Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County 5 Approves $25,000 for Ten Pages of TDC Web Content

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night's County 5 meeting was the last meeting of the year. Like the first, there were audio issues, visibility issues, and explanation issues. With what appeared to be no clear knowledge of what it was approving, The County 5 unanimously approved a $25,000 marketing expense to produce approximately 10 pages of web content with links.

Tourist Development Council Director Paula Vann was not present to explain. Her immediate supervisor, Assistant County Manager Scott Ward was. Mr. Ward added nothing. County Manager Ben Scott admitted to only knowing what was attached to the agenda.

Left Out of the Loop
County Purchasing Director Ray Hill

The Columbia County Purchasing Policy is confusing. The benchmark amount for quotes is $25,000 on the high end; for bids, $25,000 on the low end.

A professional municipal financial expert told the Observer, "It would be better and not confusing if the amounts weren't the same. The maximum amount for a quote should be $24,999.99 and the minimum amount for bids should be $25,000."

It is not clear if it was a coincidence, but Madden Media's winning quote was exactly $25,000: one penny under the required, if confusing threshold to require bids rather than quotes.

The TDC got a higher quote for $30,000 and a lower quote for $13,300.

The County's Purchasing Policy makes an exception for competitive sealed bidding because of the difficulty of requiring competitive bidding for certain services. These include but are not limited to the following services: "Professional services for special or unique skills, such as accountants, medical examiners, attorneys and other professions that in the opinion of the Purchasing Director qualify."

This morning your reporter spoke with Purchasing Director Ray Hill and asked him if he knew anything about the TDC contract that was on the consent agenda.

Mr. Hill said, "I don't know what it is. I wasn't asked."

A little while later, Mr. Hill called again and said that advertising was an artistic service and referenced the exception for professional services noted above.

The difference between the high and low quote is $16,700.

Ms. Vann, in the agenda material she provided to Assistant County Manager Ward, stated the $13,300 quote was for "3 months" and the $30,000 quote was "To Be Determined."

Amortized over one year the $13,300 quote is $53,200.

The County Purchasing Policy makes it clear that "each supplier be provided with identical specifications."

From every angle, the cumulative total of the bids averaged more than the County $25,000 threshold for sealed county bids and/or Purchasing Director approval.

County Manager Ben Scott served as the County Purchasing Director for over a decade.

The Madden "confidential" agenda material can be downloaded here. (composite graphic by the Observer.)

The TDC Budget

The 2017 TDC budget was approved by The Five at the end of September. The TDC budgeted $75,000 for advertising and $1,000 for professional services.

The County's supporting documentation for last night's meeting included fourteen pages of material concerning the $25,000 request for the Amplified Story Telling Content Campaign revealing that each story represented the equivalent of four or five web pages.

Madden's Amplified Story Telling Content for Kissimmee and Crystal River would have cost Columbia County $12,500 each were they about Columbia County according to the contract that was on the County agenda for approval.

The Madden Media Contract was created on November 4, 2016.

The TDC met on November 16. TDC Director of Marketing, Cody Gray, gave the marketing update without any mention of the Amplified Story Telling Content Campaign.

Last Night At The 5

TDC Director Paula Vann was not in attendance. Her direct boss, Assistant County Manager Scott Ward was in attendance. He was the person that received the memo, contract and supporting information from Ms. Vann on December 6.

Your reporter, a resident of Columbia County, had questions regarding the Madden Contract, which was nestled in the evening's consent agenda as item number 14.

Your reporter told The 5 that he had attended the last TDC meeting and never heard anything about the Story Telling Campaign. County Commissioner Ronald Williams also attended.

Your reporter continued, "You guys are approving -- I'm not exactly sure what. I'm kind of surprised that Ms. Vann is not here to explain this... You need to begin having department heads show up and explain why you are expending these amounts of money. I would appreciate an explanation and have that voted on separately after you hear the explanation from the County Manager."

Your reporter explained the contents of the provided agenda material.

Your reporter took his seat and County 5 Chairman Ronald Williams asked, "Are there any comments from the Board members or staff?"

After a brief silence Commissioner Rusty DePratter asked, "Are you going to explain it, Mr. Scott?"

County Manager Scott replied, "Commissioners, I'm pretty sure that the memo that's attached to it is exactly what Mr. Lilker said is the explanation. You are hiring a company to come in and create stories for your website..."

Your reporter added, "It's two stories."

Mr. Scott ignored the comment, as did the County 5.

Chairman Williams asked, "Need other clarification?"

Commissioner DePratter answered, "I'm good," explaining that he only asked because your reporter asked the question. "I'm just tryin' to get it for what he asked. I make a motion to approve it."

There were no questions.

The $25,000 for about ten pages of stories and links was approved unanimously.


With many County workers not earning a living wage, one has to wonder what Columbia County's infamous County 5 was thinking when it awarded $25,000 no bid dollars for around ten web-accessible pages with links, to a company from Arizona.

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