ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Life at the cream-colored Anna Maria Island Community Center on Magnolia Avenue appeared normal.
As they do every Tuesday.
Seniors citizens were enjoying “coffee and conversation” upstairs. Athletes downstairs were playing ball with a wooden paddle and a whiffle ball.
A cloud of concern, however, has cast a shadow on this 24,000-square-foot center, where 3,000 members, including 800 to 1,200 youth, annually enjoy a rich list of programs. An allegation recently surfaced involving a former center employee and a 17-year-old girl who has used the facility in the past.
In the 27 days since the allegation came to light:
n The employee has resigned.
n The alleged victim denied anything happened.
n The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office closed its case with no criminal charges to be filed.
n Center director Pierrette Kelly and chief operating officer Scott Dell have held a informational forum on the matter.
Still, the cloud persists.
Kelly and Dell are getting 10 to 20 phone calls daily from concerned parents.
“We’ve been serving children here for 51 years and never had an allegation and this one is still unfounded,” said Kelly, who has been at the center for 21 years. “We want Manatee County to know that our primary objective is to reveal truth and to insure that everyone has peace of mind and knows that every possible action is being taken to insure the safety of our youth.”
Although the sheriff’s office has closed its investigation, the center will be working with a “third-party investigator” and a full report will be presented to the center’s board of directors and to the individuals involved in the allegations, Kelly said Tuesday.
Mary Jane Moore, a member of “coffee and conversation,” hugged Kelly when they passed in a hallway. Kelly confided that these are difficult times for her professionally. Some people, Kelly told Moore, think she should no longer be director because of the alleged incident.
Moore said it would be horrible if the center lost Kelly.
“She puts her heart and soul into this building,” Moore said. “This whole thing is a big nothing. No one really knows what really happened.”
What is known is that Anna Maria Island mayor Mike Selby told Kelly on April 1 that an allegation was made by a third party that an incident involving a minor and an adult occurred off premises.
“We talked to the victim and she denied anything happened,” sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said Tuesday. “So, as of now, we have closed this case.”