Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston said she is not signing the city’s fireworks contract with a pyrotechnics producer because the version she received contained at least two changes from the version the Flagler Beach City Commission approved two weeks ago.
The mayor is leaving it to her colleagues on the commission at tonight’s meeting to decide whether to approve the changes. Most commissioners have been amenable to accommodate successive vagaries by the vendor/producer, but it is is yet another delay from yet another unexpected twist in what has been a drudging effort to secure a July 4 fireworks for the city, with less than a month to go before the show.
Notably, the pyrotechnics producer, Ryan Allen, also had not turned in proof of insurance as of midday today. Without such proof, the city cannot allow the show to proceed. The contract language gives Allen seven days from the time it is “executed” to show proof. But Allen pulled off two shows over the Memorial Day weekend, in Palatka and Green Cove Springs, albeit not as elaborate as the show Flagler Beach expects. City Manager William Whitson attended one of the shows and took video of the display, speaking approvingly of it to some of the commissioners. Allen himself is well regarded by event organizers in both communities. Here’s the video of the full Green Cove Springs show Whitson took last weekend:
The city fell back on Allen after the administration waited until the end of April to book its show with Fireworks by Santore, the Palm Coast-based company that’s been providing Flagler Beach’s shows for over a decade. By then Santore was booked. The company offered to produce a show for $25,000 on July 2. The commission preferred to stick to July 4 and find another vendor. Allen pitched a proposal, promising a “SPECTACULAR” show of Santore’s caliber for $24,000. The commission asked City Manager William Whitson to draw up a contract with Allen.
Within days, Allen backtracked, saying he couldn;t do it for so little money, said he’d have to partner with another producer and the cost would be $60,000 if the city wanted the kind of shows it’s had in the past. Commissioners said no, and stuck to the original $24,000 proposal. Three contract versions were drawn up, the last on May 16. It went to Allen that day.
The contract called for a cost of $24,000 and a show of “at least twenty (20) minutes in length. If it is not to match that time, excluding unreasonable pauses, Allen would have to reimburse the city any money he’d have been paid. Allen would have 30 days before the show to notify the city of any supply chain issues.
Allen did not sign the document until June 4. When he did, the contract had changed to a cost of $25,000, and the duration lowered to 17 minutes. When Johnston was asked to sign this week, she demurred.
“I reviewed the document in the city manager’s office and I noticed that there were two changes to the document,” Johnston said on Wednesday, the day she reviewed the document. “Therefore, because the commission had not agreed to the changes, and we didn’t know about the changes, I wasn’t told about the changes until I read the document, I did not sign it. It needs to be discussed at the Thursday night commission meeting.” Johnston said the city manager had made the changes to the document in conversations with Allen, who had issues with shipping costs and product quantity.
The contract language includes a provision that “no modification shall be made to this Agreement except as expressed in writing and executed by both parties.”
“My concern is the commission agreed to a price and a length of show together as a body,” the mayor said. “When that is changed, I it needs to come back to the Commission for everyone to agree and come to a consensus.” But Johnston was also concerned about the numerous twists in the fireworks deal’s brief history. “Every time we turn around with this vendor, the price goes up. And now the show is going down in length of time. When he came and presented to our city, he told us that he would give us an amazing, outstanding show for 20 minutes in length for $24,000. Three days later it went to $60,000. Now we’re asking for $25,000. There’s no stability in what can be done or what is going to be done. So it still leaves question marks. What is the difference between a 17 minute show versus a 20 minute show? Why did you originally think that you could do a 20 minute show and now it’s a 17 minute show? When you give a proposal to a city you should have your facts and your dollars known.”
Commission Chairman Ken Bryan, who had become aware of the changes in the contract, did not see the changes as a deal-breaker. Commissioner Eric Cooley said he could not comment. Speaking on Wednesday, he said he’d asked for a copy of the contract on Tuesday by email, “and i have not received it from the city manager after asking him via email, so I can’t comment on what’s in the contract because I haven’t seen it.” But, he said, he’d read an article in the News-Journal quoting Allen as saying that the show would run 19 or 20 minutes, but that it would be “dramatically different than what has been done in the past.”
“I’m not saying it’s going to be less. I’m just saying it’s going to be dramatically different,” Allen was quoted as saying. In fact, the contract changes he asked for and signed under do call for “less.”
Scott Spradley, the Flagler Beach attorney and former chairman of the city-appointed committee on fireworks and Independence Day events, reviewed the contract Allen signed and had concerns of his own. ” I was of the understanding that the contract was not sent to Mr. Allen as a first negotiation. But rather, it was sent to him to sign,” Spradley wrote the city clerk on Tuesday, asking her to pass on his email to the rest of the commission. “Were these changes to the city’s detriment authorized? These are not the terms that were approved by the commission. Moreover, the clock is ticking on the time for insurance to be provided, which I understand has not been done even though Mr. Allen has had the contract since May 16.”
Spradley has questioned the city’s relationship with Allen from the start. The attorney has been out of the county and was not going to be present at this evening’s meeting, but wanted to “register my objection to approval of this contract.
Meanwhile on Tuesday Palm Coast government issued a release on the city’s own “Fireworks Over the Runways” on July 3 at the county airport, a collaboration between the City of Palm Coast, Flagler County Government, Flagler Executive Airport, and Flagler Broadcasting.
Gates open at 4:00 p.m. and festivities include performances by Chillula and Feedback the Band, the release states. At 7 p.m., there will be an Independence Day ceremony on the main stage with the Presentation of Colors by the Palm Coast Fire Department Honor Guard, the National Anthem performed by Melanie DiMartino, the reading of the Declaration of Independence by local elected officials, and a Veterans Welcome by State Representative Paul Renner.
Fireworks will be set off at 9 p.m. featuring more than 1,000 exploding shells “and a jaw-dropping finale.” The 20-minute-long pyrotechnic show is produced by Santore and the fireworks are funded, as in Flagler Beach, by a grant from the Flagler County Tourist Development Council. There is no charge for entry, parking, or participation. Personal fireworks are strictly prohibited.