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Blank Check: City and County Bankrolling Enterprise Flagler Without a Contract

| January 25, 2011

enterprise flagler

Enterpsie Flagler could use the lawyers' help. (© FlaglerLive)

Since 2006, Enterprise Flagler, the public-private economic development partnership, has received more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars, ostensibly to court and recruit new businesses. The Palm Coast City Council and the Flagler County Commission have allocated the money annually. Since 2006, the two governments have been making those payments without a contract with Enterprise Flagler.

The original contract between the county and the economic development agency was drafted in 1996. Several amendments were drafted until 2005. That agreement was not renewed in 2006, though payments have continued—without the accountability measures usually built into a contract. The absence of a contract is the latest in a series of concerns some city and county elected officials have raised about Enterprise Flagler in the past year, underscoring unresolved tensions and expectations between the governments and the economic development agency.

County Commissioner Milissa Holland revealed the absence of a contract during a commission meeting Monday evening. In preparation for a summit on economic development between all local governments on Jan. 31, Holland was looking to examine the contract with Enterprise Flagler, which has been weathering criticism for its checkered effectiveness over the last several years. She placed a public-record request to the clerk of court, the custodian of county contracts, and learned that there was no such document.

“We don’t have an internal economic development arm, so this is the only economic development arm in the county,” Holland said, “and without any expected outcomes, without any requirements, that’s where we run into problems, with the reporting and everything else.”

Frank Meeker, a Palm Coast City Council member, found out last week that the city had no contract. The city manager, he said, is researching why. “Clearly we don’t believe it’s a good idea to be paying money to Enterprise Flagler without a contract as well,” Meeker said this morning.

In 2008, Flagler County and Palm Coast each contributed $177,500 to Enterprise Flagler. The following year, each contributed $155,000. In 2010, each contributed $110,000. Each year Bunnell contributed $2,000 and Flagler Beach $1,000. Private companies may also be members of the organization by paying a fee. But the private aspect of Enterprise Flagler has always been minimal, even though private companies’ membership has disproportionately affected the direction and policies of the organization. Last year, year Enterprise Flagler had a $300,000 budget. Just $60,000 of that, or 20 percent, was to be contributed by private companies. The organization lists 31 such non-governmental entities on its membership roster, but it refuses to disclose who pays what.

For the current year, Palm Coast and Flagler County dropped their contribution to just under $100,000 each.

“This is $100,000 that the taxpayers pay for this organization, or close to it,” Holland said of Flagler’s share, “and I just want to make sure that there’s been a lot of discussion about what’s expected of this entity and I think it’s a perfect opportunity for us to now state kind of what we expect out of a partnership with them. I was surprised that the contract had expired five years ago.”

County Administrator Craig Coffey was not the administrator five years ago, though he made a point, when he took over the management of the county, to tidy up numerous mismanagement issues he came across. He did not alter the relationship with Enterprise Flagler, which is headed by Greg Rawls, a colleague Coffey brought in from DeSoto County, where both worked; Rawls was deputy director of tourism and economic development. Coffey defended the absence of a contract, “based on the fact that once you open into contract you make all meetings open, subject to open record law,” he said. “If there’s a way to do it, I’m OK with that. The benefit that EF does bring to the table is the fact that they can keep stuff maybe to a higher degree of confidentiality.”

As the county attorney later alluded to, Coffey was fudging the issue: A contract does not preclude confidentiality in some regards. That’s written into the contract. Enterprise Flagler from the mid-90s to the middle of the last decade had both a contract with the county and confidentiality when dealing with economic prospects. It just didn’t exercise that provision very effectively. But the absence of a contract does raise legal and accountability issues.

“I did actually work on that confidentiality provision and rewrite their agreements,” Al Hadeed, the county attorney, said. “Enterprise Flagler was using some agreements that actually  did not match state law when they were dealing with private prospects. I hope they’re using them. And I also re-wrote ours. And I’ve helped some other counties since then because it is a tricky issue. You have to use particular language to match the statue. The general rule is that the mere grant of county funds to an organization to perform a function does not automatically render that organization subject to the open-meetings law. However it will always subject that organization to the public-records law as to how, what documents have been generated that show their expenditure of the public funds. So in other words receipts, things of that sort, you can never shield from the public records law where public money is involved.”

Public-private economic development organizations are allowed to skirt Florida’s broad open record and open meetings law to some extent, but those parameters are narrow—and often misinterpreted, and mis-applied, by those organizations. Like government agencies—Palm Coast as a government, and Flagler County as a government, both may keep certain dealings with prospective new companies secret for a period of time—Enterprise Flagler may keep its negotiations with prospectors secret, including its own board’s discussions about those negotiations. But beyond such specific, prospecting-related issues, it may not extend secrecy to the rest of its operations because they are funded in part (and mostly so, in Enterprise Flagler’s case), by public money.

Hadeed said he, too, was unaware of the absence of a contract. “That occurred during a  time that I wasn’t serving as county attorney, so I don’t know why it wasn’t renewed. It was renewed annually every year. Actually I wrote the original agreement in 1996 and I wrote the template for the amendments. But apparently they stopped doing that.”

