Mayor Nancy Shaver of St Augustine has only been in office for four months, but a groundswell of public support has followed her largely because she connects so well with issues that she finds important to local residents.
For example, during the March 9th meeting of the City Commission, a lengthy discussion of a controversial contract with Mummy Cat Productions, LLC, led to a heated argument when the mayor suggested that it was time for a compliance audit of all 450th Commemoration contracts. Commissioner Leanna Freeman stormed out of the meeting; repeatedly talking over the mayor, asking, “Is this meeting over?”, and calling an out-of-order canvas of fellow commissioners against and audit, repeatedly instructing the City Manager, “Three votes to move forward”.
But, by the very next regular meeting, March 23rd, two-dozen citizens came forward to show support for the audit, without objection.
Regardless of the clear voice of the community, by the end of the meeting, when the issue of a contract compliance audit came up, Commissioners Freeman, Neville and Vice-mayor Horvath would only express support for an audit of three contracts. Neville, who is a certified public accountant, indicated that if the three contracts in question revealed compliance, policy, or process issues, he would support moving forward with a larger audit.
The public may get the opportunity to hold Neville and other commissioners to his pledge. Last week a meeting was held between the mayor and city manager to review the contracts in question.
The findings, announced to the media Friday morning, indicate that there were, in fact, legitimate concerns.
First: Mummy Cat Productions was contracted to produce a video for the “Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience” exhibit. There were concerns expressed by Regan as to whether officials should have gone through a more extensive bidding process. Only a quote by phone and fax was submitted to General Services for the $10,000 quote from Michael Carr, managing partner of the limited liability company. Both “competitive” quotes exceeded $25,000, and, according to city policy, purchases over $20,000 require sealed bids.
Second: After the City stopped producing the Noche de Gala, three years ago, the Casa Monica Hotel continued to produce the ostensibly charitable fundraising event as a “450th Alliance” partner. There has been no true-up of accounting for the $400 per couple party, despite the fact that the city purchased $3,315.00 worth of tickets for selected guests and their date this year alone. Among those accepting the $400 tickets, vice-mayor Roxanne Horvath and husband, commissioner Leanna Freeman and husband, and Dana Ste. Claire, director of the 450th Commemoration Department.
Third: Assistant City Manager Tim Burchfield negotiated a $400,000+ “sole-source” contract with the vendor who produced the video wall, touchscreen tables, and sound system for the Visitor Information Center. The company originally hoped to derive ongoing revenue from the sale of advertising on the screens, which never materialized. The company will no longer maintain the screens, they are taking back several of the screens from the parking garage and outside the VIC after the 450th, but the city is stuck with the portion that they own. The city made an additional payment to secure maintenance and support through the end of the year.
Although Regan said that he has yet to decide what it will be, he is developing a recommendation to present at the next city commission meeting.
Regan is working directly with the mayor to accomplish her goal of accountability and transparency in the way the city conducts business. The 450th Commemoration was a new, linear priority for a city that was ill-prepared to undertake it, according to the city manager, citing no appreciable staff increase and the continuing workload of day-to-day operations.
One step Regan has already implemented in support of the mayor’s initiative is the online publication of various financial reports and selected contracts that reveal the spending and income generated over the last few years. There is also a report from the 450th Department listing what they see as their accomplishments since 2008-2009.
Although it is unknown at this time if Freeman, Neville, or Horvath will accept the findings and now support further auditing; or, if they will remain non-compliant and retrench against the unmistakable will of the people who elected them.
We have certainly reached a choice point for this commission. The story of their remaining years in office could be one that supports the citizens of our community, or it can continue to reflect the past mismanagement of our resources in favor of the expensive tastes of the few, moneyed elite.
Regardless of the outcome at the April 13th meeting, Shaver says that she will continue to do what residents have told her is important to them and what she knows to be in the best interest of residents in all parts of the city.