TARPON SPRINGS — It seemed a simple story: Civil servant misuses public funds and gets canned.
The civil servant is David Archie. He was the executive director of a publicly funded neighborhood family center in the Union Academy area, Citizens Alliance for Progress. In mid December, board members fired Archie. They heard allegations of the "misuse" of $40,000 and were told that if they didn't fire him, their whole organization might be shut down.
Since then, the simple cause-and-effect rationale for firing Archie, a former vice mayor of Tarpon Springs, has fallen apart.
• Some board members said they received no evidence to prove misuse of funds.
• The agency that would have the authority to shut down the program said it uncovered no wrongdoing by Archie.
• The same agency said it never threatened to pull the plug on Citizens Alliance for Progress, or CAP, if Archie weren't fired.
Now, the heat is on two board members who led the charge to get him fired.
One of them is Annie Dabbs. She heads the CAP board.
As it happens, Dabbs also serves on the board of Pinellas Core Management Services (PCMS), the agency that administers funding for CAP.
On Wednesday, PCMS announced the results of an inquiry into how Archie's firing was handled. The principal finding: Dabbs unduly influenced her fellow CAP board members when she told them PCMS would yank CAP's funding if Archie weren't dismissed.
"What we're having an issue with is, she should not have said this is a PCMS action or a JWB action," said Paul Lackey, executive director of PCMS. "The CAP board itself took the action, not us."
Dabbs resigned from the PCMS board the same day.
She could not be reached for comment.
(Before going further, here's a brief guide to the acronyms: The Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB) uses tax dollars to provide funding for social services for children and families. Pinellas Core Management Services (PCMS) administers funding for the JWB, passing along money to various nonprofit groups like the Citizens Alliance for Progress.)
The fallout may eventually affect another CAP board member, Ed Cole. At the meeting Dec. 18, he joined Dabbs in linking Archie's firing to CAP's continued existence, according to a transcript of the meeting provided by Lackey.
On Monday, Cole said Archie was fired because of a lack of accountability but declined to elaborate.
Some CAP members who are responsible for appointing the board said they hope to replace Dabbs and Cole when board elections are held Feb. 12. Lackey said PCMS will wait to see the outcome of those elections before considering other options.
"If they don't remove those two individuals (Dabbs and Cole) for some reason, we would have to see what our next step would be," Lackey said.
Board members on the losing side of the vote to fire Archie said they asked repeatedly for evidence to support Dabbs' claim that Archie had misused public funds.
"I haven't heard anything about misappropriating funds," said board member Gale Gadson. "There was no proof and there was nothing they told us as to why they were firing David. We came to the meeting with no idea of why we were meeting."
Board member Isiah Montgomery, who did not take part in the vote, asked Dabbs for proof of malfeasance during the hastily called meeting.
"I don't need proof," Dabbs responded, according to the transcript.
Further, several board members said, Dabbs and Cole, who is the CAP board treasurer, made it clear that PCMS would close the center if Archie weren't removed.
"That's the impression that Ms. Dabbs and Mr. Cole gave us, that if we did not terminate David Archie the center would lose our funds," Gadson said.
Lackey said that neither PCMS nor the Juvenile Welfare Board, which provides the Tarpon Springs organization with $384,000 annually, had anything to do with the firing.
According to the transcript from the Dec. 18 meeting, Dabbs never specifies the reasons Archie should be fired. But she alludes to $40,000 that was unaccounted for and says, "That's not the only money."
Dabbs also told board members that they already have information related to the issue from e-mails she previously sent to them.
Cole confirmed that Dabbs e-mailed her fellow board members with concerns about Archie, but he declined to share them with the St. Petersburg Times.
But the three board members who did not vote to fire Archie said they've never received any e-mails that laid out a case against him.
JWB executive director Gay Lancaster said her organization did not uncover any misappropriated funds during a site visit on Dec. 29 and 30. At worst, a JWB report showed some "sloppy bookkeeping," including some invoices that were submitted twice for reimbursement and some missing documentation. But the main concern of auditors, according to the report, was "missing American Express statements" for the period from December 2007 to May 2008.
"We have those statements in hand right here and once again they did not show any problem. In fact they showed little or no activity," said JWB communications manager Ben Kirby.
Archie, who served as executive director for 15 years, said he has done nothing inappropriate.
Archie's attorney, David Linesch, sent letters Jan. 27 to CAP board members and Lackey asking for a sit-down to discuss the matter. Linesch alleges Dabbs and Cole fired Archie "under false and defamatory pretenses.'' He says Lackey, representing PCMS, improperly meddled in the relationship between Archie and CAP.
"For someone with the exceptional track record of David Archie to be removed from his position in this fashion and with really no evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing is absurd and needs to be challenged strenuously," Linesch said.
Lackey confirmed that PCMS has found no evidence of wrongdoing and is not investigating Archie. If a new board is elected and those members want Archie back, that will be up to them, he said.
"If they want to rehire him, since we don't have any information that would show he's done anything wrong, we couldn't object to that," Lackey said.
Along with Archie, two CAP staffers were fired Dec. 18: administrative services manager Leah Johnson and program director Frances Serrano-Lux.
Both women said they don't know why they were terminated.
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or firstname.lastname@example.org.