The Key Biscayne Community Foundation, which provided Village services ranging from COVID-19 testing to environmental science for six years, said on Monday it was severing ties with the Key Biscayne Village government. The programs are among the Village’s most popular with residents and visitors alike.
“The constant barrage of false information in an orchestrated smear campaign promoted by a small group in our community has irreparably damaged the Foundation,” wrote Melissa McCaughan White, the nonprofit’s executive director, in a letter to Village Manager Steve Williamson. The KBCF said it intended to stop doing work for the Village as of Oct. 1, the start of the next government fiscal year.
The letter did not mention critics’ names, but the group’s funding has drawn criticism from Council Members Ignacio Segurola and more recently, Luis Lauredo. Others critical of the group were unsuccessful candidates Jennifer Allegra and Louisa Conway. Segurola declined to comment.
Most recently, critics of the Foundation’s budget claimed — without evidence — in an advertisement bought in the weekly Islander News that the Foundation was not being transparent about its handling of Village funds for 15 different programs. In fact, the Village has made available extensive financial documentation about the reimbursements the Foundation receives, a Village official said.
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In 2019, amid criticism around the Village merely reimbursing the Foundation when billed, the relationship between the two was formalized in a contract. And following criticism regarding the Villages agreement to provide office space to KBCF as part of the overall compensation package, the Foundation vacated its space in Village Hall.
Allegra did not respond to a request for comment, but Conway said she was disappointed by the Foundation’s decision and said her criticism was not about the groups’ work, but rather, the way the Village decided to authorize spending.
“It was never for me, an issue about the KBCF or the work that they do, which is amazing. It’s about the Village.” She said criteria for funding community groups is inadequate, and said the Village administration did a poor job of establishing need. She did not dispute that the Village had provided financial documentation about spending administered by the KBCF.
The Village pays $125,000 to the Foundation to administer programs, in addition to funding that is earmarked for the programs themselves. The largest change, White said, would likely be to the Citizen Scientist program, which has often conducted research for the Village, including water quality monitoring and environmental studies on various topics. For the upcoming budget year, the Village’s proposed budget calls for spending about $312,320 on community programs.
It is unclear how the Village will now move forward for the next fiscal year. The Village could hire additional staff to pick up the administrative duties, or it could outsource the work to another provider. Williamson, the manager, did not return a call for comment.
“This is going to fall into the lap of the CFO and village manager,” said Mayor Mike Davey. “How are we going to be picking up all that work?” Davey said. “It’s a great loss for the Village.”
Davey said most residents may not have realized the extent to which the Foundation was providing help to government departments. He also singled out former Mayor Mayra Peña-Lindsay for leading efforts to remove the group from government offices and hoped the Foundation would resume its work in the future. Lindsay declined to comment.
For leaders of some of the community groups who relied on the Foundation’s work to plan programs and host events, the termination of the contract came as a total surprise.
“I am in shock,” said Michele Estevez, a former council member and member of the 4th of July Parade Committee, one of the groups that relied on the Foundation to administer operations. The parade, which resumed its 62nd showing this month, is a signature event for the community of 13,000.
“The Foundation did so much work for us, it was incredible,” she said. Estevez said the committee may need to ask for additional funds to cover overhead the Foundation was providing, and lamented what she said was increasing political tension in Key Biscayne.
“There is too much division on this island,” she said. “It has to stop.”
Jorge Mendia, another former council member and one of the Foundation’s founders, said the board made the decision to end government work three months ago. Earlier, the Foundation had stopped administering the FreeBee transportation service and COVID testing and vaccine programs; both are now handled by different government agencies.
“I think we did a lot of good for the community in partnership with the Village,” he said. “At this point, it’s too much of a distraction. We can do more for the community without the government constraints and the constant bickering.”
“At this point, the board said, ‘We’re done,’” Mendia said.