MIAMI – A nearly half-century-old social service organization in Miami’s Liberty City community appears to be caught in a power struggle between the management and a small group of dissident residents.
Bettye Stokeling, a spokeswoman for the group, said a demonstration is planned at the center to demand new leadership.
“We want to know where TACOLCY is heading,” Stokeling said.
She cited the “decline” of the James E. Scott Community Association (JESCA) Center, another major social service organization, and said TACOLCY “is in jeopardy of having its doors closed permanently, due to poor leadership.”
Stokeling said Concerned Citizens for the Preservation of TACOLCY will stage a demonstration at TACOLCY, 6161 NW Ninth Ave., at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan, 14.
“TACOLCY is an essential safeguard in the community providing after school care, care coordination services for troubled youth and families, an alternative to outdoor suspension programs, an innovative summer session, freedom school and a year-round athletic programming for inner city youth,” Stokeling said in a statement.
Brown described the group – whose core members Stokeling said number “five or six” – as disgruntled supporters of former CEO Alison Austin who left the post a year ago and who have not been supportive of changes he has introduced.
“There are some people who don’t like some changes that we made,” Brown said.
The Belafonte TACOLCY Center (BTC) is named partly for famed civil rights activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte who, in December 1967, made a donation to its work. TACOLCY is an acronym for “The Advisory Committee of Liberty City Youth.”
The center’s website says it was started in 1966 by Frances Henderson, “who began TACOLCY in a small wooden house so youth could have a safe place to gather.”
The center has expanded substantially to provide a wide range of services, funded by a budget that Brown says is just over $1 million provided by the Miami-Dade Children’s Trust, as well as Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami, along with other donors.
Brown’s experience in child advocacy started when he worked with nationally renowned children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) in Washington, D.C., more than three decades ago.
He said he came to Miami to help TACOLCY establish a CDF Freedom School. He served as a board member of the center and was named interim CEO a year ago when Austin quit. He was given the job in May.
Brown denied a claim by Stokeling that the center is being investigated by the Miami-Dade County Office of the Inspector General for alleged “mishandling” of funds.
Stokeling told South Florida Times that the OIG got involved because of a whistleblower complaint. Brown acknowledged that the OIG has made an inquiry and the necessary documents have been provided.
“But there is no investigation,” he added.
The OIG said it does not comment on whether complaints or an investigation is being conducted and provides a report when an investigation is completed.
Stokeling and Brown also disagreed on whether discussions are taking place between the two sides. Stokeling said center officials have not responded to requests for a meeting. Brown, however, said he knows contact has been made and a meeting is being set up.
Stokeling’s group has issued a five-point demand, “part of a plan to preserve” TACOLCY. The demand includes firing Brown and that any board members who are subject of any investigation be replaced by interim directors.
They are also calling for “a public accounting of the financial standing” of TACOLCY and that the financial situation be explained to the community “in order to dispel fears that BTC is in jeopardy of closing its doors.”
Brown said there is no danger of that happening. “Our finances are strong; our donor base has been widened and we are not about to close our doors,” he said. “The people who are making these allegations say they care about TACOLCY but their strategy is hurting TACOLCY,” Brown said.