The county commission may not have done anyone any favors in allowing for a split between Franklin’s Promise and the emergency management office.

But when that’s the only choice you’re given, that’s the choice you have to take.

The commissioners, faced with a direct refusal by Franklin’s Promise to sign a contract drawn up by County Attorney Michael Shuler, did not entertain any further negotiations that would have slowed down the process, a step that often, in other unrelated matters, the county is willing to take. It is reasonable to assume the commissioners knew of and backed each of the contract’s terms, including the one that most stuck in the craw of Franklin’s Promise. They had the power to amend the terms, or extend the time period for talks.

The organization wrote in a press release nine days after their resignation that they had “concerns about the legal implications of a particular provision and needed time to research those items in the IRS code and Florida state law as well as seek legal counsel.” 

In other words, we got to lawyer up. 

The release cited a provision, one of the last ones listed, that read “If Franklin’s Promise is no longer Franklin County’s ESF-15, designated as the agency to collect donations for the Wildfire, then the ownership of the Special Account shall be transferred either to Franklin County or a charitable organization selected by Franklin County within 30 calendar days written notice from Franklin County to Franklin’s Promise. However, if Franklin’s Promise is no longer Franklin County’s ESF-15, it shall continue to be bound by the terms of this contract for five years after the date that Franklin’s Promise is no longer Franklin County’s ESF-15.” 

It does seem contradictory: How can you be bound to do a job for five years after you no longer are doing the job?

It also seems to be a question that would take (unless your lawyer is trying to draw out unnecessary billable hours) a matter of (even if he or she talked slowly) minutes, not days. New York minutes, not kayaking down the Apalachicola River minutes.

As it turns out, the five-year provision is primarily designed to ensure recordkeeping is in order well past the end of an operation, hardly an onerous or objectionable condition.

Franklin’s Promise goes on in its release to say that “it could not agree to the restrictions without review and advice of legal counsel in order to protect the interests of the intended beneficiaries, the victims of the Lime Rock fire; Franklin’s Promise donors; and Franklin’s Promise’s mission to provide assistance to the residents of Franklin County.” 

It’s the stuff after the “in order to protect” that’s difficult to accept as a reasonable basis for intensifying the conflict, and eventually parting company. The unmistakable suggestion here is that Franklin’s Promise is somehow exclusive in its foremost display of caring for these beneficiaries and their interests, implying that only that organization can be trusted to dole out the money fairly and efficiently.

There may be some truth to that – the list of dedicated Franklin’s Promise volunteers is a lengthy one, and it seems the beneficiaries who Franklin’s Promise says it cares so much about are grateful; and griping not, of their efforts. These people whose lives were torched by the blaze are worthy of having their interests protected. 

There also seems to be a wholly unnecessary untruth to that as well. These beneficiaries have received the same sort of tender loving care from employees of the emergency management office, and the other county departments that pitched in. And when it comes time to disburse the money, pretty much the same people will be handling that decisionmaking as would be under Franklin’s Promise – the many dedicated staffers with emergency management and with the entire county, in concert and consultation with the county commission and with the volunteers who know best the needs of the people on the ground. 

The only difference will be that the county’s authorized fiscal agent will be a different entity, likely Capital Area Community Action, the Tallahassee-based non-profit that stepped in to buy $200,000 worth of temporary trailers to serve those in need. 

The nearly $300,000 in donations raised so far through Franklin's Promise will not be going into the coffers of the county, to be spent on other things. It is being held in a separate account, and will be subject to all the transparency, and auditing and cost control requirements, as other county departments and earmarked funds and functions. 

Franklin’s Promise work as an umbrella social welfare organization is commendable. They have indeed, ably and effectively, improved communication and efficiencies among the many dedicated volunteers and volunteer organizations working to make the county a better place, especially for those who are vulnerable and most in need. There is no criticism here of that work, instead only high praise. 

The decision by Franklin’s Promise to resign as the county’s ESF-15 was not at the behest of the community. There was not widespread unhappiness with the performance of the group.

The county commission indeed bears some responsibility for not seeking to give Franklin’s Promise more time to work out any problems the organization perceived in the contract. It had been a difficult summer and the month of July is typically not a great time for board meetings and quick decisionmaking.

Still, the lion’s share of responsibility falls on the Franklin’s Promise board, and its director Joe Taylor, who is known for taking an active hand in all aspects of the organization. The group had the opportunity to further cement its role as a major volunteer presence and to burnish its ties with the entire county. It would have further improved the organization’s status as a trusted fundraiser on behalf of the victims of the Eastpoint fire, and of the wide swath of needy in this county.

Instead, they chose to pick a legalistic and fiscal fight with the county that didn’t need to happen. This was not the community’s fight, it was a boardroom fight, and it was the community’s loss.