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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
MANATEE COUNTY - Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith is calling for Palmetto Youth Center Executive Director Reggie Bellamy to resign from that position "immediately."
In a hastily called news conference Monday, Smith said Bellamy - a student support specialist at Buffalo Creek Middle School and Palmetto High School basketball coach - neglects the youth center, a community-operated facility
that receives county funding.
"He seldom shows up for work" at the center, Smith said of Bellamy. Football, cheerleading and other center activities have dissipated as more than 200 children, parents and coaches no longer participate, Smith claimed.
More than 100 of his constituents have complained to him about what has happened - or not happened - at the center, 501 17th St. W., the commissioner, a Palmetto resident, said.
"I defended Mr. Bellamy until I found out what they were saying was true," Smith said.
Smith said the executive director position at the center, which he held several years ago, is supposed to be a full-time job.
At about 1 p.m. Monday, a Herald-Tribune reporter went to the center and asked for Bellamy. Staff members said he was not in and messaged the reporter's contact information to him.
Bellamy promptly called. He confirmed that he is a full-time employee of the school district.
Yet he called Smith's allegations about the youth center's decline to be "an unfortunate and false statement. It's unfortunate he has that angle."
Bellamy refused to make additional comments.
Kim Riker, the new chairperson of the center's board, said she was unaware of Smith's press conference.
"I think he's completely off base," Riker said. "We have more programs than we ever had before. ... I promise you our programs haven't gone away."
She said the center's Trojans football program temporarily stopped because maintenance work needed to be done on the field.
Riker said she is unaware if Bellamy's responsibilities as a school district employee interfere with his duties at the youth center. She was unsure of Bellamy's salary as the center's executive director.
In December, Smith wrote the center and asked to speak to its board about three topics: "the lack of programming, future funding, the vision of Palmetto Youth Center."
Bellamy wrote back, stating that Smith is invited to speak at the board's March 12 meeting.
At his press conference, a day before a county commission discussion about the next cycle of funding from a special property tax for children's services, Smith said he decided not to wait to make his complaints public.
In recent years, the youth center has received about $300,000 to $400,000 annually from the children's services tax.
Last year, the Children's Services Advisory Board recommended the center receive no tax dollars for one of its programs, Teen H.Y.P.E.
That program is to serve 50 youths, ages 13 to 17, with computer software to strengthen their science, technology, engineering and math skills; life skills training in topics such as etiquette, nutrition, financial literacy and home economics; community service projects and field trips; and summer career exploration.
During a September public hearing on the county's current budget, Smith convinced other commissioners to restore the program and again award it $114,020 in children's services taxes.
He said he now regrets doing so.
He said Bellamy should have personally come to the commission budget hearing to defend the program and ask for funding - but made no attempt to do so.
"This commissioner will not support any future funding" for the center if Bellamy remains as its executive director, Smith said.
Children in the low-income area the center serves especially need its support and activities, he stressed. "The children are suffering. They're playing in the streets."
"I've been good friends with him but our friendship does not supersede our children," Smith said of Bellamy.
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