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County’s Tourism Office Seeks a Blank Check Of $150,000, and No-Bid Award of $130,000

| December 4, 2016

tdc county tourism

The county’s tourism office has changed the way it spends and oversees money under Director Matt Dunn, left, formalizing those changes since its acquisition by county government last year, an acquisition led by County Administrator Craig Coffey, right. (© FlaglerLive)

Update: It was business as usual for the new county commission Monday morning as its four board members unanimously approved the tourism items outlined below, after a few brief questions from Commissioners Donald O’Brien and Dave Sullivan.

When Flagler County commissioners meet Monday morning, they’ll be asked to approve three separate expenditures on behalf of the county’s tourism division totaling $300,000, each of which departs in one way or another from county or tourism council policy, and all of which together underscore to what extent the paper trail behind tourism office spending has been thinning out over the past two years, in favor of more concentrated and less-accountable spending authority in the hands of the county administrator and the tourism bureau chief.

Last year the county acquired the tourism office, which had previously been on contract with the county through the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. A few months ago, commissioners approved a loosening of tourism-spending policy to enable Tourism Director Matt Dunn and County Administrator Craig Coffey more flexibility–and less paper-borne accountability–in tourism-grant awards. That was a reversal from practices under two former tourism directors, when grant-award policies were made stricter.

Turn-over at the Tourist Development Council, and now on the county commission, has diminished continuity and institutional history in oversight of the county’s tourism operations: two of the commissioners Monday morning, just elected, will have never dealt with the issues before, not even in a workshop, which makes the tourism agenda items’ appearance surprising beyond the unusual spending mechanism they reflect. Items of this importance, entailing that much money, are usually discussed at workshops ahead of time.

Commissioners will be asked to approve a $150,000 spending authorization for the county administrator that involves four graphic design companies. Earlier this year the county issued a request for proposal for graphic design services to make visitors’ guides, flyers, banners, brochures and other such materials that can be used by the tourism office. Six companies responded, including the Brandon Agency of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Evok Advertising of Heathrow, Fla., Fuseideas of Winchester, Mass., and TypeFace Studios or Palm Coast. The county ranked those four as its top choices.

Rather than contract with one of them, the county administrator is seeking to use services from each of the four companies. But he is asking county commissioners to approve a two-year, $150,000 spending authorization that would give him the authority to award and approve any work authorization beyond Monday’s approval by the commission. In other words, the approval would enable Coffey to approve any work order below $75,000 (the maximum amount to be spent each of the two years of the authorization) on any work or any of the companies, without those work orders ever again appearing before either the Tourist Development Council or the county commission for recommendation or approval. The arrangement also calls for three one-year renewals of the authorization. Last year, the county spent $41,000 on those services.

The increase, a memo from the administration to commissioners states, “is due to an increase in media buys, niche markets, the evolution of the ‘Local Soul’ campaign and marketing materials, among others.” The memo gives commissioners no further details other than a few charts illustrating the companies’ ranking.

The county’s purchasing policy calls for county commission ratification of any purchase that exceeds $25,000. There may be exceptions: social service grants from the federal government, for example, don’t fall under the $25,000 limit, nor do certain contract awards when emergency powers are in effect (as they happen to still be currently, because of Hurricane Matthew).

The $130,000 no-bid award is a separate item commissioners will be asked to approve. It is for a company called Just Program, which hosts and maintains the county’s tourism website, along with marketing and other web-related services. The administration is arguing that while the county could go out for bids, any bid winner would still have to interface with Just Program’s services. So it would be simpler to stick with Just Program, for efficiency’s sake. So the administration is invoking its option to call for a single-source contract, permissible under the county’s purchasing policy, which states in part: “The term “single source” means that a commodity can be purchased from multiple sources, but, in order to meet certain functional or performance requirements (repair parts, matching existing equipment or materials) there is only one economically feasible source for the purchase.”

The difference, of course, is that web-coding is a universal language that all web developers have to be conversant with, and web-based services are not made of “repair parts,” “matching equipment” or “materials,” while companies not infrequently change web services–and hosts–precisely to be more efficient or pay less, when the opportunity arises. Absent a bidding process, Flagler’s tourism office essentially chooses not to know about those opportunities. (Dunn, in a previous appearance before the county commission, made clear he was not fond of paperwork.)

