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Money dries up, bringing questions and new leadership to Tampa nonprofit

TAMPA — A new leader has been installed at one of East Tampa's leading nonprofit agencies following reports that money is going out faster than it's coming out.

Jeanette Bradley, longtime chief executive officer of the Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan, was recently removed as head of the nonprofit and replaced by interim director Derrick Blue.

Blue now will lead the 30-year-old nonprofit for at least the next six months and help the board of directors implement a strategic plan to help turn around the organization's finances, said board chair Liverno Williams.

Prior to his appointment, Blue was the executive director of the organization's Coastal Bay Properties, which offers home retrofitting and weatherization programs.

In a telephone interview last week, Williams said Bradley's departure was necessary because the Action Plan generated little to no revenue for a year and was showing losses of $40,000 to $55,000 a month.

Returning the nonprofit to a healthy financial state requires moving forward without Bradley, Williams said.

"We felt strongly it was important to change the direction of the organization," he said.

The Action Plan's most recent tax return, filed in 2016, shows a fund balance of $76,798, down from $5.9 million \ the preceding year. The earlier return reflects the organization's reported $7.2 million sale of Oakhurst Square, a 200-unit low-income housing unit it once owned in West Tampa.

In addition to losing money, the organization made little effort to operate programs without dipping into its investment funds, Williams said.

"There's no money, no sponsors, no grants, no fundraisers," he said.

The program that is keeping the nonprofit afloat is the one Blue oversaw, Williams said.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Bradley concurred that Coastal Bay Properties was the only program bringing money into the organization but blamed the board for this, saying it failed to do its part to raise money as required in the nonprofit's bylaws.

Between 2012 and 2014, the board experienced transitions that brought in new members and changed its primary focus from governance to fundraising.

That switch required board members to take the lead on finding revenue sources other than grants, "which were harder to come by," she said.

Bradley, who was a consultant to the nonprofit before formally joining as director in 2013, said she tried but failed in a number of attempts to get board members engaged in the new orientation of the group.

Bradley said when she approached board members with fundraising ideas, rather than take them on, they requested that she plan and execute them.

Board members rarely attended fundraisers coordinated by nonprofit staff, Bradley said.

"I had to write the grants and do the fundraising," she said. "I got absolutely no support from the board. They did absolutely nothing."

Bradley estimates that in the last year, the board collectively raised about $2,500 while she donated $3,000 of her own money to the nonprofit.

"I didn't have the confidence (of the board)," she said. "I never had the support of the board."

Founded in 1987 by local civil rights activist James Hammond, the Action Plan supports a number of initiatives in the areas of health care, housing, and entrepreneurship.

The entrepreneurship component consists of the 5508 Co-Working and Collaboration Exchange, a shared work space and business incubator program that's part of the nonprofit's mission to support economic development and create a culture of entrepreneurship in low-income areas of East Tampa.

Created from a former storage center, the five-acre property houses about 30 businesses including a coffee shop and law offices and features a 10,000 square-foot events hub that has hosted networking and entertainment events.

The current brouhaha is the latest among the organization's brushes with controversy. In 2001, it weathered a scandal that sent then-executive director Chet Luney and Tampa public housing chief Steve LaBrake to prison after Luney helped LaBrake build a lavish home in exchange for city housing contracts.

In February, Bradley accompanied Hammond at the WEDU "Be More Unstoppable" Awards for nonprofits, where the Action plan was honored for innovation.

Hammond could not be reached for comment.

Author Ersula Knox Odom, who operates her business through the nonprofit's co-work program, said she remembers when the campus was "nothing but a garage."

She was "pleased and happy" to see Bradley guide the organization through its challenges and "turn the place around."

News of Bradley's ouster is unsettling because she helped the nonprofit and its programs expand and grow, Odom said.

"What I see is good," she said. "Why not work with her to move it forward?"

Williams said he and other board members would rather pursue a fresh start with Blue.

"He has been consistent with the program he's over and making sure the vision of THAP remains alive," he said. "I feel very confident in his leadership."

Times senior staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]

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