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FL: Commission chairman skews contract evaluation to favor Cultural Council

When the evaluations were released to Historic City News, scoring how well the St Johns County Visitors and Convention Bureau and St Johns Cultural Council performed against the mission of their individual contracts with St Johns County, a very disturbing outcome in the manner in which the current chairman of the St Johns County Board of County Commissioners scored the Cultural Council.

How local option tourist development tax money is distributed, and who the people are that are appointed by the Board of County Commissioners to oversee its distribution, have been in conflict, and at the heart of heated controversy, since the tax’s inception.

The average rating, determined by tabulating the individual scorecards submitted by each of the eight appointed members of the Tourist Development Council, reflected only 2.75 out of a possible five points; in other words, a grade of 55% for the St Johns Cultural Council. A shameful score, to be sure, but that was the tip of the iceberg in the county’s failed arrangement with the Cultural Council. The agreement was diverted, through political cronyism, from the only legitimately qualified bidder — the University of Florida.

Members of the TDC board serve without pay. If that method was adopted to eliminate financial conflicts of interest, it has missed the mark. The mayor of the City of St Augustine, who is compensated $20,891.16 for that service, is an automatic appointment to the Tourist Development Council — specifically because of the city’s financial dependency on tourism. Likewise, the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, is an automatic appointment — BUT, there is a huge difference. Jay Morris takes a $69,033.49 salary out of the county’s budget and it is the county commission, which he chairs, that has to approve every recommendation from the council, its committees, and funding panel — including the appointments of members to sit on the Tourist Development Council, itself.

John Harvey “Jay” Morris, Jr., whose first term in office is expiring soon, has been accused of many things over the last three years; not the least of which is that he has been a puppet for certain self-serving politicos connected to the St Johns Cultural Council that supported him financially and otherwise during his campaign. Others have alleged that, at 70-years-old, Morris’ interests are not in putting too much effort into work; making him easy prey for political manipulators with self-serving agendas who are bent on feathering their own nests.

If the manner in which Morris rated the Cultural Council on this seven-page evaluation is used as a basis, it might give you reason to believe his accusers are right. To start, Morris only spent a total of 12 minutes and 59 seconds completing the 26-question evaluation. St Augustine Beach mayor, Andrea Samuels, for comparison, spent 39 minutes and 6 seconds and Jack Peter spent over two hours evaluating his answers.

Probably the icing on the cake for those who are questioning Morris’ motives, interests, and agenda, is the fact that he spent those 12 minutes and 59 seconds rating the Cultural Council a “4”. ON EVERYTHING. He said that the Cultural Council earned a score of 80% on every single question on the form and every sub-evaluation. “4” out of “5” no matter what he was asked to rate.

Mathematically, had Morris’ out-of-step perception of how the Cultural Council has performed simply not been filed, the 55% score would actually start to look pretty good. Without Morris’ cavalier 80% rating to every question in the evaluation survey, the St Johns Cultural Council would have only received an overall score in the 40% range based on the seven remaining evaluators.

To the only two questions that asked for Morris to think, “What could the St Johns Cultural Council do better?” and “What is the St Johns Cultural Council currently not doing, that is important to the TDC mission?” — according to the tabulation report, “Respondent skipped this question”.

Michael Gold

St Augustine native, Michael Gold, is editor at Historic City News. He is an advocate for grassroots citizen journalism whose job is holding public figures accountable to the public. Founded on the Internet in March 2000, HCN has developed from a periodic newsletter, to an interactive platform, to a publication read by the area’s most engaged citizens. Historic City News is focused on news originating from or having an impact on St Augustine and St Johns County. Contact by e-mail

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Categories: Government Transparency, Policy, Politics, Taxes, Waste, Fraud and Abuse
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