The third unusual spending item–though it’s become more the norm than not with tourism grant awards–is a $25,000 subsidy to a private, for-profit beach volleyball organization that will hold an event at Hammock Beach Resort–itself one of the more routine recipients of county-tourism grant awards–in spring. In calculations submitted to the Tourism Development Council, the return on investment for that grant award is minus 74 percent, which would usually disqualify the recipient from getting such an award: it’s not drawing the number of people who’d spend nights in local hotels–or at the Hammock–to the extent that it would generate bed-tax dollars to the county’s benefit.

Put another way: commissioners will be asked to approve three other grant awards, totaling $22,500 ($2,500 less than the subsidy to the beach volleyball event), with a combined local economic impact from the visitors those events will bring placed at $8.4 million. The beach volleyball event’s impact? $177,000.

The county’s public dollars will still underwrite the private organization’s event. The reason, the administration claims, is television exposure–a vague, un-measurable effect, though the county’s memo makes the improbable claim that “TV show production to air at minimum 190 times on several networks across the country.”

The county commission will also be asked to ratify an appointment to the Tourist Development Council: that of Milissa Holland, now the mayor of Palm Coast. It’s an ironic footnote to Monday’s tourism-related items. It was under Holland, who was a county commissioner for six years, that the Tourist Development Council developed a more rigorous accountability system for its spending. Holland has been displeased with the dismantling of that system since she left. Though she’d already been appointed by the Palm Coast City Council to be its representative on the TDC, replacing ex-Mayor Jon Netts, Holland was not informed or invited to the council’s last meeting, ostensibly because the county commission had not yet formally ratified her appointment. But the absence of so much as a courtesy invitation from Dunn, the tourism director, points the distance between the county’s and Holland’s perspective on TDC matters.

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27 Responses for “County’s Tourism Office Seeks a Blank Check Of $150,000, and No-Bid Award of $130,000”

  1. Please give me a blank check!!! I will put it to good use too

  2. Nothing about this is OK. Please E mail your commissioners- two of whom are brand new and let them know how you feel!

  3. Robert Lewis says:

    150k in printing and we’re going to outsource that? I guess using local businesses are not an option.
    I just do not trust Matt Dunn. I don’t care for what I read of him.

  4. Wishful thinking says:

    What would we do without you FlaglerLive? You combine a sense of smell better than any canine and the ability to
    succinctly and artfully expose all the revulsion at county hall
    Thank you once again

  5. Anonymous says:

    No way!

    This CA (and his Economic Development staff) need to create diversified, sustainable jobs in Flagler County!!!

    The time is now to hold this group accountable for RESULTS, the incubation period is over! Enough of this tourism love-fest. We need diversified, sustainable jobs here…otherwise we endure economic droughts like the one created by hurricane Matthew.

    The BOCC needs to get Economic results for the citizens , residents and taxpayers in Flagler County.
    This CA has earned one thing, he deserves scrutiny; to be closely managed on every item…even those below $25,000.

    Enough of tax dollars being spend by this guy and his crew. Spend the money on projects that accomplish the above, enabling all in the County to prosper.

  6. There’s no emoticon for disgust.

  7. Ed Bondy says:

    Can I apply for that job , I could invest that money at the Hard Rock .

  8. jersey exit 82 says:

    Makes me feel like I’m back in Jersey. Those from the northeast know what I mean.

  9. DaveT says:

    To much power to one person. The commission needs to approve all expenditures considering its money the taxpayers pay to the county. Hey county its not your money. If the states or Feds give you money ,it comes from taxpayers. Its not a blank check.

    I would also say at the moment , forget tourism and complete the projects the county has funding for, ah like the Marineland acres / Malacompra Basin project.

  10. Ron says:

    Coffey needs to be replaced now!

