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Tarpon Springs CAP firings came without explanation

In the more than two decades that David Archie has been a leader in Tarpon Springs, some might have disagreed with his political decisions, but few would question his integrity. He has been admired for his honesty and thoughtfulness, not only when he was a city commissioner, but also as the executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Progress for the past 15 years. So it was a shock when, just days before Christmas, the CAP board of directors voted 4-3 to oust Archie and other staffers in what sounds suspiciously like a power play by two board members.

Though Archie and the staffers were reinstated days later by an outside agency that controls CAP's public funding, they are on administrative leave while the Dec. 18 firings are investigated.

CAP board members owe the community a full explanation of what transpired prior to the vote. What did they know? What were they told by other board members? What did they assume was accurate without checking for themselves?

The effort to oust Archie appears to have been orchestrated by two board members who are no strangers to controversy in Tarpon Springs: Ed Cole, the CAP board's treasurer, and Annie Dabbs, the board president. Neither would explain the board's action, except that Cole said it "is nothing personal."

Of course it is personal. For a man like Archie, a political and civic icon in the community, any attack on his integrity can have far-reaching implications. And the controversy no doubt ruined the Christmas holiday for Archie and the two other staffers, administrative services manager Leah Johnson and program director Frances Serrano-Lux. Throwing people out of their jobs at Christmas is downright hard-hearted, especially when there has been no proof of wrongdoing offered. And it is definitely personal.

The non-profit Citizens Alliance for Progress was founded in 1982 by African-American residents of Tarpon Springs hoping to prevent the destruction of the abandoned Union Academy Elementary School, a former all-black school. Eventually, the building was acquired and remodeled to house CAP offices and programs serving the community, including child care, after-school programs, tutoring, youth clubs, family nights, senior services, counseling and a computer lab. The center gets much of its funding from tax dollars distributed by the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board, but it also receives grants from a variety of foundations, support from the city of Tarpon Springs and private donations.

As executive director, Archie takes his orders from the CAP board, but there are indications that some board members, particularly Cole and Dabbs, have been interfering in day-to-day operations at the center, causing problems for the staff.

The agency that reinstated Archie, Johnson and Serrano-Lux and is investigating their dismissal is Pinellas Core Management Services, a relatively new, private non-profit agency. PCMS originally was created under the auspices of the Juvenile Welfare Board to handle funding and oversight of small, community-based organizations that receive JWB funding.

PCMS reportedly waded into the fray at CAP after hearing that someone at the Dec. 18 meeting told CAP board members that PCMS would pull the organization's funding unless Archie was fired. "That is an out-and-out fabrication," PCMS official Paul Lackey told the St. Petersburg Times. Lackey said he was contacted by Dabbs and Cole on Dec. 17 and was told they planned to seek a vote to fire Archie the next day because of a problem involving receipts, but the "problem" has not been explained.

CAP board members have a responsibility to ensure that dollars are properly spent and properly recorded. They have the right to have an executive director they work with well and who carries out their policy directives. But their overarching goal should be to make sure that the Citizens Alliance for Progress works well in the community, and in that regard, Archie and CAP have an excellent record. There is now, at least temporarily, a blemish on that record. The CAP board members bear the responsibility for that.

Tarpon Springs CAP firings came without explanation 01/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 1:11am]
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