Community center director resigns, accomplishments debated

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Kristen Lessig resigned as executive director of the Center of Anna Maria Island.

Lessig, who has worked at the center since 2014, said Jan. 31 at a board of directors meeting she accepted a position as youth program director for the Sarasota YMCA.

Lessig said she had weighed the Y’s offer since November 2017. With the center’s recent financial success and growing member activities, she said she feels secure about stepping down.

“To work for the Y system has always been a dream of mine,” Lessig said.

Her final day at the center will be Feb. 19.

Lessig said she has no plans to leave Anna Maria Island. She and her daughter will remain involved in the center.

At the board meeting, Lessig presented a timeline for hiring a director that was unanimously approved by the board.

An interim executive director may be named to give the board another 30-60 days to select a suitable candidate.

David Zaccagnino, chair of the board, said the center’s financial success at the end of 2017 is attributable to Lessig, adding that the center is in the “best condition I’ve ever seen.… Things are just bursting here at the seams.”

“Thank you, Kristen, for everything you’ve done,” said Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, representing his city at the meeting. “You’ve done an amazing job in what you’ve built here.”

Cindy Thompson, then a board member, was named executive director and Lessig was appointed managing director after executive director Dawn Stiles resigned at the end of 2014. Stiles left to rejoin family in Maine. Thompson left about a year later.

In two years as director, Lessig says center programming has grown to include CrossFit and the Island Fitness partnership, and membership doubled in the past year.

The fitness center became a topic of debate in 2015 at Holmes Beach City Hall when two fitness center operators, including Island Fitness, pleaded to city officials that the center’s fitness expansion was harmful to their business because of rent and tax advantages for the nonprofit.

The employee turnover rate at the center also was a concern, as more than 40 employees came and went during Lessig’s tenure — either fired or resigned — many of them claiming duress and bullying in the workplace.

The center also was rocked by scandals regarding financial concerns, including unaccounted spending, disparity in reporting finances to various organizations, including the city of Anna Maria, and a moral debate over a workplace relationship involving Lessig.

In June 2017, multiple members of the board resigned over concerns about over-spending and the center’s financial losses.

In July 2017, the city of Anna Maria held a financial review of the center to address concerns regarding the center’s debts. The limited number of documents reviewed were furnished by the center.

During the July meeting, John Chambers, a retired financial consultant and certified public accountant, presented the findings of his financial review to the city commission.

He said he believed the center deserved a second chance, but if their spending and income patterns didn’t change, “they (wouldn’t) make it” to the next year.

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