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Coffey and Dunn need to be booted!!
    Sullivan and O’Brien and also Holland better vote to stop the issuing of blank checks to both!!
    Outsourcing is the name of the game and they do it to hide the graft!
    Besides Hammock Beach Resort and Hilton Garden Inn that contribute to the collection of the bed tax that produces the TDC funds is any of the other hotels that also pay the bed tax, are allowed a say in the manner those funds are selectively allocated?Nahhh…probably too afraid to be witch hunted lake others in this county:

  12. carol says:

    OMG, this is how Mike Dunn is starting out???
    Get rid of him, quickly!!!
    Let’s see what the commissioners do.

  13. Kendall says:

    I emailed each county commissioner yesterday evening at 7PM to express my concerns about these requests. Not one of these people found my e mail worthy of a response.

    This isn’t a good start for this new makeup of county government.

  14. Layla says:

    Both men need to be replaced. You have unelected officials freely stealing taxpayer money without any accountability.

  15. Layla says:

    Why no bids? That gives the appearance of corruption and shuts local vendors out of the process…and YOU wonder why companies will not relocate here???

    This is not rocket science.

  16. Knightwatch says:

    No! No, no, no. We all need to oppose this. We cannot allow a person, or agency unilateral authority to spend our tax dollars. We have a county commission that represents us. Their job is to ensure proper vetting of expenditures to ensure such expenditures are valid, well thought out, cost effective and in our best interests.

    Do your job, commissioners.

  17. Jack Howell says:

    What about Class A printing here in Palm Coast? Outsourcing is not the right thing to do! Keep our tax money in Flagler County.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The taxpayers tourism subsidy goes to those groups you mention, then they pay the bed tax I’m guessing….great deal for taxpayers eh! A gift of 85-90% to hotel , resort businesses ? all taxpayer money!

    Someone please tell me I’m wrong, but that’s how I read it…please tell me I am wrong!

  19. Sw says:

    One of many reasons why I wont stay in this Town

  20. palmcoaster says:

    @ Anonymous:
    The TDC funds are the result of all local Flagler County hospitality business collecting the percentage bed tax that is 3% to max 6%. in Fl counties and going to TDC= Tourism Development County of each county to improve, advertise and fund tourism attractions in the Florida counties and ruled by FL Statute :
    The councils are made up of the county commission, county cities and local hospitality representatives that guided by the Florida Statute decides in what those bed tax funds will be invested to attract tourism, whether fund event, advertising media or capital projects to improve tourism infrestructure..
    Some decisions at times stray away form the original idea aka Florida Statute just to benefit the few…then is when our taxpayers watch dogs need to speak up, unless their Counties BOCC’s instigated by their county managers decide to engage significant former Tallahassee officials now lawyers to sue them and silence them.

  21. Layla says:

    I think that Mr. Howell has the right idea. It is time to stop the outsourcing. I think you’ll find that an incentive for new businesses to move to or open an office here in Flagler County. We need to keep the money in Flagler. That’s how you build a strong business economy and tax base right here.

  22. Flagler County BS says:

    Who is checking the ROI on these events?
    No way is the Volleyball Tournament bringing in such numbers. The we’re maybe a total of 50 spectators at this event and the players rooms were all comped! Commissioners open your eyes, ask for PROOF!
    Dunn has been nothing but negative press for Flagler County from day 1, get rid of him and Coffey before this county is broke!

  23. woodchuck says:

    Smells like true politicians to me.

  24. snapperhead says:

    Welcome to the commission Mr O’Brien and Mr Sullivan. It appears Mr Coffey has 2 more yes men on the board. What happened to the campaign pledges of fiscal conservatism and holding the administrator accountable?…..just campaign BS to get elected to your 50K part time jobs? Socialize the costs..privatize the profits….GOP “conservatism” at it’s finest.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Bingo Snapper, your right on. The 85-90% goes to the resort, hotel ….taxpayer subsidy for the alleged benefits. Has anyone done an ROI? Certainly not the two principals pictured…, twisted verbiage, charts show all the benefits…baloney!

    These are perpetual perks, for the same visiting groups…..and the same Hospitaity Companies.

    New Commissioners failed first test….

  26. Kim says:

    @Flagler County BS – yes I went to last year’s Vball tournament. There were literally 5 people watching the game. Mr. Dunn is just creating an empire. Throwing taxpayer money at for-profit businesses? How does that make sense?

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