Updated April 20 at 5:18 with a response from Robert Boo
Wilton Manors City Commissioner Julie Carson will call on the city to “sever all financial ties” with the Pride Center at its next commission meeting on Tuesday because she’s no longer comfortable with how the organization is being run.
Carson is calling for significant changes to be made at the Center in its operating practices, transparency and leadership.
This announcement comes on the heels of the Pride Center board voting to keep Robert Boo, its Chief Executive Officer, in place, despite the growing controversy that has engulfed the LGBT community center over the last month.
So far three board members have resigned, including two this week.
“As a new member of the board, I felt it was best that I step away from the current controversy,” Jane Bolin said. “I remain a supporter of the mission of the Pride Center as a founder and member of the governance committee.
SFGN also learned Chairman of the Board, Mark Budwig, has resigned as well.
Boo has come under fire for not taking action sooner to terminate the employment of a registered sex offender, Clarence Collins, 63, who confessed to raping an 11-year-old girl in the mid-90s and threatening “to kill her if she told.” Children regularly visit the Pride Center and use its playground. Boo admitted he knew of Collins’ sex offender history all along, just not the details of the crime, and wanted to give him a second chance. But once the playground was installed Collins’ employment at the center was no longer legal since sex offenders aren’t allowed to work near anywhere children gather. Boo later claimed ignorance of the law. And Collins was later arrested for illegally working at the Pride Center after he had been fired.
“Had I known then what I know now, including the abhorrent details of how he hurt that child, I would have immediately terminated him and never permitted him to continue working at The Center in any capacity,” Boo wrote.
Boo has repeatedly apologized to the board, founders, and community.
In a recent letter addressed to the community, Boo said he believed he had done his due diligence by contacting Collins’ former probation officer before he hired him part-time in 2013.
“I believed that I was taking the appropriate precaution when I contacted his probation officer to inquire about him,” Boo wrote. “I was told that he was a registered sex offender but no longer under any form of confinement, supervision or any other court-imposed sanction which would limit his employability.”
SFGN attempted to confirm that this conversation took place, but was unable to do so.
“We are unable to confirm a conversation that occurred six years prior. Please note, the Department’s jurisdiction over this individual ended in April 2012 when he completed his supervision,” a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said. He later added, “In general, Probation Officers work regularly with employers to discuss conditions of supervision.”
On Monday the Pride Center board will meet again to officially “censure” Boo and take formal disciplinary action.
Some parents have expressed outrage over Boo’s handling of the controversy so far and have called on him to resign. One board member, Jim Walker, also publicly called on Boo to resign before the vote to remove him took place.
Those parents were concerned that a sex predator was knowingly allowed to be around their children. But SFGN has also since learned from a former board member, and a long time volunteer, that the Pride Center does not conduct background checks on its volunteers.
"The Pride Center’s process for screening volunteers is being reviewed by the special task force established by The Pride Center Board. As one example of our current screening of prospective volunteers, a Broward County resident who is volunteering to support the call center and reception functions would be scrutinized through case searches of the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County Clerk of the Courts, among other information sources," Boo said.
In 2015, before the playground was installed, a local activist expressed these same concerns to the Wilton Manors City Commission.
“As The Pride Center moves forward with their playground as LGBT safe space for LGBT families and children, I do hope they run level 2 background checks on their employees and volunteers to ensure those who are sexual offenders are properly screened so not to endanger the safety and welfare of those families,” Michael Rajner wrote.
In addition to the city waiving and reducing fees for Pride Center events, the City also donated about $3,000 to the building of the playground. SFGN reached out to the City to see if they heeded Rajner’s concerns at the time.
“The City worked with the Pride Center during the design and build phase of the playground to ensure that the structures were permitted, constructed, and inspected for compliance with the South Florida Building Code,” said City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson. “The Pride Center campus is privately owned and the City does not have any Ordinances that govern private playground safety.”