Tallevast feels locked out of their own community center
Manatee County will investigate allegations presented to commissioners Tuesday by residents of the Tallevast community who say they have been locked out of their community center.
“We encourage commissioners to begin an investigation immediately. Essentially, we’ve been locked out of the center,” Debra Smith-Coleman told the Board of County Commissioners.
Smith-Coleman also asked the board to remove funding from the Tallevast Community Center until an investigation has been completed.
County Administrator Cheri Coryea said they would put together a full report.
Over the last few months, several residents of the Tallevast community have voiced concerns over changes at the former Tellevast Community Center, 7721 17th St. Ct. E., which is now known as the Centers for Success.
The Centers for Success website lists the organization as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Manatee County does not own the property, Commissioner Misty Servia previously told the Bradenton Herald, but according to Coryea, there is a funding contract between the center and the county.
The contract, however, does not require the space to be open to the public, Coryea previously told reporters.
Being locked out, security cameras, not allowing children to use the basketball courts and a removed playground are some of the concerns previously cited by residents. But one of neighbors’ other concerns is that the public community center has been turned into a nonprofit that is not allowing the public to use the facilities.
The county, Coryea said, has not given the community center money for capital that she is aware of, just for program services. Property management will review the deeds and neighborhood services will also help with the investigation.
One of the main issues is that they’re lacking outside funding for staffing when other community members want to use the center, Coryea said.
She intends to return to the board with a full report.
In previous conversations with the Bradenton Herald, residents pointed out that there had never been a fence around the building to prevent access to recreational amenities such as the playground and the basketball courts. The center opened in 1966.
On Tuesday, Servia told commissioners she has not been able to reach the community center’s board of directors in past attempts.
Smith-Coleman repeated concerns of nepotism and that the board chair has been using the space for financial gains brought up during a June 14 protest march at the center.
Residents have previously voiced concerns alleging board chairwoman Melissa Robinson uses the space for her event planning company, RedDrop Events LLC.
A call from the Bradenton Herald to the Centers for Success was not answered and an email asking for comment from Robinson was not immediately returned. A message left at a phone number listed for RedDrop Events LLC was not immediately returned.
“This is supposed to be a non-for-profit organization, and the board chairwoman has clearly lost sight of that,” Smith-Coleman said.
She said the property is now privately owned and residents don’t know why. Smith-Coleman also raised allegations of fraud, embezzlement and tax fraud, along with other concerns.
“Along with a locked gate, the community is kept out,” Smith-Coleman said.
Smith-Coleman noted there was no playground at the site of the community center.
Commissioner Betsy Benac said she was sad to hear about the situation at Tallevast.
Benac recalled buying and building the playground “quite a while ago.” After two days of “Better Manatee” work on the playground, it still wasn’t finished, so Benac and her husband worked to complete the project.
She said she was heartbroken to hear it was taken down because it had her blood, sweat and tears in it.
“I think whoever is locking these children out should be ashamed of themselves, that they’re not making this community center available to the community,” Benac said.
Benac believed the county was providing grant funds to the center through Children’s Services for an after-school program that is reportedly being performed in accordance with guidelines. The center is open weekdays from 2-6 p.m. for the service.
Benac said she was not sure what more the county could do other than to make certain funding is spent in accordance with the county’s rules.
Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said even though he’s not sure what the next steps are, Tallevast residents deserve answers.
“They also need to be aware we may have things that we just cannot get ourselves into and that’s the reality of it,” Bellamy said. “This smells very bad and it’s very unfortunate.”
At the time of a May 31 report by the Bradenton Herald, the Centers For Success website’s “Be Involved” section had a link to the RedDrop Events site and a June 14 report noted Robinson’s business was prominently featured on the center’s website.
As of Tuesday, the RedDrop features no longer were on the site, except to be included in a list of donors and partners.
Bradenton Herald reporter Ryan Callihan contributed to this report.