Conflict Concerns Raised Over Tourism’s Matt Dunn Moonlighting at His Own Agency
FlaglerLive | October 19, 2015
The Flagler County Commission Monday evening voted unanimously to formalize the take-over of the $2 million tourism operations from the Flagler Chamber of Commerce, which were paid for with public dollars channeled through the county anyway. But commissioners raised concerns about a private sports management company tourism chief Matt Dunn continues to own and operate, and that parallels—and could potentially intersect—many of his responsibilities as a county employee.
Dunn was awarded a 17 percent raise this fall (or $12,000), more than what any local government employee received, increasing his salary to $82,000, and further raising questions over his moonlighting while on the public dime.
County Administrator Craig Coffey said the company was more of a placeholder than an active company.
That’s not how Dunn projects his company on the web. The Dunn Agency, as he calls it, boasts numerous clients (including several from Alachua County, where Dunn held a position similar to the one he holds in Flagler). It offers audits, “strategic planning,” advertising and marketing and offers reports that “will include estimates on the potential, total number of annual events and direct visitor spending your destination’s budget can handle so you can select the best methods moving forward and growth from year to year.” The site links to news articles flattering to Dunn from as recently as March, links to a Twitter page kept current (a Facebook page is less so), locates the agency in Flagler Beach and nowhere notes that the company is anything but a viable, current business.
Commissioners put the administration on notice that they would not be tolerating an intermingling of Dunn’s private business with county business, but none requested that he place his company on hold or give Coffey more precise instructions than to ensure they don’t get smeared by inappropriate missteps.
The absorption of the tourism operation–and Dunn’s transformation into a county employee–was meant to slip by without discussion: the administration had placed the items on the consent agenda of the commission’s meeting–that portion of the agenda devoted to routine items and that commissioners approve in bulk, without discussion, unless a commissioner pulls an item. Revels did this one.
“I just want to make sure that we have a clean and pure relationship where for the future, we want this to be as open and transparent and clean a process as possible, where we have great events and no one can question Mr. Dunn’s actions or this government’s actions,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said.
Commissioner Ericksen was more direct. “I’m looking to get this in the beginning as opposed to having to face questions that come up later,” he said. “We all five of us up here have had a tough year of people challenging what we did on a number of issues, and I just want to make sure that that doesn’t spread into other positions.” He was referring to the slew of ethics complaints commissioners and some staff members have faced this year, though those complaints were filed more for political effect than over substantive issues.
Dunn, who does not return calls when questions may be uncomfortable for him, did not return a call today.
In an interview this afternoon, Nate McLaughlin, who chairs the Tourist Development Council and hears Dunn’s reports monthly during those meetings, said he, too, was uncomfortable with the arrangement. I wish that he didn’t have it, but he’s given me no reason at all in the couple of years that I’ve known him that he’s doing anything less than honorable,” McLaughlin said. “Is it something I prefer that he didn’t do? Sure, I have told him that.” But, McLaughlin said, his trust in Dunn is such that he’s not expecting issues.
Dunn was the behind the arrangement with the extreme-sports organization that wanted to hold a mass-scale race at Princess Place Preserve. Dunn had worked out the deal with the organization, with County Administrator Craig Coffey’s blessing, largely out of public view. Coffey scrubbed the event immediately after commissioners first heard of its potential impact on Princess Place and the contended with a public outcry. Dunn had first made contact with the event organizers at one of the many sports event-marketing conferences he attends, ostensibly to benefit only his employer, rather than his company.
In an interview this afternoon, Coffey downplayed the concerns, saying numerous county employees such as firefighters have side jobs. “You can keep a business going for years without doing any business, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything underhanded or any of that stuff,” Coffey said. But he acknowledged that the potential for ethical issues, or the perception of such issues, was present. “That vulnerability exists whether he works for us or the chamber, the same issue is there. I think it’ll be addressed probably a little more in detail with us because I believe we do have a different standard.”
Coffey said as much to the commission this evening. “Any employee cannot profit from the service to the county,” he said. “They cannot do side-deals, they cannot do whatever back-deals as far as I give you this and I give you a kickback from a county event. None of that can occur legally, whether it’s chamber or the county. But we want to be transparent to avoid any kind of cloud for all the great things Matt is doing and we’ll work toward that.”
“Mr. Coffey is assuring us that everything is fine and that he understands and he’s got to go over it. So it’s under your watch,” Revels told Coffey.
Company policy allows county employees to hold other jobs, but they are required to inform their supervisor “to make sure it doesn’t interfered with their full-time job here with the county,” county Human Resources Director Joe Mayer said.
Commission Chairman Frank Meeker said he expects the arrangement to spell out limitations, should Dunn’s company continue as it is. But it isn’t clear how the county will have proof that its limitations are respected: Dunn is under no open-record requirements when it comes to his private company.
“There has to be a clear-cut break between what the moonlighting activity is accomplishing and what is being accomplished for the county, and there should be no intermixing,” Meeker said. “If we find out there’s intermixing, that’s a disciplinary action that’s handled by the manager, which is why we hire him, to handle the personnel issues, and if he was to find out that there was something slinky going on that way, then I think termination would be appropriate. But as best as we understand right now, there is no cross-over, and I expect it to stay that way.”