Q & A With Bob Kunst

It wasn't until last summer that your critics went to the Herald. Why not six months earlier, or even six months later?

Just before the Herald thing, Dominick was hospitalized, out of the office. But he had already been losing clients in the meals-on-wheels program because he wasn't keeping up the paperwork. So Marlene and I were going to switch the program to [CAN employee] Manny Estrada. The point is that we have lives at stake. The next thing I know, Savage and Starita show up, and I'm saying, "Wow, what's this all about?"

What it was about, says Magarelli, who replaced Kunst as executive director, and board chairman Tom Cunningham, is that Cure AIDS Now was on the brink of bankruptcy: The agency's records were a mess. The utility bills hadn't been paid. The landlord was about to evict the organization from its bungalow on South Dixie Highway because the rent hadn't been paid in three months. Even the auto insurance premiums on the food delivery vans were overdue. On top of everything, they allege, funds were going to waste on everything from bumper stickers to Kunst's personal travel expenses. They told the Herald Kunst had submitted $21,000 in travel expenses that he expected the agency to reimburse.

"We are a Dade County food program and Kunst did not want to concentrate on that fact," says Magarelli, who won't say whether he initiated the Herald's involvement. "This is not a political organization and that's what he was trying to turn it into. He lost sight of what this program is about and let his ego get in the way of helping people with AIDS. The fact was that someone had to do something before the agency was shut down."

At present Cure AIDS Now is undergoing an audit by a certified public accountant. (Magarelli says the accountant volunteered his time. Kunst says the City of Miami had already allocated the money to pay for it.)

Cunningham, who says Kunst's allegations are the ramblings of a bitter man, says, "If Bob Kunst took all the good will and energy he is capable of producing and used it for the betterment of the gay community and the AIDS-infected community, we could take on some wonderful projects right here in Dade County. But he would rather spread himself all over the world and build a name for himself than build a safe haven right here at home for people with AIDS. If he had taken the money that was blown on travel, do you know what we could have accomplished right here in Dade County?"

You say the $30,000 the agency owed was a result of cutbacks in funding. What about the $21,000 in travel and other expenses?

I never even submitted an official request for reimbursement. I would say $12,000 of that money was for travel expenses I paid out of my pocket, and I took the attitude that if at some point there was some money donated for travel that could be used to reimburse me, fine. If not, I would just have to eat it. The rest of that money was used to keep the operation going. There were times when we didn't have enough money for payroll because we hadn't gotten the check from the county, or all the papers weren't ready to submit the check. And I would take the money out of my pocket. We needed money for the phone bill, I would take money out of my pocket; we needed money for this, I would take it out of my pocket. The people running the place now still have my last ten paychecks. You didn't see that in the Herald.

The interesting thing is that for all this piddly shit that was going on, it was not just one front-page story, it was twenty stories. All this real scandal going on all over the place and it barely gets any coverage, and I get twenty stories. I'm honored, except for the fact that there was a malicious purpose, which was to get me out of the way.

If you were paying operating expenses out of your own pocket, why didn't you just cut down on the travel and use some of that money?

The county, and every one of the governments we deal with, knew from the very beginning that we were doing it differently, that we were international in scope. Everything that I was bringing back was information on how to keep my clients alive. The idea was that the more people started talking about this like it was some emergency instead of politics as usual, the more they would cough up the dollars to be able to deal with our own crisis. So the impact of being able to get this message across is enormous. I think we were getting our money's worth.

Your critics blamed the financial crisis on everything from travel bills to unauthorized use of funds and no documentation of donations. They say the rent and bills hadn't been paid.

It's all bull. All the checks we needed came in that week, anyway. The first round with the Herald fell on its ass. Even though it was damaging on one hand, nobody believed it. July was a month of terror, but we felt everything was resolved. The county, which was the biggest bitch because Gersten is making political hay with the whole thing, comes in and does an audit. They come up with five points: First, we need to make sure there are no paid staff members on the board, so I immediately resigned as acting chair. Fine. Secondly, we needed to have new bylaws making sure we had strong oversight by an independent board. Third, we need to send a copy of the bylaws to the IRS. Fourth, we need to give the county a budget for the next year, which was going to be the exact same $330,000 we had - Mr. Gersten, in spite of all of his protests about wanting to save a life, he's so full of shit it's unbelievable. And finally, we needed to separate the duties of executive employees and boardmembers.

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