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Daycare wars: pre-K cops, a lawsuit, vote disputes and former state Sen. Bogdanoff

@MarcACaputo

Police. A lawsuit. Allegations of financial improprieties. Voting disputes. And a former state senator caught in the maelstrom.

The daycare wars have erupted in Florida.

On Friday, the once-little known Florida Association of Child Care Management’s annual meeting in Delray Beach became a political show when a Hialeah daycare owner was thrown out during FACCM’s annual board-member elections.

“I declare this meeting null and void,” Hialeah preschool owner Bill de la Sierra said after Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies escorted him out of the South County Civic Center.

De la Sierra laid the blame for the problems at the feet of former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, who became FACCM’s de facto executive director in May.

Ever since Bogdanoff took over, he said she has exerted too much staff control over the group’s $1 million budget and hired former staffers from her legislative and campaign team and rubbed some members of the trade association the wrong way.

De la Sierra has requested detailed financial information from FACCM, which has refused to provide the documents and instead sued de la Sierra, president of Kidworks USA.

But Bogdanoff denies wrong doing and said FACCM was a mess before she was brought in to restore the 1,200-member organization’s reputation and run it in a professional way. The trade association helps members with everything from accreditation to insurance to legal issues in the state Capitol.

“This isn’t about me,” Bogdanoff said. “This is about an organization that had a history of dysfunction. I walked into a firestorm.”

At one point she found a measure of humor in the police presence, calling them "kindergarten cops."

Aside from a busload of protestors de la Sierra brought with him, a number of daycare and preschool owners weren’t happy with how the annual elections were held for 10 of the 18 board of director seats.

Marisol Amarante, owner of Kayleen’s Learning Center in Kendall, was denied the right to vote on the board members because she failed to pre-register to attend the meeting. Maria Esteban, owner of Kids Paradise in Westchester, was also denied the right to vote.

“The bylaws don’t say anything about pre-registering to vote,” Amarante said. “I’m a member in good standing, and I can’t have a say. It’s not right.”

Amarante and Esteban said that Miami-Dade accounts for about half of the members of the trade group, but only has one voting member on the board.

“We just want equal representation,” Esteban said.

Not everyone could attend the meeting, so de la Sierra brought along 71 proxy votes. But he wasn’t allowed to cast them. He made a motion to open the meeting to the public and, though it passed 182-1, he was then thrown out.

De la Sierra brought two parliamentarian experts to Friday’s meeting to argue his case that the FACCM board was breaking its bylaws and rules, but they were tossed out of the meeting shortly after he was. A group of dozens of protestors wearing neon green shirts was denied access to the meeting.

Bogdanoff, a Republican who represented Fort Lauderdale in the Florida House and Senate for a decade, also had a reputation in the Legislature for causing friction.

But Bogdanoff, who also enjoys a good reputation in the halls of power, said the current brouhaha predates her. She said she hired longtime staffers to work at FACCM because she trusts them. She said that the current board wants a professional staff to manage the trade association, which was micromanaged by some members.

In an email shortly after her reelection loss in January, Bogdanoff expressed frustration with some of the board members’ requests and claims.

“I also find their requests insulting and accusatory in nature,” Bogdanoff wrote.

Bogdanoff, who got Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen to serve on the group’s board, then offered to resign.

But Bogdanoff stayed on and, in January, two board members then quit. One was the FACCM treasurer who accused Bogdanoff of wresting away her access to the group’s bank account.

Bogdanoff said she was instituting financial controls.

Under Bogdanoff, FACCM sued de la Sierra for alleged trademark infringement because he started his own rival faction, Friends of FACCM.

De la Sierra said the lawsuit was designed to block him from obtaining financial records he requested months ago.

“They’re trying to cover-up, hide where the money is going,” de la Sierra said.

But FACCM’s lawyer, Charles Lichtman, said de la Sierra has no rights to the records he requested because it’s designed to defame the group, an illegitimate purpose.

“He’s not entitled to anything. He’s causing havoc” Lichtman said. “Ellyn Bogdanoff is trying to do the right thing.”

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