soustek voted no. The mayor does not have a vote.
“I’m done saying no,” Titsworth said. “I’m done saying prove it.”
The commission will next meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.