Wilton Manors City Commissioner Julie Carson brought the controversy surrounding Robert Boo and the Pride Center into Tuesday night’s commission meeting.
Carson, who said she had immense respect and support for what The Pride Center does, put the possibility of the city severing its financial support and ties to Pride on the city’s agenda. But the rest of the commission was against the city taking action.
Recently, Boo, Pride Center’s Chief Executive Officer, has been the cause of controversy for not taking action sooner to terminate the employment of a registered sex offender, Clarence Collins, 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.
This week, Book was censured by the Pride Board of Directors and suspended for two weeks without pay beginning May 1. He will also have to undergo training and will have his performance monitored. He recently apologized for his remarks.
“We learn from our mistakes and obviously the reason we are here tonight is so I can very publically, very openly, apologize,” Boo said to a crowd of dozens of board members, founders, staff and others at Rosie’s on April 15. “Because of some decisions that I made with the information that I had, I brought a black cloud to the center.”
Carson said she found out about Collins’ status as a registered sex offender two years ago and was assured by Boo that he would not be allowed near children. Since then, she said she found out that was not the case. “I believe the city’s been betrayed.”
Carson then said the city should sever its ties with Pride until it “demonstrates action” to address the situation. The ties with the city include about $18,000 in fire exemption fees, revenue sharing, event permit fees and facility rental fees. A little under $3,000 is from revenue-sharing related to Wicked Manors, which Pride organizes every year. Mayor Gary Resnick pointed out that the $8,000 in fire exemption fees is something that all nonprofits and religious organizations which own property enjoy. Resnick said the city could not single out Pride on the fire exemption fees. Either everyone, or no one, would benefit from the exemption.
But even though the amount given by the city to Pride is relatively small, the rest of the city commission did not want to see that support end. Vice Mayor Justin Flippen said the “greater good” needs to be taken into account but that he expects Boo and Pride to “restore that faith” that some in the community lost with Pride.
Commissioner Scott Newton said he didn’t want to punish all of Pride and the people they help just because of the failure of Boo. Resnick agreed, and said that the city cutting ties with Pride would include Wicked Manors which generates about $1 million in revenue for local businesses. Without that, said Resnick, the city might lose businesses to Oakland Park or Fort Lauderdale.
Members of the public and Pride board members also spoke out in favor of the organization and Boo. “Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance,” said Mark Seymour, owner of Hunter’s Nightclub, a presenting sponsor during Wicked Manors. “He’s a good guy.”.
Pride Center Board Member Chris Caputo said he was disappointed by Carson bringing up the issue and said Pride means a lot to him and others. Resident and activist Michael Rajner said he had “lost confidence in the [Pride Center] board” and that the issue “needs correcting.”
Although no action as taken, Carson said she was glad a dialogue on the subject occurred.