Contract or no contract, Flagler County—like Palm Coast—have been making payments to Enterprise Flagler, and those payments bear the signature of each government’s financial administrator: city and county were signing off on hundreds of thousands of dollars every year without a proper agreement either government’s elected officials had approved. That’s still the case: Flagler County just made a payment.

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19 Responses for “Blank Check: City and County Bankrolling Enterprise Flagler Without a Contract”

  1. Yap-Yap-Yap says:

    Why does it always seem as though Commissioner Holland is tooting her own horn, and not being truthful with those that elected her, and those who did not?

    Commissioner Holland was on the Enterprise Flagler Board when all this was taking place AND on the County Commission too making her accountable x 2 for our cash. Nice of Holland to thrown her running buddies under the bus though.

    Commissioner Holland too is guilty of giving away our tax dollars as she has been a commissioner for more than 4 years herself. Commissioners Peterson and Revels are to blame as well as they have been giving tax payers money away, and have never asked for contract information either. Why has the County Administrator, Craig Coffey not questioned this in meetings—because he is holding hands with his friend from De Soto County who is running Enterprise Flagler? What is Coffey getting out of the deal? If I am not mistaken, Commissioner Revels is a member of Flagler Enterprise too, why has she not been asking questions?

    Another blunder of Coffey’s—How many does it take before the Board of County Commissioners take action and get rid of him? Has he not proven he is not qualified to be Flagler County Administrator? What does it take for the board to comprehend?

    Let’s not think county attorney is innocent here either. He has been out county attorney for how many years? Why has a contract not been developed since he came BACK on board? Has anyone ever wonder why he came back on board when HOLLAND was elected?

    This is how many hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last several years???????? Yes, a whole lot of finger pointing going on here, but when they have one pointing at someone else, they have four other fingers pointing right back at themselves.

       0 likes

  2. jimmythebull says:

    F.B.I. WHERE ARE YOU?

       0 likes

  3. FlaglerResident says:

    Enterprise Flagler is primarily funded by public dollars. Hence, how can it be held to any standards other than a public entity. Why would it be allowed to operate beyond the standards of a public entity. If our tax dollars are the difference whether Enterprise Flagler makes it or fails then it needs to treat everyone with equal access and transparency not just its private members. This should not be some elite club but a public tool to entice business development and economic growth, after all we are told it is for the good of the community. Enterprise Flagler you can’t have it both ways. Either be for the good of the community, or the good of your members. Either take public money and become the peoples (government) entity you are or revert back to the old days where you had a back bone utilizing private funds to seek out credible business and government concerns. Don’t advocate to raise our taxes for economic growth but demand a responsible government seeking other means to finance your mission. Or, would this upset the public funding and jeopardize your cause. Which is it? Maybe the TDC model is a better plan. It seems as though the City of Palm Coast is paving its own responsible economic development mission diverting valuable economic dollars in house rather than to Enterprise Flagler. Is it a better business model to take economic development in house for each city/county thus having 5 times the exposure? I think there is a REAL conflict with the Enterprise Flagler’s business model. Let’s hope that the restructuring is a credible plan in the best interest of the people who fund the operation, you and me. Let’s hope the Enterprise Flagler board understands its mission.

    Concerned Business Thinker

       0 likes

  4. FlaglerResident says:

    P.S. History Lesson

    When EDC (Flagler County’s economic development committee) was sunset several years ago (ceased operation) it was because the other municipalities were rightfully concerned that the Flagler County BOCC (board of county commissioners) had control over the deciding vote as to the mission that EDC represented. Thus, EDC was making decisions for the entire county for recommendation to the County BOCC. EDC was closed and Enterprise Flagler was then restructured to become a more transparent organization to include city and county officials and administrators, thus becoming the NEW EDC represented by all. When this restructuring occurred, we then became in my mind a true public entity for public interest in economic development. Look at the board make up and you will see the public interest in this board. If we look public, smell public, then let’s be public. If public dollars are the backbone of this organization then let it stand out as a united effort of the people and the cities/county. Let the public embrace its investment in this organization and its management.

    United we stand, divided we fall, well that may seem a little deep. However, there is a continual conflict within the Enterprise Flagler organization and it seems to stem from its resources of funding, public funding vs private decision making. I know this organization has great intentions but, can it really represent the entire community without bias? Can the leadership of all the cities/county really unite into one organization for the good of all, or is this just a continual struggle amongst the difference in the make up of each community and therefore the thought of one organization to properly manage the interest of all is wishful thinking? Should each entity City/County take responsibility for whom it represents? Could this give us 5 times the exposure?

    For consideration, if each municipality had its own economic development representative and the five of these representatives met every two weeks to discuss cooperative efforts, would it not be more productive? How many times can we reorganize Enterprise Flagler. We need to be a public entity of some sort. I’d like to know how many other Enterprise organizations under the wing of Enterprise Florida are Public/Private, what their financial make up is and how the are administered. Looking at other success stories could be a step in the right direction for our floundering Enterprise Flagler.

    The leadership of the Enterprise Flagler organization rest on the shoulders of its executive board and it is the responsibility of this executive board to take accountable measures to set sails in a new and positive direction. Don’t reinvent the wheel, again. Look at other successful programs in our state for your consideration.

    Concerned Business Thinker

       0 likes

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