Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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The Cnty 5 Dragged Its Feet for Over a Yr,  Waiting for a DEO Handout Which Never Came: Part VII

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Thursday's 12 pm November 29, 2018 special meeting of the TDC was very special. While it is not clear when the County fathers decided to label it a special meeting, it was eminently clear that the timing of the kickoff meeting for the $42,000 single bid Flat Field Study was timed so that no member of the Columbia County working public, i.e., coaches, parents, team members, or anybody else could attend the meeting, ask questions and provide input. Nobody did, including three County commissioners, who were out of town on County business.

Columbia County's Secret Land Deals

The saga of the Columbia County secret land deals continues.

In this, Part VII of the continuing sport tourism saga, we report on the run-up to the last Thursday's November 29 Special Meeting, which has turned out to be another Columbia County 5 Abbot and Costello event.


Background:  TDC Reserves Building Up

In October 2016, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity awarded the Columbia County (TDC) a Technical Assistance Grant of $35,000, which funded the Huddle Up Sports Tourism Strategic Planning Project Grant and Final Report. At that time, the TDC had $1.6 million in reserves.

The Huddle Up Group's CEO Jon Schmieder is an acknowledged expert in the field of sports tourism.

The Strategic Plan                    Download the Plan

The Final Report (March 2017) suggested that to continue the success of sports tourism in Columbia County a "Multi-Sport (Flat Field) Feasibility Study" should be undertaken by the County. The cost estimate: "$15,000 - $20,000" (Final Report: pg. 26).

After dragging its feet for almost a year, on March 1, 2018, the County gave Risk Manager David Kraus permission  to apply to DEO for another Technical Assistance Grant: this time for the Flat Field Study. While the expert, high end of the estimate was clearly $20,000, the County gave permission to apply for $50,000. At this time, the TDC had $2.7 million in reserves.

On April 1 DEO began accepting applications for Technical Assistance Grants.

On April 9, 2018, the County Purchasing Department posted a Request for Proposals (RFP 2018-F) for consultants to do the "Flat Field Sports Complex Feasibility Study." The proposal was penned by the TDC's new Sports Marketing Director, Alden Rosner. It is not clear where he received the information included in the proposal.

The proposal had the Columbia County Sports Commission logo featured on its first page and a first line which read: "The Columbia County Sports Commission is seeking proposals for a feasibility study for a flat field sports complex," which was followed a few paragraphs down with a laundry list of "expectations" of the Columbia County Sports Commission.

The Columbia County Sports Commission doesn't exist. It was explained by TDC Director Paula Vann as being "a concept," which does not have any members.

The Respondents: Only One

On April 10, 2018, Sports Facilities Advisory, LLC of Clearwater, Florida, downloaded the RFP from the County website. The proposals were due on April 26.

On April 25, Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) submitted its proposal to the County. It was the only proposal submitted. SFA had partnered with Huddle Up, the experts that estimated the study to cost between $15k and $20k. SFA and Huddle Up came up with a project cost of $48,550, $1,450 less than the $50k grant approval requested a month earlier, and $28,550 more than the maximum estimate of Huddle Up.

A Columbia County public official told the Observer, "That sounds like a big coincidence."

On May 4, 2018, Risk Manager David Kraus emailed DEO a "LETTER application for TDC Flat Field Grant." The letter was attached to his email and was from County Manager Ben Scott. Mr. Scott's signed letter was dated May 5, 2018, the day after the email was sent.

Three months later, on July 18, 2018, Sports Marketing Director Rosner reported that he was waiting to hear back from the state regarding the awarding of the $50k assistance grant to fund the flat field study.

Even though the TDC was sitting on millions in reserves and DEO's technical assistance grants are reimbursement grants, which means one spends the money first and is then reimbursed, the County dragged its feet and did not give the go-ahead to begin the project.

Not Big on Community Engagement

On July 26, County Purchasing Director Ray Hill forwarded the SFA contract to County Attorney Foreman for review, with a note that funding had not been approved, but "they" (the TDC) wanted to be ready. $5,700 was deducted from the original contract reducing the cost to the County to $42,850. Most of the deduction was for travel and community engagement cost, which was reduced 39%. The County 5 is not big on community engagement.

The hourly rate to do the project is $259hr for 154hrs, or 4 weeks of actual work.

On August 10, the TDC was getting antsy and Purchasing Director Hill sent Mr. Foreman an email looking for an update on the contract review.

On August 20, Mr. Foreman made a couple of minor changes and returned the contract to Mr. Hill.

The next day, Mr. Rosner asked County Manager Ben Scott to put the contract on the next agenda, along with a budget amendment to pay the $42,850 for the study out of the TDC reserves.

Mr. Rosner's request was granted and the September 6 agenda request form was clear and specific: "BA 18-64: Requesting approval of contract with Sport Facility Advisory to proceed with a feasibility study for a flat field athletic complex."

County 5 Approves Contract, Sight Unseen

Approval of SFA contract and budget amendment request.

On September 6, County Manager Scott addressed the County 5 at its meeting, "The second item that we have is... budget amendment 18-64 in the amount of 42,850. I know Commissioner Murphy and Commissioner Williams have been working with the TDC to proceed with this. They asked us to put this on this meeting and to proceed to conduct the Flat Field Feasibility Study, which was recommended by the Huddle Up Group in the 2017 strategic plan. So at this time we are asking for approval of BA 1864 in the amount of $42,850 and if you have any questions I'm sure commissioner Murphy, Commissioner Williams and also Paula Vann (TDC Director) is here in the audience if you have any questions."

Commissioner Nash seconded the motion for approval and asked, "I'd like to know what we're gettin' for $42,000?"

TDC Director Vann gave an extensive explanation of the contract, supplemented by additional information from County Manager Scott and Chairman Murphy.

The budget amendment passed unanimously.

Here They Go Again

After being passed the first time, the SFA contract showed up a month later on the October 4 agenda, this time on the consent agenda, the request being made by TDC Director Vann.

The County 5 rubber stamped the entire consent agenda without a word, approving the contract a second time.

After the October 4 meeting, a second Vann agenda request form showed up, different from the one that came with the October 4 agenda. Both appeared to be signed by newly minted Assistant County Manager, David Kraus.


With this helter-skelter backdrop, the infamous Columbia County 5, in the form of the TDC, rolled into last Thursday's Flat Field Feasibility Study public kick off meeting, scheduled for a time when no members of the public could be present for "community engagement" and where long time Commissioner Ronald Williams announced that the property search should be kept "out of the sunshine."

Columbia County: the legend continues.

Part VII will cover last Thursday's Special Meeting in depth.

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