What Happened to Tony Plakas?

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Tony Plakas. Photo via Facebook.

72 words.

That’s the amount of space it took the Compass Board of Trustees to sum up Tony Plakas’ 20 year tenure that came to an abrupt end on January 2.

“In January 2018, after much deliberation and consideration, and in recognition of Tony Plakas' over 20 years of service as celebrated in November 2017, the board of trustees and Tony decided to move in a new direction for the organization,” the board wrote in a statement sent out to the community last week. “We are grateful for Tony's contributions and vision. Under his leadership, Compass grew to be a nationally recognized LGBTQ community center. We will always be grateful for his dedication and hard work.”

It took the LGBT community center in Lake Worth almost five months to release those three sentences. The statement then spent the next 556 words talking about everything but Plakas. The 10 paragraph message included welcoming Julie Seaver into the position of interim Executive Director; announcing the launch of a search for a new leader; a recap of Cocktails for Compass, a fundraiser that happened in December; a recap of PrideFest that took place in March; a look forward at the annual Stonewall Ball in June; the SMART Ride in November; and finally a paragraph celebrating 30 years in the community.

Before SFGN ran its first story detailing Plakas had left the organization in early April, they hadn’t publicly released anything. It took weeks before his name was removed from the website and he wasn’t mentioned at all from the stage at PrideFest this year.

To learn more about Plakas’ departure SFGN requested an interview with a board member on April 6 and was told that the board would be too busy to respond in time to meet the newspaper’s deadline.

“I have a board full of CPA's and auditors that are in the middle of their busiest time of year and the board's process is on their timetable and not the public or SFGN'S timetable,” said Julie Seaver, who has been with the organization 10 years. “As I stated, our board meeting is Wednesday the 11th, so I'm afraid it's a strong possibility you won't hear from them by this Monday.”

SFGN fact checked that statement and found that one only one board member is a certified public accountant in the state of Florida. That board meeting Seaver referenced has come and gone, as has tax season, but the board still has yet to directly respond to SFGN.

For the first time this week Plakas gave a brief statement to SFGN regarding its ongoing coverage.

“I decline to comment at this time in order to give the board, in cooperation with the leadership team, time to inform the public responsibly, as Compass has always done,” Plakas said.

Rumors and speculation have swirled around his departure since he left. And the Compass board has done little to quiet them or refute them. SFGN has chosen not to detail what those rumors are.

SFGN did speak with some members of the community who complained about Plakas’ salary for a year before he left. They did not want their names used.

According to the latest tax documents, which are now downloadable on Compass’ website, Plakas earned $126,135 in 2016 and $126,000 in 2015. In previous years, his salary was lower. In other years, it was higher. In 2009, it was $90,857. In 2012, it was $142,830. In 2013, it was $112,000. In 2014, it was $130,500.

SFGN has previously compared those numbers to other nonprofits and LGBT organizations around the country. They don’t appear to be out of the ordinary.

“This was a topic that was brought up,” Seaver previously stated. She said Plakas’ salary was commensurate with directors of other LGBT organizations. She said that a lot of work and responsibility goes into the CEO position. “Fiduciary oversight is an extreme responsibility and they take that responsibility very seriously.”

Another person, who is familiar with how Compass operates and did not want his name published, pushed back against the salary argument as well.

“His salary is a huge red herring,” this person said. “Julie Seaver was the one out in the bars making it a big deal well over a year ago. It wasn't the board. The board was always comfortable with his salary.“

This source also said members of the community “were passing around the 990s at Roosters.”

A form 990 is a document that nonprofits are required to fill out and make public. It includes some financial information about the organization including the salaries of its top executives.

SFGN gave Seaver another opportunity to respond.

“The board has issued a public statement on this matter. It’s located on the front page of our website for your reference,” Seaver said.

Except the board did not actually address the recent news reports, or the rumors, or anything else regarding Plakas’ departure, including why it took almost 5 months to say anything.

SFGN first spoke to Seaver on January 11 about Plakas and why nothing had been made public. Specifically, since she told SFGN the departure was mutual, why no joint press release?

Seaver said she thought it was a great idea and she would love to release one, but that was up to the board, and she didn’t know why they were staying mum.

Another issue that was brought to SFGN’s attention was the fact that Compass had an offsite location for the offices of their executive team despite their main building being 14,000 square feet. Some people have questioned the necessity of the additional space and were concerned with how Compass was spending its money.

“The center’s main square footage is used for public meetings, direct services and community events,” Chief Information Officer Claudia Harrison said of the other location just blocks away from Compass’ main building. As for who used it: “Staff usage varied over the years based on needs of the organization.”

Harrison said the offsite office space was rented from 2007 until February 2018. It’s unclear where those offices will go now.

“Rent was commensurate with other office space in the area,” Harrison said. According to Compass’ financial audit that is downloadable on their website under the section “lease commitments,” it gives a detailed explanation of how much Compass pays to lease its main building. It doesn’t appear to include information about the additional office space.

SFGN asked several other follow up questions, such as how much was the rent, but was not given a clear answer.

“I’m going to answer your last question with a question of my own. I’d like to know why you’re taking such an interest in the offsite location?” Harrison asked. Later she responded: “We ended the lease of the off-site office space because it is non-ADA compliant, and we are an equal opportunity employer. The most recent monthly rent for that space equaled .02% of Compass’s 2017 annual operating budget.”  

If Harrison is referring to the organization’s total expenses, which were $1,892,678 for 2016, .02 percent would amount to $4,542 a year. Their 2017 financial forms are not online yet.

Last year for Plakas’ 20 year celebration, SFGN conducted an extensive interview with the former CEO and wrote more than 2,500 words detailing his years with the organization.

At that time the Compass board and Seaver had plenty to say about Plakas. In the profile SFGN also detailed two times Plakas pulled the organization from the brink of certain doom.

“That’s a testament to his leadership. He was able to get it back on track,” said current chairman of the Compass board Michael Grattendick. “We’re in a better place then we’ve been in years. And it’s because of his leadership skills and vision.”

Plakas’ biggest strength, Grattendick said at the time, is his ability to relate.

“He has the ability to tailor the message to any component of the community whether it’s the youth, volunteers, major contributors, individuals, organizations,” he said. “He has an ability to meet with any of the constituents, and tailor a message they respond to.”

In the story, SFGN asked Plakas about his future with the organization. He declined to comment, instead saying “I serve at the pleasure of a board of trustees…so I am not going to jinx myself on that one.”

Seven months later he was gone.

In SFGN’s profile, Seaver also extolled Plakas’ leadership.

“He saved us. He stood up for us. Without development and outreach, there would be no Pride, no World AIDS Day, no Trans Day of Remembrance,” Seaver said. “We would just have been government cheese. But Tony turned that cheese into cheesecake. He said ‘I will not work at Compass without a team with a heart.’”

Seaver added, “But Tony is really the heart.”

UPDATE: This story differs from the print version to reflect additional answers from Compass. Also an earlier version of this story incorrectly calcuated the percentage of the organization's total expenses to come up with a figure for its yearly rent.

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