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A Times Editorial

Tax dollars or not, $375,000 in bonuses was money misspent

Pinellas County social service agencies are struggling to meet desperate community needs, yet one nonprofit supported by tax dollars decided it was more important to give $375,000 in bonuses to its employees.

Family Service Centers Inc. was more concerned about taking care of its own than taking care of people in real need. This is another example of how not to run a nonprofit social services agency and the failure of some board members to take seriously the agency's mission and their fiduciary responsibilities.

Family Service Centers spent the last year negotiating a merger with Suncoast Center of St. Petersburg at the urging of the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board, a tax-supported agency that provided substantial funding to both agencies and has been instituting cost-saving measures. The Family Service Centers board approved the merger, board chairman Phillip Russell said, because it believed JWB would pull its funding.

Last month, the two agencies merged and Family Service Centers employees transferred to Suncoast. But the day before the merger, the Family Service Centers board handed out surprise bonus checks to its 100 employees. The checks, ranging from $200 to $18,384, totaled $221,308 — money that should have gone to Suncoast Center in the transfer of assets.

The brazen board did not stop there. It also gave its chief executive officer, Mary Jo Monahan, a check totaling $154,591. And it gave Monahan another parting gift: proprietary rights to a Family Service Centers program that provided professional development training to nonprofit organizations. Family Service Centers had invested heavily in the program's creation and operation, but Monahan was handed the rights to the program, its name and its Web site and now operates it as a private business.

Russell said his board gave Monahan a parting check because she had worked hard and because Suncoast Center reneged on an offer to employ Monahan. Suncoast did turn down a sweet arrangement Monahan attempted to negotiate for herself: a job as chief development officer of Suncoast, at her old CEO salary of more than $97,000, with a guaranteed five-year contract. That's a deal that should have been easy to reject.

Russell said the money for Monahan and the employee bonuses came from an investment account and he claimed no tax dollars were used. But since no one could remember how the longtime account originally was funded, it is a specious claim. Whether the account was funded with tax dollars, grants or donations, the money should have been used to advance the agency's mission: family and individual counseling, in-home support and rape crisis treatment.

Officials at Suncoast Center, which provides behavioral and mental health services, are deciding which pieces of Family Service Centers' work to carry forward. They have $375,000 less than they should have because of Family Service Centers' wasteful spending — and Pinellas County residents looking for help will find a door closed that otherwise might have been open.

Tax dollars or not, $375,000 in bonuses was money misspent 01/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 7:58pm]
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