The wicked web we weave
As published in Historic City News on March 7, 2014, based on a statement received the day before from Dana Ste. Claire, Executive Director of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Department, the City’s contribution to the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act was to be the exhibition of “Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience” in the newly remodeled Visitor Information Center.
The January 12, 2015 announcement by video production company, Mummy Cat Productions, LLC, John Michael Carr and Lura Readle Scarpitti, stating that they had entered into a nationwide syndication agreement for distribution of the documentary, originally produced at local taxpayer expense and sold to the City of St Augustine, prompted Historic City News to look further into the transaction — including a series of e-mail exchanges with Ste. Claire and others.
“I think by the time you get to the last of them, you’ll be scratching your head. I know I still am,” wrote a 21-time EMMY award-winning television documentary producer, and former journalist who was contacted by Historic City News to confirm the content of some of those e-mail exchanges. Our request was made January 21st and records were made available to us for viewing (no copies) on February 3, 2015.
Questions have surfaced about the way Mummy Cat Productions was awarded their contract to produce the video for the 450th Commemoration in the first place. Let alone their resale of the 26-minute extended version of the original 15-minute Journey “mini-documentary” — intellectual property bought and paid for with city tax dollars.
The “no-bid” contract
Although the purchasing department of the City issued a “request for bid” number for the contract, RFB #FF2014-04, the General Services department allowed the contract to move forward for signature, and ultimately to Financial Services to be paid, without benefit of a traditional bid.
General Services Director, Jim Piggott, told Historic City News that purchases can be made by department heads for any amount up to $1,000 without further ado — so long as there are unused funds available in their budget.
Piggott went on to explain that a purchase more than $1,000 but less than $20,000, also required the department head to obtain less-formal quotes or proposals, which could be submitted to the City by fax or e-mail, but still would not trigger a traditional bid.
Only those purchases that exceed $20,000, when requested by department heads with unused funds available in their budget, require the City purchasing department to solicit formal, sealed bids from a representative number of qualified bidders.
Interestingly, the department head, Dana Ste. Claire, was not the one to handle the Mummy Cat Productions proposal to produce “Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience”. According to a memo from Deputy Director of General Services, Timothy W. Fleming, addressed to Piggott, the proposals were received by former marketing coordinator, Charlie Seraphin; an independent contractor who is now suing the City alleging violation of his civil rights and wrongful termination due to tortious interference in his contract relationship with the City by Mayor Nancy Shaver and City Manager John Regan.
Historic City News editor, Michael Gold, brought to the attention of both Fleming and Piggott that the first two proposals received in response to Seraphin’s inquiries each well exceeded $20,000; indicating the need to obtained sealed bids. Granville Group, a California company, quoted $25,900, and Bluwave Productions, a Jacksonville company, quoted $27,220.
There are a number of qualified, licensed video production companies in St Augustine and St Johns County; however, on calling several, we were unable to find even one who said that they were given an opportunity to bid on the work. Hocevar Video’s Liliana Kurpanik, who does similar work around the region for national clients, was disgusted that her female-owned small business in St Augustine was not able to bid. Derek Boyd Hankerson, a professional video producer with Freedom Road Productions, and a long-time participant in community efforts to bring attention to St Augustine’s role in the underground railway, Fort Mose, and who secured our inclusion in the Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor, was surprised that a minority-black-owned small business in St Augustine wasn’t invited to bid.
Instead, Mummy Cat Productions LLC was approved based on their proposal to charge only $10,000 — less than half of either comparable quote. According to Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, such a discrepancy should have been a major “red flag” in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards (GAAS), and Government Auditing Standards (GAS).
Historic City News shared the opinion. Gold said, “It was such an obvious deviation from the other two proposals, the first question I had was, I wonder if they are quoting on the same set of requirements?”
Granville Group’s proposal was dated December 10, 2013.
Bluwave Productions’ proposal was also dated December 10, 2013.
Mummy Cat Productions’ proposal was made the following day, December 11, 2013.
The purchase order was issued December 16, 2013.
The unreported revenues from distribution and syndication of Journey, after Mummy Cat Productions had already sold those rights to the City, may have been in the back of their minds if they low-balled their quote. In any event, General Services accepted it, former City Attorney Ron Brown approved the form of the contract, City Manager John Regan executed the contract, and Financial Services paid the $10,000 charges, in full. Done and done.