THE ISSUE: Apalachicola residents are looking for greater transparency from Franklin's Promise, an organization that has expanded greatly in scope and funding over the past decade. THE IMPACT: A possible ending of the management agreement the city has with Franklin's Promise to manage its municipal complex.
There goes a superstition that opening up an umbrella indoors will bring about bad luck.
Rain or shine, that belief will be tested in the weeks ahead, when Apalachicola’s auditing firm opens up an accounting of the city’s seven-year-old deal with the umbrella organization that manages the municipal complex.
Will a closer look at the numbers reveal good fortune, or seven years of bad luck?
Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson secured unanimous consent from commissioners July 11 to have Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC, the firm that does the city’s annual audit, take a closer look at the books pertaining to the Franklin Promise Coalition’s management of the Van Johnson Municipal Complex, the site of the former Apalachicola High School.
Franklin’s Promise, a coalition that weaves together social service providers with government, churches and community volunteers, has managed the complex since 2010 on behalf of the city, offering low-cost office and storage space for local non-profits as well as city departments.
Over the last few months, Johnson, who also serves on the Franklin’s Promise board, has been critical of the organization’s management of the city-owned space, spurred in large part by a dispute with Franklin’s Promise Director Joe Taylor over relocation of the county’s Head Start program, proposed for 2018, into office space at the complex.
Johnson last month asked Taylor to provide a detailed budget to City Administrator Lee Mathes as to who is leasing space at the complex and for how much. The mayor last month also asked Helen Willis Escobar, who manages the former high school gym, The Matchbox, under a public private arrangement with the city, to take a look at the books.
“ I tasked her with the job of going through the Van Johnson complex and looking at it, and seeing what we could do to manage that facility better,” said the mayor.
“Lee (Mathes) provided me an accounting that showed about $60,000 collected from 2010 to the present,” said Johnson. “It’s too vague to make heads or tails of it. We didn’t get the detailed information I asked for.
“There is space occupied that should be paying rent, (but) we haven’t collected one red cent,” he said. “Since 2010 it should equal more than $60,000. It’s vague, it’s confusing. We need to get somebody to look at this.
“If we don’t get a handle on the management of the building, and make sure the money’s coming, we may not have the building any more,” said Johnson.
The mayor said the city was three months behind in payment of the light bill, and owed about $9,000 to Duke Energy, but did not provide documentation. “The numbers simply do not add up,” he said.
While he asked for a motion, which Commissioner Jimmy Elliott made and Frank Cook seconded, Johnson made clear he planned to act in any event under his executive authority.
“I’m giving the city commissioners a chance to get ahead of this,” Johnson said prior to the vote. “(Otherwise) I’ll use my powers as mayor and go straight to the governor.”
Taylor appeared at the outset of the meeting, his stated purpose to present to each commissioner a full-color, 27-page report on Franklin’s Promise, subtitled “Eight years of serving the community…. together,” which offered an overview of the organization’s structure and mission, personnel and accomplishments. He also introduced Fran Edwards, treasurer of Franklin’s Promise, and asked commissioners if they had any questions. None were asked.
Taylor’s only comment pertaining to the audit was to take issue, briefly, with two of the mayor’s assertions. He said that there had not been double entries, which the mayor had alleged, and that Franklin’s Promise had fulfilled its obligation and committed $20,000 towards the city’s annual payment of the electric bill.
A portion of each of the 14 tenants’ quarterly rent payments goes towards utilities, Mathes said.
According to a report she drew up based on an examination of numbers Taylor provided her, the city receives annual income of about $26,000 for the office space, $24,480 of which is funneled through payments to Franklin’s Promise, and $1,440 of which is paid directly to the city, by Panhandle Players, for storage space for its costumes and sets.
The largest tenant, the Forgotten Coast Fitness and Wellness Center, rents five spaces, each $1,360 annually, for a total of $6,800 per year.
Franklin’s Promise Coalition rents four spaces, for its offices, donation closet, storage and affiliated Arts in Medicine program, for a total of $5,440 per year. The CareerSource Gulf Coast rents two office spaces per year, for a total of $2,720.
Each of the seven other organizations each pays $1,360 per year for their office space. These include the Capital Area Community Action Agency, the Franklin County SHIP (State Housing Initiative Partner) office, Bring Me A Book Franklin, Disc Village/ Big Bend Community Based Care, Sarah Madson Mental Health Services, Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition, and the Franklin County Tourist Development Council.
The Panhandle Players pay $120 per month for its storage space, and write a check directly to the city, unlike the other organizations, who write checks out to Franklin’s Promise, Mathes said.
Her report also lists several entities provided free space as a service to the community. These include office space for the mayor and for the Project Impact after-school program, office and classroom space for the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast, space for the food pantry, and storage for the city and the water and sewer department, city and county libraries and Toys for Tots.
The report indicates that between June 2010 and June 2017, these organizations, as well as several others that are no longer there, brought in income of more than $67,000, led by more than $13,000 that came in from rents connected to organizations operating in the wake of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The report lists expenses over those seven years as being about $87,000, roughly $20,000 more than income, an amount listed in the report as an “investment into building by Franklin’s Promise Coalition,”. The chief expense has been more than $58,000 for utilities, with another roughly $22,000 for maintenance and repairs, and the rest for garbage and cleaning services.
In its report to commissioners, Franklin’s Promise contends that since 2008, the organization has made an investment of about $2.6 million into the community, led by about $1.1 million in monies paid out in wages and to contractors, and another roughly $353,000 paid out in training allowances and stipends.
The report summarizes the operations and economic impact of a range of programs affiliated with the coalition under its umbrella, including the many food pantries around the county, a Seniors Care Network, the Community Emergency Response Teams and other disaster readiness, the Prosper Franklin anti-poverty initiative, the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team (SMARRT), an Arts in Wellness program, Franklin Youth Partnership, Conservation Corps, Toys for Tots, and Volunteer Franklin.
Mathes said that the audit is expected to cost a fraction of the $30,000 the city pays for its annual audit. She noted that the audit will be limited to the financials surrounding the leasing of the complex, and not extend to the entire books of Franklin’s Promise, which is a not-for-profit 501 (c)3 organization.