MIAMI — Juanita Shanks, program director for Keep Miami Beautiful, Inc., was fired this week for allegedly soliciting participants in the Summer Youth Environmental Employment Program to invest in one of her personal business ventures.
In a letter dated Aug. 4 to the organization’s board chairman, Miami Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Peiter Bockweg wrote:
“It has been brought to our attention…that there has been a recent departure from the overall purpose of the Summer Job Program. Specifically, that certain youth-participants of the Program were invited by your current Program Director, Ms. Juanita Shanks, to invest in an ‘investment opportunity,’ from which Ms. Shanks would derive a benefit for each youth-participant who took advantage of this ‘investment opportunity,’’’ Bockweg wrote.
Bockweg added in his letter that due to Shanks’ bad judgment, she could not be trusted in her current position. He stated that if Keep Miami Beautiful wanted to receive the rest of its grant money, she had to be removed.
The organization’s leadership apparently accepted Bockweg’s demand, and she was terminated.
The Southeast Overtown/Park West and Omni Redevelopment District Community Redevel-opment Agencies ("CRA"), which are under the umbrella of the Miami CRA, collectively awarded Keep Miami Beautiful a total of $480,000 for the organization’s summer employment program. To date, the organization has received $240,000 of that amount.
Keep Miami Beautiful is a non-profit organization that sponsors beautification projects and activities in blighted Miami communities. The summer youth employment program was established three years ago to give Miami teens and young adults ages 14 to 24 work experience in local businesses and city agencies.
Lionel Lightbourne is an employment specialist for the organization who worked with Shanks. He said she made a bad decision but had no malicious intent, adding that a money management tool was supposed to be included in the program.
“She went about trying to do a right thing the wrong way,” Lightbourne said. “We were supposed to be teaching the kids a money management tool, and instead of her waiting for someone else to come in and teach the kids, she took matters into her own hands.”
Lightbourne also said the investment opportunity of which Bockweg wrote is Primerica, a sales company that targets low-income and middle class people with products such as life insurance and financial services. He said he thinks Shanks went too far when she asked the summer youth workers to invest in the same venture.
“It was an immediate conflict of interest. She crossed the line when she tried to initiate investment into a company she’d invested in,” Lightbourne said.