Hi folks. Melissa White, executive director of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation, here. I was on vacation and haven’t been paying much attention – has the Foundation been in the news lately? I kid. Obviously there has been quite a bit of back and forth, with quite a bit of misinformation, half-truths and insinuations coming from one side of the discussion. So I figured I would weigh in on the written debate with some facts.
I read Betty Sime Conroy's commentary last week. It confused me because, despite stating so, it had nothing to do with the actual exchange between Council member Lauredo and I at the community group budget workshop on June 29. Of course the KBCF Board and I agree with transparency in what we do. That is also why all of the Foundation’s tax filings and audits are on its website and all of the documents relating to the services the Foundation provides to the Village are public record. Just ask Jennifer Allegra and Gustavo Tellez, both of whom have made voluminous public records requests related to the KBCF. Ms. Allegra publishes pictures of the public records, out of context, on Louisa Conway’s What’sApp chat -- a chat that has devoted extensive time and energy to attacking the KBCF and its relationship with the Village for over two years.
Everyone should understand that the Village could, at any time, cancel the contract with the KBCF, or refuse to pay the KBCF if it felt the services were not performed as promised. The unfair burden falls on the KBCF, which provides a lot of work without any certainty of payment and, in the case of FreeBee or COVID testing or as a fiscal sponsor, by advancing funds as essentially a zero interest loan to the Village. And, unlike other for-profit vendors, the KBCF’s financials are completely transparent because, as mentioned above, as a not for profit and a steward of tax-deductible donations, our IRS filings are public.
The board and staff of the KBCF are enormously proud of how much we have been able to accomplish, the services we’ve provided to the Village, and the enrichment we’ve provided to this community -- all while keeping administrative costs low.
Betty Sime Conroy also wrote that I refused to answer questions about taxpayer dollars. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, I am ready, willing and able to answer all questions that any council members have related to our work with the Village. I proactively reach out to our Village Council and have always availed myself to discuss and directly answer any questions from council members or Village staff. I am not hard to find.
In fact, there was only one question that Council member Lauredo asked related to KBCF’s line item in the Village budget at the June community group workshop. He wanted more information about a separate line item for a 30th anniversary party and requested the question be answered by the Village CFO, who explained the process of reimbursement for these expenses. The manager also helped to explain to Mr. Lauredo that it was already approved, in last year’s budget.
What Betty’s commentary seemingly missed was when Mr. Lauredo asked me to answer a question related to the Foundation’s tax determination by the IRS. In not so few words he asked if I had broken federal law. The question was completely unrelated to the community group workshop and the Village budget. More importantly, the implication was defamatory and untrue. In retrospect, it should not have been surprising since this same subject was discussed on Louisa Conway’s What’sApp chat.
Some ask me to have more of a sense of humor about these things, but the Foundation relies on donors to do its vital work, and the false suggestions that it is engaged in improper or illegal activity is very damaging.
This workshop immediately reminded me of what happened in June of 2019, when Councilmember Ignacio Segurola announced that the relationship between the Village and the Foundation was improper and possibly illegal. He, like Councilmember Lauredo, was wrong about the Foundation and its relationship to the Village.
The reality is that the Foundation is one of many vendors engaged by the Village to perform services for the Village. Our contract, with a line item of $125,000, represents approximately 0.3% in the $39 million Village budget. The Community Groups have an entire workshop dedicated to all community funding, an amount representing less than 2% of the entire Village budget.
Interestingly, the same amount of time is devoted to this 2% as is devoted to the other 98% of the Village budget. Betty says there is no transparency around Community Group budgeting. Does she really believe that or is she just repeating the words that routinely appear in Louisa Conway’s What’sApp chat? While it may not be fiscally responsible to spend the same amount of time on 2% of a budget as you do on 98%, it is certainly transparent.
This vitriol towards the Foundation has been puzzling, especially a year after a pandemic where the Foundation stepped up in countless ways. I have tried to rise above it and even turn the other cheek, but when you take what happened at the dais on June 29, combined with a defamatory paid advertisement and a commentary from our neighbor, Betty, two weeks later, it becomes apparent that this is a coordinated effort, though to what end remains a mystery.
I love Key Biscayne and my job. This is my hometown. I get to work with incredible people trying to make Key Biscayne and the world a better place. From the July 4th Parade Committee, to the Women’s Giving Circle, to the ASK Club, to ICU Baby, to the Chief Press Foundation, to iPads for Soldiers, to Fill A Bag, I could go on and on. We mobilized during COVID to help seniors and residents, brought testing to the Key, and helped schedule almost a thousand vaccine appointments when they became available. We reached out to seniors to keep them engaged during a time when many were isolated. We have assisted the Village with additional programming when asked to, such as managing and fronting the costs of Freebee for a time when the Village did not have the resources to do so.
The funding we get from the Village is to run Key Biscayne Community programming and in no way supports the work the Foundation does off the Key. We have been an excellent community partner.
The support of the Village staff and the countless volunteers and donors has sustained me during the last two years, but it has taken its toll. When I and others say it is time for it to stop, I don’t mean transparency and asking questions about our services and work for the Village. We mean that the defamation and vitriol published to hundreds of people regularly about me and the Foundation must stop. I cannot quantify the toll it has had on the Foundation, but it has taken a toll on me and my family. I have finally realized that the vitriol and defamation will not stop unless we fight back and call out all of those who are orchestrating this smear campaign and in the process harming the community as a whole.
I look forward to moving beyond this phase. I hope you will join me in the fight to preserve what is wonderful about our community.