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Board: Coach can teach youth

Members decide not to end William Thomas' contract, though he failed to comply with an audit.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2000


WESTCHASE -- After months of debate, charges and counter charges, the Team Thomas tennis controversy refuses to die.

The Westchase Community Association devoted 21/2 hours to deciding the fate of the popular tennis coach's program during its monthly meeting Thursday.

Since early spring, Team Thomas president William Thomas has been at the center of a debate that split the Westchase community and dominated recent community meetings.

In April, Thomas lost his contract to conduct adult tennis lessons, but retained his youth tennis camps and children's instruction. That came as a relief to many Westchase parents who had come to see Thomas as part of their families.

Last week, in an effort to put an end to the issue, board member Rick O'Keefe moved to terminate Thomas' contract with the board for not cooperating with an audit both parties agreed upon.

Percy Legendre, the certified public accountant chosen by the board to do the review, said he asked Thomas four times for his business' financial records from past years.

But Thomas' wife, Kathy Thomas, said the couple were unclear on whether Legendre was the auditor of record and unsure what records he was entitled to. The Thomases have retained attorney Mike Addison to help them negotiate with the association board, and Kathy Thomas brought a letter from Addison addressing the alleged delays.

The community association wants a look at William Thomas' books, going back four or five years, to document whether he was paying the association its contracted cut of tennis lesson fees.

But Addison contends that because it was Team Thomas Systems Inc., Thomas' corporate entity, that was awarded the contract, Thomas should only have to account for records dating back to January 1999, when the company began doing business. Prior to that, Thomas worked as an independent contractor.

Amid the confusion, the board was looking for answers.

"With all due respect, we've been through 25 hours of this. Do we have to do anymore?" asked board member Ruben Collazo.

Board member Pam Prysner suggested amending the motion to allow Thomas to continue running summer tennis camps until Aug. 8, the day before school begins.

That's when things got weird.

Board president Bob Argus called a "five minute" recess and the members left the dais. Argus and board member Carolyn Holt huddled in discussion by the pool. Other board members formed clutches of conversation around the meeting room. Board attorney Steve Mezer talked to many of them, as well as Kathy Thomas.

Then, after nearly an hour of off-the-record chit-chat, the board reconvened, and O'Keefe withdrew his motion to terminate Thomas.

By 10 p.m., following another extended break, the board reached accord, calling for Thomas and the auditor to meet with a mediator before the next community association meeting on July 27. The board wants Thomas to negotiate the terms of a confidentiality agreement and then produce all financial records the auditor needs.

"It's just been going back and forth," Addison said. "We're not just blowing them off. I'm trying to deal with them, and I'm trying to protect my client at the same time. I'm not sure what they want us to mediate."

Thomas did not attend the meeting. "They're on their own agenda, their on mission, their own planet," Thomas said of the board members. "It's kind of tough to visit them there."

-- To reach Logan D. Mabe, call 226-3464 or e-mail him at mabe@sptimes.com.

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