ST. PETERSBURG — Julie Janssen, former Pinellas school superintendent, is Bill Edwards' pick to head his new Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts. Almost two years after the School Board fired her, Janssen just started as president of the foundation set up to support the Mahaffey Theater.
"I think it's really about building relationships and learning the theater world. I'm doing my homework," said Janssen, who has served as president of the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation named for her late mother and sat on other boards.
"She knows a lot of people and she's respected and she's had her own (family) foundation," Edwards said.
He put his foundation in motion in April and began collecting resumes. Janssen's made its way to him and after two interviews she was hired. Both declined to name her salary.
Her three years as superintendent were marked with complaints from parents, teachers and School Board members about her communication skills and failure to vet proposals before airing them.
"They (dismissed her) without cause. They even paid her. I don't see any issue with that," said Edwards, when asked if he was concerned that she was forced out of the job. "She didn't rob a bank or anything. She ran into some problems."
One of Janssen's first tasks is creating new membership packages that offer different perks at various prices.
The Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts seems to essentially replace the Mahaffey Foundation.
Mahaffey Foundation memberships that have not expired will be moved to the Edwards foundation, Janssen said.
At first Edwards planned for the Mahaffey Foundation to continue raising money for Class Acts, an educational program for schoolchildren that holds 15 to 20 theater productions per year. He now plans to support Class Acts with his own foundation and said he isn't sure what the Mahaffey Foundation is doing.
Mark Mahaffey, who, with his family has given more than $1 million to the theater, could not be reached for comment.
Like many other Mahaffey Foundation board members, he is not on the Edwards foundation board.
Edwards estimated his foundation has about $1.2 million in its coffers, including a $1 million donation from him. He's paying all the salaries and other overhead for the first two years.
He made his fortune refinancing Department of Veterans Affairs mortgages. In January, Edwards said he was retiring from his Mortgage Investors Corp. and selling it to Tampa-based HomeBancorp. The deal never went through.
"I didn't end up selling it," he said. "We kept waiting for government approval and we were tired of waiting so we just took it back."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]