Updated April 18, 9:40 a.m.
A board member of the Pride Center called on CEO Robert Boo to resign on Friday.
“I am ready to call for resignation,” said board member Jim Walker. “This was a clear lack of judgement on Robert’s part.”
Walker was especially disappointed in a statement from board president Mark Budwig on Wednesday that stated:
“The Pride Center Board of Directors supports CEO Robert Boo’s decisive action to address the issue pertaining to a recently terminated part-time employee. We are committed to continuing our work with Robert, the Pride Center staff, our members and partners to be a welcoming, safe space and inclusive home that celebrates, nurtures and empowers the LGBTQ community and our neighbors in South Florida.”
Walker called the statement “patently untrue,” saying “several board members are ready to call for [Boo’s] resignation.”
This comes just hours after Boo sent out a letter to the community Friday morning addressing the unfolding sex predator scandal that has engulfed the LGBT community center over the last month.
“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.
Clarence Collins, 63, a convicted sex predator, worked at the Pride Center in some capacity since 2003 until he was fired on March 19. Collins confessed to raping an 11-year-old girl in the mid-90s as well as threatening “to kill her if she told.”
Walker said he and some other board members did not feel the letter was appropriate and that the board should be taking lead on handling this situation.
“He’s the one under scrutiny here. He should not be acting as his own spokesperson,” Walker said. “By not acting we [as the board] are implicitly endorsing him.”
According to Walker, Boo told the board that he could not bring Collins’ sex predator status to the board because it was a “personnel issue.”
However, Collins is listed on a public sex offender registry list that everyone has access to.
Walker also said Boo could have taken the issue to an attorney at any time to seek legal advice.
In the letter Boo accepts responsibility for the controversy, promises to work to regain the trust of the community, and asserts that the safety of anyone visiting the Pride Center is of the utmost importance to him.
“At the time, however, I did not know all of the facts and regretfully relied upon information provided to me by a law enforcement officer, which was incomplete,” Boo wrote. This is the first time he mentioned he spoke with a law enforcement officer. In the past Boo only said he spoke with Collins’ former probation officer.
Boo now admits Collins did work at child themed events. Previously he asserted Collins was not allowed to work those events. But others disputed that assertion and there is photographic evidence showing Collins at least at one event.
Boo clarified this in his letter: “I thought that I was doing the right thing by forbidding this individual from working during child-focused events hosted at the facility, and by instructing him to only take part in pre-event set-up or post-event clean-up.”
Now it appears Collins only worked before and after those events.
Richard Alalouf, the executive director of South Florida Family Pride, though disputes this characterization as well.
“Clarence was sitting in the lobby, or at the front desk, or in the kitchen during our events,” he said. “One time the sound system stopped working and I had to use him mid-event.”
Boo further adds “I was unaware that this employee was prohibited by statutory requirements from being within a certain distance of any playground, even if it was not actively in use by children. I did not know about the statute; this is not an excuse, but simply the truth.”
However, SFGN interviewed a former employee, Stephen Kosiorek, who disputes that and said when he found out about Collins’ past, he informed most of the management of the Pride Center, and mentioned the employment restrictions registered sex offenders have to face, which includes not being allowed work near playgrounds.
The playground was built in 2015 with financial and logistical support from KaBoom!, a non-profit that helps builds playgrounds across the nation, and JetBlue. The City of Wilton Manors also contributed close to $3,000 to the building of the playground.
SFGN obtained an email from 2015 from local activist Michael Rajner to the Wilton Manors City Commission expressing some concerns about the playground project.
“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,” Rajner wrote.
Julie Carson, a City Commissioner for Wilton Manors, previously told SFGN she spoke to Boo about Collins more than a year ago.
“I contacted Robert to make sure he was aware that Clarence is a sexual predator,” Carson said. “I trust Robert and I trusted that he knew the right things to do.”
Here is what the Florida law states: “If the victim was under age 18, a prohibition on working for pay or as a volunteer at any place where children regularly congregate, including, but not limited to, schools, child care facilities, parks, playgrounds, pet stores, libraries, zoos, theme parks, and malls.”
After Collins was fired from the Pride Center he was arrested for failing to re-register as a sex offender, and failing to notify law enforcement of a change of address. Since he’s been in jail a third charge was added for illegally working near a playground.
SFGN has also since learned Collins once lived on the Pride Center campus sometime in 2013, a couple of years before the playground was built. His address on the sex offender registry, at the time, was listed as “transient.”
“It became first hand knowledge for me because of my trusted servant position for a 12-Step Program meeting, that would meet in the mornings in Building B at The Pride Center. I witnessed Clarence Collins sleeping on the couch, living in the PALS Project office,” Michael Mayberry said. “I asked him ‘why are you living here?’ and he said it was for financial reasons, the long bus ride from where he used to live, and because of the odd hours he was working at The Center.”
Mayberry also added: “I asked him how he could set-up an apartment...and he said he kept it low-key (he had all the keys to get into the building) and the Center management was being tolerant of the situation until he could get the funds to move closer to the Center.”
Boo’s letter is not enough for Heidi Siegel. She resigned from the Pride Center board over Boo’s handling of the scandal.
“Robert’s first course of action was to try to silence a mother who was upset, to encourage a verbal attack on that mother and to defend the sexual predator as well as minimize his role at the Center and his crime,” Siegel said. “If Robert truly was concerned for our children, he would not need to know the details of the crime to support and emphasize with our concerns that he knowingly exposed our children to a sexual predator. Instead, it took learning of the details and calls for his resignation in the Miami Herald for him to release a public relations firm crafted letter.”
Boo now wants to regain the trust of the community and move forward.
“I am deeply sorry to have lost the trust of some members of the community and apologize profoundly for having failed to further investigate this man's criminal background after speaking with his probation officer,” Boo wrote. “To be clear, the safety and security of all children, visitors, partners and staff of The Pride Center are of paramount importance to me.”
The Center already announced that they would be creating a task force to review all of their internal policies going forward. Boo reiterated his commitment to the task force.
“We are creating a task force to review all practices, policies and procedures. We make great efforts to ensure that we comply with all ethical and legal requirements expected of us,” Boo wrote. “We are committed to ensuring the continued inclusion, safety and support of all Center visitors, community partners and friends.”
A task force though isn’t enough for Siegel or Alalouf. Both have called for Boo’s resignation and an internal investigation looking at what happened.
“He clearly does not have the capacity to handle conflict, protect members of our community or not go on the offensive,” Siegel said. “His voice is not trusted nor qualified. He needs to resign.”