MANATEE -- An inquiry made by a Manatee County commissioner into an alleged conflict of interest of one of the child advocates on the Children's Services Advisory Board found more than one board member may be in violation of the county ordinance restricting child advocates from receiving county funds.
After commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac brought up a conflict during Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Robin DiSabatino requested Jennifer Radebach's disclosure statements in her file. Radebach, CEO of New Path Academy, sits on the advisory board as one of five child advocates.
"It is my understanding that she provided ample in
formation, including all conflict of interest statements," DiSabatino wrote in her request to the county.
Radebach said Wednesday morning she had filed the written conflict declarations to the county. Radebach could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
At the March 25 and April 29 meetings, respectively, Radebach's conflict with Early Learning Coalition was declared as her employer -- Children's Academy of Southwest Florida -- received school readiness dollars through the program, according to the meeting minutes.
According to the March 25 minutes, the CEO of the Early Learning Coalition brought the conflict to the county's attention.
Radebach made the written conflict declaration April 29.
"She's very knowledgeable of educational issues," DiSabatino said of Radebach's work. "She's just passionate about helping children that are less fortunate, and it's just a shame that she's being singled out. I applaud any member of the community that wants to put themselves out there and utilize their time and talents to help out the community."
In reviewing the documents, Andy Guyre, county human services division manager in the Community Services Department, realized a second child advocate on the advisory board has a conflict with the Early Learning Coalition. Child advocate Susan Miller's husband is on the board of directors of the Early Learning Coalition and Foundation for Dreams. Miller declared this conflict at the April 29 meeting, according to minutes.
According to an ordinance read Tuesday by Robert Eschenfelder, chief assistant county attorney, child advocates cannot receive county funds. Guyre said Wednesday: "Mr. Eschenfelder is looking into it as we speak."
There will be a "final opinion from the County Attorney's Office directing us how to move forward," Guyre added.
There are also two other voting conflicts with appointed members, according to Guyre's response to DiSabatino. Since they are not child advocates, the same ordinance does not apply.
When asked why she made the request to the county, DiSabatino said she "wanted to make sure that the county had the proper paperwork on file," adding she wanted to make sure they still had the paperwork.
DiSabatino said she knew another member was potentially in conflict.
"We had already known about the conflict and the paperwork was on file," DiSabatino said Wednesday afternoon. "That's why I was puzzled why they were bringing it back up (Tuesday)."
If there's any conflict of interest, DiSabatino said disclosure needs to be made ahead of time.
In the agenda documents for the Aug. 11 meeting when Radebach was reappointed to the board, it states her conflict of interest as "employed by Children's Academy of SW Florida, which receives County Children's Services Dedicated Millage funds for subsidized child care through the Agreement for Nonprofit Agency Services with Early Learning Coalition."
Radebach is no longer affiliated with that organization, as she is the CEO of New Path Academy.
Some commissioners Tuesday expressed concerns with the conflict.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said "this is disturbing, to say the least."
"For it to come up now, the people of Manatee County want transparency," Baugh said Tuesday. "I don't feel like right now we are doing it."
Commissioner Charles Smith said Tuesday: "It's very disturbing to me at this time."
"I think we should look at everybody on there to look if there are any third-party conflict of interests," he said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.