The Cultural Council fix is in

The ostensibly “non-political” local arts agency for St. Johns County has been recommended by a panel including Cultural Council debtors and alumni 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.

This recommendation, if accepted by the St. Johns County Commission in their regular meeting tomorrow, will be a political triumph for Philip McDaniel’s “non-profit” honey pot, since it will mean that, once again, St. Johns County’s $74,414.38 per year Purchasing Director, Joe Burch, has ranked the contract from the highest bidder ahead of a cost-saving plan for what are arguably non-essential services.

Sadly, local taxpayers will not only foot the bill for the higher cost of doing business with the closely controlled Cultural Council, if the recommendation is approved, but also the $95,082.00 per year TDC Director, Glenn L. Hastings, and his departmental costs. The county saves nothing by contracting away Hastings’ work to the Cultural Council unless his department and job are eliminated in the process — they aren’t.

And who checks the checkers?

A panel of political appointees and elected officials with debatable interests assess what they see as the value of a proposal — bid from the Cultural Council and the University of Florida. The bids were to be evaluated on five disclosed criteria:

30% – Knowledge and understanding of local and regional cultural tourism and cultural industries.
25% – Marketing expertise and experience
15% – Proposed organizational structure
15% – Financial stability
15% – Project approach and quality of submittal

Former Cultural Council Board Member and $64,264.83 per year Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, Joseph “Ken” Bryan, cast a “vote” on the rating panel — and he holds a vote on the approving board. What’s wrong with this picture? According to records on file with the Supervisor of Elections Office, Bryan received campaign support and donations from McDaniel in 2008. Bryan scores the University of Florida as only 77% yet believes the Cultural Council achieves a score of 92%.

St. Augustine Mayor, Joseph L. Boles, Jr., who is still stinging after he lost the management of 34 historically significant, state-owned heritage properties within the city to the University of Florida last year, remarkably gives the University the lowest score of any rater — 37%. Boles rating is significantly lower, by almost half, of the other rater’s average score. By contrast, he values the Cultural Council as earning 81%.

St. Augustine Beach Mayor, Rich O’Brien, who’s city is the Cultural Council’s landlord, gives them a score of 98% — any surprises there? Or, that he only values the University of Florida’s proposal at no more than 67%?

Panel member John E. “Jack” Peter, TPC-World Golf representative from Ponte Vedra Beach, on the other hand, says that the Cultural Council is only worthy of 65% — and that the University of Florida has earned a score of 80%.

First-time appointee John Yanni, who cast out long-time tourism advocate Frank D. Usina when the County Commission “sunset” the entire TDC board of directors in August, 2009, feels that the Cultural Council gets an all-but-perfect score — 99%. The University of Florida — only 55%.

Jeffrey Mayers favors the Cultural Council by 10% — 80% for the Cultural Council and 70% for the University of Florida. Bill Hughes says that it is even closer than that, finding only 2% separation between the two responses; with the Cultural Council receiving 74% to the University’s 72%.

Scott Bartosch, who is retired, says the University only showed him a presentation worthy of a score of 43%, but, he believes the Cultural Council scores 82% on the five evaluation criteria.

If you plan to attend the meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 15, 2011, it will be held at 9:00 a.m. in the St. Johns County Auditorium; located at 500 San Sebastian View in St. Augustine.

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