Less than six weeks from July 4, and two weeks after the Flagler Beach City Commission voted to approve a $24,000 contract with Ryan Allen to set off Independence Day fireworks, the contract is still not signed, Allen has still not provided proof of insurance, and the city has therefore not issued a deposit check.
City Manager William Whitson is cutting Allen slack. But Allen has been barely in touch with the city over the past two weeks but for a couple of brief texts.
“He’s a small operator, we all know this, he has a show in [Palatka] Memorial Day,” Whitson said today. “I’m giving him grace to work on these things, and I have been in touch with him, and will be in touch with him.” Allen said he was booked to provide a fireworks show at Palatka’s Blue Crab Festival, which lists a fireworks show this coming Saturday evening on the city’s waterfront. (Jeanetta Cebollero, who is organizi8ng the festival, confirmed this afternoon that Allen is doing the show, and lavished praise on him, saying he was “wonderful” to work with, his references checked out, and he was “great.”) He was also producinga fireworks show at his hometown’s RiverFest the night of Memorial Day. “We’re gonna get this right,” he told Clay Today. “This is our hometown, so yeah, I know all the folks that are sitting down up front are gonna be watching because they all know me.”
But the contract was sent to Allen 10 days ago, and Whitson has been pressing him to follow through. Five days after sending the contract, Whitson texted Allen: “Just checking in with you regarding the contract that was sent to you earlier this week. Did you see it?” the city manager texted him.
Allen didn’t text him back for two days. “I have it [and] will review,” Allen finally texted on Monday. “Prepping for shows this week but will be back with you early next week.”
“I have a Commission meeting on Thursday evening,” Whitson wrote him, “I would like to report (if asked) we have a contract and are set to go! Please advise if you see any issues?”
“Will take some time away and look it over,” Allen wrote back. “Ok,” Whitson texted. “Just want to make sure that I cans ay–fireworks are on and we have an agreement On Thursday evening.”
That may yet happen this evening, but for now (Whitson said in a midday interview) the contract remains unsigned and the insurance proof unremitted. “We changed the insurance requirement, higher than normal, that he normally carries, so that’ll take a a little while, he has to go to Lloyd’s of London,” Whitson said.
Asked if he was nervous about the status of the contract, Whitson replied: “Not yet. I mean, look man, if it thrills your readers to see the sausage made, go ahead, but I’m still working the process.” Sausage-making can be complex and there are almost as many varieties of sausages as there are fireworks, but as a University of Georgia paper on the “Basics of Sausage Making,” the process does not appear to take weeks or months, but days and hours.
Flagler Beach’s high-wire act over this year’s fireworks dates back to January, when a committee the city commission appointed to study the feasibility of continuing to hold fireworks and Independence day festivities completed its work. The committee concluded that fireworks should be a go (it had actually determined fireworks to be a go in mid-December, with Whitson at the table as an ex-officio member), assuming sufficient policing and safety measures are in place. The city had not held fireworks for two years because of Covid. Once the commission voted to go ahead with fireworks this July 4, the city administration presumably should have contacted Fireworks by Santore, its fireworks producer since 2011 (a related Santore company had provided the show previously), to book the show. But the city did not do so until April 24.
By then, Santore was already booked for July 4. Santore proposed providing the usual show, but on July 2. Assuming that the commission might not want to shift the date, Whitson found a different provider who might fill in on July 4. He was right about the commission. It did not want to shift the date, especially after a high-profile showdown with Palm Coast earlier this year when Flagler Beach stood its ground and refused to yield the July 4 date for fireworks to Palm Coast. Palm Coast has since 2011 held its show on July 3. It will do so again this year–with Fireworks by Santore, who it booked on time, for the usual big show, for $25,000.
Whitson had found one provider who could produce a show on July 4, calling that possibility 50-50. The commission told him to go ahead and explore it. But the provider fell though, prompting Whitson to direct Police Chief Matt Doughney and Fire Chief Bobby Pace to evaluate two other possible vendors who’d pitched proposals, among them Allen. Allen and his Green Cove Springs company, Island Outdoor Management, immediately raised questions. The company is registered as a lawn care company, with Allen’s fireworks operation, North Florida Pyrotechnics, as a “doing business as,” or DBA. Its insurance status was unclear. Its ability to pull off he kind of show Flagler Beach was unclear. But he was promising a “SPECTACULAR” show (capital letters his, in his proposal), and equal enthusiasm in his only appearance before the city commission at a May 6 special meeting.
Allen took to social media to disparage press reports or others raising questions–among them Scott Spradley, the Flagler Beach attorney who had chaired the city’s July 4 committee, further raising questions about his professionalism, and within days backtracked about his capabilities. “At this time most of us barely have enough product to produce the shows we have on the books,” he wrote Whitson on May 11, after submitting a proposal that the city administration and the commission took to have been prepared with current market conditions in mind. Allen, it appeared, had not done his due diligence, but was doing it now. “Because of these supply chain issues the prices of pyrotechnics have more than doubled.”
He continued: “I have tirelessly deliberated for the past three days attempting to secure enough shells for the body of the show with no luck. Everyone I know in the industry is very short on supplies even if I can find them which I haven’t given up on yet, I cannot produce a twenty minute Fireworks Display for your budget it would be much higher if not almost double your budget to pull this off.” Bottom line: he could not produce a Santore-like show for $24,000, only for up to $60,000, and by drafting the help of another company.
The commission said no to anything beyond $24,000, but agreed to a smaller show on July 4 by Allen’s company, with conditions: no deposit before proof of insurance ($5 million coverage). That was two weeks ago. City Attorney Drew Smith prepared the contract by May 16, when it was sent to Allen. “Please review, sign and return to me,” Whitson wrote Allen that day, near midday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were no records showing that Allen has responded to Whitson since, except those brief texts noted above.
Allen has not responded to a text or a phone call inquiring about his intention to sign the contract or provide proof of insurance. Previously, he did not respond to other inquiries, or even to an email asking him to verify a fact.
“For me, as a resident, a business owner, and as former Chair of the Fourth of July Ad Hoc Findings Committee, I am at a loss to understand why the City still does not have a 4th of July fireworks contract,” Spradley said today, after inquiring about the status of the contract. “We are now four months past the date the City Commission approved the Committee’s recommendation to go forward with 4th of July fireworks, provided the assurances of safety are in place. Yet no contract is in place, even after a contract was approved by the City Commission two weeks ago and sent to the vendor 10 days ago. With this further delay following the May 12 Commission meeting, I am very concerned whether there is any hope of finding a capable and available fireworks vendor at this point, and I have still heard no good reason from anyone about why this delay has occurred in the first place.”
The city commission meets this evening at 5:30 p.m. The fireworks matter is not on the agenda, but is likely to come up under commissioners’ or the city manager’s comment segment, near the end of the meeting.
See the contract here.