MANATEE -- A Manatee County Children's Services Advisory Board member child advocate may be in violation of the county ordinance restricting child advocates from receiving county funds.
Jennifer Radebach, CEO of New Path Academy, sits on the advisory board as one of five child advocates but according to county staff, two organizations she has been or is affiliated with -- Children's Academy of Southwest Florida and New Path Academy -- have received county funds through the Early Learning Coalition, which receives funding through Children's Services funding.
According to the ordinance read Tuesday by Robert Eschenfelder, chief assistant county attorney, child advocates cannot receive county funds.
Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac brought up the conflict during Tuesday's Manatee County Commission meeting.
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"My goal is to make sure there is clarity and that this is totally transparent," Benac said. "I felt it wasn't and it's bothered me ever since. ... I am bringing it up to clarify that it is a conflict."
Radebach was reappointed to the Children's Services Advisory Board at the commission's Aug. 11 meeting.
The commission took no action Tuesday since Radebach wasn't present.
Commissioner John Chappie suggested sending Radebach a letter stating there appears to be a conflict.
"I just want to remind the commissioners that there was confusion and there still is today on this board as to what's what," Chappie said. "I think it's probably the situation in Jennifer's situation. Jennifer is honorable and she's going to do the right thing."
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said they definitely need to discuss this.
"I'm concerned about this," she said. "This is disturbing, to say the least."
Commissioner Carol Whitmore said they need other people to apply for that position.
"That girl will succeed in no matter what she does but there is a conflict," she said, adding this will let her apply for money. "She can still attend the meetings. She just won't be on the board."
Baugh added: "For it to come up now, the people of Manatee County want transparency. I don't feel like right now we are doing it."
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said many people "cross boards and have conflicts."
"We are holding her to a different standard," she said. "Jennifer has vast knowledge and experience in this field. Anybody that is in this world is going to have some sort of conflict. She just does wonderful work and she's helping out the Rubonia center. I'm a little bit upset about this discussion."
New Path Academy, in partnership with Rubonia Community Association and Panda Foundation, was the sole proposal submitted to acquire and operate the closed Rubonia Community Center.
"I want this group to be successful in Rubonia more than anything," Benac said. "That's why it concerns me. I don't want any problems. I want them to be successful in Rubonia because they are the only ones. ... To have this perception, it isn't good. It's best to clear the air in my mind."
Commissioner Charles Smith said it's a delicate situation since only one organization submitted a proposal for Rubonia.
"It's very disturbing to me at this time," he said. "I think we should look at everybody on there to look if there are any third-party conflict of interests."
The commission also:
Continued the agenda item to establish the Manatee County Healthcare Advisory Board to the commission's Oct. 20 meeting.
Approved the nonprofit agency funding agreement with Centerstone of Florida of $2.1 million for Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2016.
Authorized the $29,848 agreement for Construction Management at Risk Services for phase one of the Robinson Preserve expansion to Willis A. Smith Construction Inc. of Sarasota.
Awarded the $3.59 million low bid for Southeast Water Reclamation Facility Septage/Grease Receiving Station project to Vogel Bros. Building Co. of Lakeland.
Heard a presentation from the Code Enforcement Division about accomplishments over the past year, including revising the code enforcement zone map, adding a bike patrol unit and adding unlicensed contractors enforcement. "The division has come a long way in the last year and is heading in a direction that will set an example for the rest of the state," said Jeff Bowman, code enforcement division chief.
Welcomed back Commissioner Larry Bustle, who made his in-person return to commission meetings after suffering a stroke in May.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.