Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith detailed a list of complaints when he called for the resignation of Palmetto Youth Center Executive Director Reggie Bellamy in an impromptu press conference in late January.
One by one, those concerns fell short of being true, and by Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Smith was left to focus solely on financial questions he feels have gone unanswered.
One of Smith’s primary concerns is that Bellamy failed to show up to a funding meeting over the summer when he had been informed that the county’s Children Services Advisory Board had recommended the center’s Teen Hype program not be funded for $114,000. Smith said Bellamy wasn’t doing enough to ensure the center has the necessary funding, and he pointed to the missed meetings as evidence.
But At-Large Commissioner Carol Whitmore said there was a reason. Because of Sunshine Law concerns, Tuesday was her first chance to inform Smith that she had told Bellamy he didn’t need to go to those summer budget meetings because she was aware of the situation. Whitmore said she visited Bellamy at the youth center in July, and two other commissioners said they did the same.
That spurred Smith to tell his fellow commissioners: “Stay out of my district.” Whitmore reminded Smith that she is the youth center’s county commissioner as well.
Smith ultimately reduced his many complaints to two: He wants to know how much is Bellamy paid, and he wants a better breakdown of how the center reports the money it spends.
Deputy County Administrator Cheri Coryea said the center is up to date on its reporting responsibilities and that the county has “no cause for concern. The youth center does have a valid audit that’s still valid through June 30. We did not identify anything in the audit that would create a concern on our part.”
An IRS form filed by the center indicated that Bellamy is paid about $21,000 per year as executive director. Smith said he had heard a rumor he had just received a large raise, and he wanted more details.
At-Large Commissioner Betsy Benac said the entire meeting made her feel very uncomfortable, and that Smith calling for the chair of the center’s board of directors to answer questions was the wrong direction. Board chairwoman Kim Riker did attend the meeting but ultimately was not asked any questions.
“I’m concerned about calling a volunteer board chair in front of this commission and asking these types of questions in this format,” Benac said. “We don’t run these programs and I don’t understand why this is coming before this board. There is a time and place to talk about funding new programs and this isn’t it.”
County Attorney Mickey Palmer acknowledged that Smith’s path was unusual.
“I recognize the unusual nature of this meeting,” Palmer said. “It’s a very unusual and unorthodox thing that is unfolding here. Therein lies the difficulty of doing this in a public meeting but any commissioner has the right to do this.”
Bellamy, who has been publicly silent about Smith’s demands until Tuesday, the same day he announced his candidacy to challenge Smith in the 2018 election, did speak out.
Bellamy said claims that there are no programs underway at the center are false. He also said the center is in the best financial condition it ever has been.
“The only thing I’ve done is to serve my community,” Bellamy said. “Helping kids and individuals so I can impact their lives and make them become better individuals. I’ve only been the executive director for going on 2 1/2 years and I’m proud of where we are right now. As far as me and my service, I’m going to work to sun up until sun down to make sure I’m impacting lives in whatever capacity I’m performing at the time.”
Smith previously told the Bradenton Herald that hundreds in the community supported his efforts to oust Bellamy and that would be evident at Tuesday’s meeting. Three people did speak in support of Smith, including his brother, Palmetto City Commissioner Harold Smith and Betty Rose, whose brother helped found the center. Rose said her brother would be “turning over in his grave” about what is going on at the center, and said many of the old programs are no longer in place.
Bellamy didn’t dispute that but brought up several new programs that have been implemented.
Smith told the Herald that board vice chair Charles Newsome was upset with Bellamy, but Newsome spoke in support of Bellamy on Tuesday.
“We keep throwing the children into this because we want to gain the attention of everyone here, but I have a feeling there’s more,” he said. “I believe in (Bellamy). I believe in his vision and things don’t happen overnight. Don’t just sit here and throw rocks. This is an idea guy.”
The center’s Trojan football team has been a focus of Smith’s concerns, and the center did shut down the program in 2017 to revamp it. But Newsome said football is not the focal point of the center’s vision.
“What if we decide we didn’t want football,” he said. “What if we decided to build geniuses and focus on intellect. We have a mentorship where we are trying to build a young man.”