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North Greenwood center on road to recovery

North Greenwood center on road to recovery

The African American Leadership Council had youth programs at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Clearwater.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The African American Leadership Council had youth programs at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER — No charges will be filed in a July 3 incident that triggered the downfall of the African American Leadership Council's youth recreation and development program at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in North Greenwood.

The Leadership Council remains out, but the programs soon will be resumed by Pinellas Core Management Services, which manages small nonprofits for the county's Juvenile Welfare Board.

"They (North Greenwood residents) can expect excellent services," said Gay Lancaster, the Juvenile Welfare Board's executive director.

There has been no programming at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center since the end of September.

Pinellas Core Management Services will take possession of the center from the city of Clearwater on Monday, said Paul Lackey, executive director of the organization. The center will reopen by the end of the month, he said.

The center will be run by Joann Nesbitt. Gloria Campbell will handle the computer labs and Jai Hinson will operate youth development services. Those three managers will work for Pinellas Core Management Services, though they can hire their own staff, Lackey said. There also will be an arts program and a family support specialists.

• • •

The problems started July 3 when a swarm of police cars surrounded the King Center. Chauncey Johnson-Jenkins was arrested and handcuffed in front of the children with whom she had worked for years on accusations that she assaulted a co-worker.

Johnson-Jenkins lost her job at the Leadership Council, where in eight years she had risen to office manager.

The incident also was the catalyst for an impromptu audit resulted in the Leadership Council losing nearly $500,000 in Juvenile Welfare Board funding. In addition, Clearwater declined to continue its lease at the King Center and the Eckerd Foundation also pulled its funding.

Johnson-Jenkins was accused of assaulting co-worker Loretta Mitchell and not allowing her to leave a room. But last month, Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said that after speaking with several witnesses, no one could substantiate Mitchell's account. Therefore, the charges against Johnson-Jenkins and Chantala Simmons, another worker arrested and accused in the matter, will not be pursued.

"I really don't like to talk about that day and I just don't want to relive it," said Johnson-Jenkins, 36, "but I knew that nothing would come of it because it did not happen."

Mitchell's attorney, Ryan Barack, declined a request to speak with her.

The incident stemmed from a call Mitchell received from Remington College on July 2 asking for verification of work study hours of Britany Johnson, according to a Clearwater police report. Mitchell told the college Johnson was not employed at the center. As a result, Johnson was kicked out of the school.

The next day, Johnson-Jenkins, Britany's sister, and her mother, Elzora Johnson, confronted Mitchell. Johnson-Jenkins said no one touched Mitchell.

Britany Johnson, 23, a student in one of the first Leadership Council programs after it started in 1990, said Mitchell knew she worked there.

"I was there all the time," Johnson said. "What's upsetting to me is that I feel like I was used to bring the organization down."

In a July 17 meeting, county residents Ann McDowell and Jim Jackson told the Juvenile Welfare Board their friend, Mitchell, had been assaulted and requested the program's finances be examined.

The next month, Pinellas Core Management Services hired an auditor who raised questions about how the Leadership Council was handling its funding.

On Sept. 21, Pinellas Core Management Services ended the Leadership Council's funding. The council's 11 employees were put on administrative leave and not offered jobs, Lackey said.

In the aftermath of the upheaval, State Attorney Bernie McCabe said last month that his office hasn't "found anything that would implicate criminal loss," in the Leadership Council audit.

Cory Person, the attorney for the Leadership Council, said that it is unfortunate that the unsubstantiated charges resulted in destroying a solid community program and the reputation of founder Bilal Habeeb-ullah.

Person said Habeeb-ullah is going to exercise his legal options in proving he did not take money from his program as insinuated.

"We will continue, however, our efforts to engage the Juvenile Welfare Board and Pinellas Core Management Services in a meaningful and amicable discussion to ensure that the highest level of care and attention is given to the people of our community," Person said. "The continued nurturing and education of our children remains AALC's and Mr. Bilal Habeeb-ullah's primary focus."

In the meantime, Mitchell has been hired by Pinellas Core Management Services to serve as a contract compliance officer.

As for Chauncey Johnson-Jenkins and others involved with the Leadership Council, they are disappointed there has been a lapse in programming for students and in the way they were treated.

Johnson-Jenkins can not figure out why her word and reputation was not as valuable as anyone else.

"At first, I was really upset," Johnson-Jenkins said. "But I've forgiven her (Mitchell). If I hold on to it, I can't grow. I don't wish anything bad on her but God is going to see if she can take what we took."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

North Greenwood center on road to recovery

North Greenwood center on road to recovery 11/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 7:52pm]

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