A split county commission last week approved by a 3-2 vote rehiring for another year the four leading service providers for the Tourist Development Council, including the administrator, Curt Blair.
With Commissioners Noah Lockley and Smokey Parrish dissenting, the county commission Aug. 5 OKd contracts with 2K Web Group, which handles internet marketing and the TDC website; Bay Media Services, which does marketing and design; Forgotten Coast TV, Inc., which handles local television programming; and Allyn Associates, Inc. which handles administration.
Following the vote, Parrish made clear his objection was limited to the administrative services contract. “I’m not opposed to the service contracts other than the administration,” he said. “I think the TDC can save a $100,000 and reallocate the money to more important priorities if we brought that in-house.”
Lockley opposed re-awarding all four contracts without a formal bid process. His criticism came after Commissioner Pinki Jackel pushed for approval of the contracts.
Before voting on the staff hirings, the commissioners unanimously approved awarding of $120,000 in sustaining grants to seven area non-profits.
Sustaining grants of $20,000 were given for next year to the Dixie Theatre, Apalachicola’s Raney House Museum, which is administered by the Apalachicola Area Historical Society; the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association, which oversees the Crooked River Lighthouse; the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum, and the St George Lighthouse Association.
Grants of $10,000 were presented to the Apalachicola Center of History, Culture and the Arts, and the Carrabelle History Museum.
Diana Prickett, representing the TDC board, said the only change to the grants for next year was that organizations had to be able to match at least half of the grant, so that for those receiving $20,000, this “means they have to have at $10,000 extra income coming in,” she said.
Prickett said all seven organizations said they could meet that requirement. “Hopefully, if the 2 percent referendum goes through, we can look at it a little differently and maybe come up with something different,” she said.
Commissioners plan to place a referendum on the November ballot that, if approved by voters, would double the bed tax to 4 percent, and bring in more than $900,000 estimated additional revenue per year to TDC coffers.
Jackel then moved, and Commissioner William Massey seconded, for approval of the four service contracts, and dissension began, including questions from Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson about the timing of the move.
Prickett said the TDC on Aug. 1 unanimously approved recommending the four contracts. “Everything’s been going good with everybody and nobody has come to us to say they’re interested in bidding on any of the service agreements,” she said. “We figured it seemed to be going good, we'd just leave it like it is for another year.”
Lockley did not support the move. “I think I want the administration to go out for bids,” he said. “People may not know it’s for it to do it,” said Lockley.
“Y’all approving stuff by the TDC board. The public got some interest in this,” he said. “They ought to be able to know when these contracts are coming up and be able to either file on them or whatever they want to do. You just can’t go by the (TDC) board.”
Prickett said the contracts “come due this time every year and we’ve never had anybody show up at our meetings that’s showed any interest in any of these different service contracts.”
Lockley said that “they’re still supposed to be advertised and given a chance. If need be they go forward, and not automatically go through.”
Jackel asked for a legal opinion from County Attorney Michael Shuler, who said that while bids are required on matters of “tangible personal property” in excess of $10,000, there is no county policy on service contracts.
“You’ve done it on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Johnson said it appeared that the Allyn contract had been changed, but Jackel said the terms of the existing contract remained in place. “That contract was pulled and is not being used,” said Jackel. “This is the same contact from last year.”
Johnson said that during the current fiscal year, the contract had an estimated range for billable hours estimated to be between 100 and 160 per month. “During the year those were exceeded, and the board needed a budget amendment,” she said.
Johnson asked for a stipulation that the annual budgeted amount of $90,000 not be exceeded. “That’s it, unless they come back to you,” she said.
Jackel agreed to amend her motion to put a ceiling on the contract, which calls for payment at a rate of $42 per billable hour.
Johnson also brought up the issue of where the TDC administrator presently resides, and what his announced plans had been
“My understanding was that Curt Blair had said he was stepping down,” said Johnson. “He’s not living in Franklin County, is he right now? Why do we want to extend the contract, to someone who’s not living in Franklin County at this point in time? He’s not here (at this meeting). Is he going to be able to do what the TDC requires when he’s not even in town?”
Jackel replied that “we certainly haven’t seen any lack of service provided from him in recent months. He would be here today except he's at a continuing education class the TDC recommended for marketing training. It’s the second or third year of a three-year course.”
Prickett clarified that Blair “did say that he was not going to renew. What he told us at the (Aug. 1) meeting was that so many people had come to him and said ‘Please, don’t stop doing it. You’re doing a good job, please think about continuing.’” He said so many people came to him and asked him to continue for one more year.”
Johnson noted that it seemed the board was taking quick action, with only a few days review.
“Last year we didn’t even look at these contracts until the middle meeting in September,” she said. “You've got time. You don’t have to act today if you don’t want to. We didn’t get these materials last week. You don’t have to make a decision today if you feel pressured.”
The TDC’s regularly scheduled meeting for Aug. 6 had been moved to Aug. 4. In pressing for a vote on her motion, Jackel said that the TDC had voted unanimously at its meeting the day before. “This comes with their full recommendations and we all discussed it lengthily yesterday and there were no negative comments about any of the management or any of the contracts whatsoever,” she said.
Lockley said that while some on the TDC board believe Blair has done a good job, “there's other people think he’s not. I think they should have a chance to put in their application. Ain’t no need to making the thing look crooked.”
The board passed the motion, and afterwards Massey asked Prickett whether she had heard of interest in the contracts from anyone.
“I had somebody I thought was going to call you,” he said. Prickett said no one had come forward.