St. Johns County Commission Chairman Joseph “Ken” Bryan told an audience of about fifty residents, including Historic City News reporters, that he has “no conflict” in the process underway to select an organization to manage a grant program and to market St. Johns County as an art, cultural, and heritage destination for the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council.
During public comments at this week’s regular commission meeting, conservative writer and Corresponding Secretary to the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee, Randy Covington, again, challenged Bryan’s participation in the contentious bidding and selection process.
Covington also voiced his concerns during the Tourist Development Council meeting held on January 24th, when he spoke in favor of the University of Florida who is bidding against the St. John’s Cultural Council, Inc., for the management of millions of dollars in bed tax money.
During the February 15th County Commission meeting, Covington pointed to occasions when he says Bryan should have disqualified himself, whether or not he was challenged, because of interest and bias in favor of one of the bidders — the St. John’s Cultural Council.
The County Attorney, Patrick F. McCormack, expressed an opinion that the fact that Bryan has served on the Board of Directors of the Cultural Council, didn’t automatically create a conflict of interest. Covington continues his argument that Bryan should voluntarily withdraw from a position of judging whether or not the Cultural Council is awarded this management contract so as to avoid any semblance of partiality or bias.
Bryan said that he and appointed funding panel member Scott Bartosch, “have represented the people of St. Johns County”. And, even if they both hadn’t voted in favor of the Cultural Council, the outcome would have been the same.
Bartosch is President of the Limelight Theater; who has seen their grants from the funding panel double over the past three years.
Bryan, who was obviously uncomfortable with the accusations, observed that the Cultural Council “knows what the county is all about”. According to several people interviewed during the break, Bryan’s comments seemed to overlook the value of the University of Florida’s current investment and management of 34 historically significant, state-owned heritage properties within the City of St. Augustine.
“I take this job seriously,” Bryan said. “I have shown the highest level of integrity.”
On a motion made by Commissioner Ron Sanchez and seconded by Commissioner Mark Miner, it was decided that county staff would be authorized to negotiate with the St. John’s Cultural Council to develop a draft contract. The measure passed on a 4-1 vote; with Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson dissenting.
By way of clarification, expressed by County Administrator Michael Wanchick, no commitment is being made to the St. Johns Cultural Council by the commission’s Tuesday vote. Only after the contract terms are approved can the contract actually be awarded to one of the bidders.
Tourist Development Council Director Glenn Hastings said that parts of the contract will likely come from the presentations of both the University of Florida and the Cultural Council. The draft contract will have to come back to the commission for review.