Jackson County Commissioners have directed the county administrator to request that Jackson County Development Council Executive Director Bill Stanton provide a detailed accounting report/audit regarding how he used the money that the county contributed to the organization over the last four years.
That decision was by consensus of the board, not by a formal vote.
Initially, Commissioner Jim Peacock had offered a motion to start a lawsuit against the entity as a way of obtaining financial information by demanding an audit as part of the action, but fellow board members said they felt initiating a lawsuit at this juncture would be premature.
Commissioner Chuck Lockey also pointed out that JCDC is a private corporation, and board attorney Michelle Jordan pointed out that there’s no contract between the county and the organization. Those factors leave some doubt as to whether the entity is legally accountable to the county. The four-year reach of the financial inquiry was decided after some brief references to the statutes of limitations in law.
Jackson County and the City of Marianna had for years provided supportive funding to JCDC after its core funding from state and federal sources "sunsetted" at its 10-year mark of existence in 2004. Those monies had been the backbone of JCDC’s startup, with the understanding that the U.S. and Florida funding would stop after a decade and with the expectation that it would be self-supporting by that time. Its mission was, and is, to pursue economic growth for the county.
But two years ago, Jackson County ceased its funding and established a new economic development group, the Jackson County Economic Development Committee. The county now funds that economic growth entity, instead.
Peacock, in making his initial motion Tuesday, had cited a recent newspaper article in which Stanton had spoken of JCDC’s reserve funds.
In the story, which was based on Marianna’s decision in July of this year to suspend funding of JCDC and almost all other outside entities in a difficult budget year, Stanton had said that JCDC supported that decision and could survive it, in part because the organization has about a half-million dollars in reserve.
Peacock on Tuesday indicated an interest in determining whether any of the county’s contributions were included in the figure Stanton had mentioned in that story.
Stanton, learning of the county’s pending demand for an audit/accounts statement, said he was prepared to give it immediately upon being contacted by the county’s administration. He also said he’d given Peacock and then-administrator Ernie Padgett a detailed look at JCDC’s finances a couple of years ago, shortly after the county‘s decision to de-fund the organization.
“The de-funding happened Oct. 27, 2017, almost two years ago,” Stanton said. “The date I met with Commissioner Peacock and Mr. Padgett was Jan. 3, 2018, just a few months later. I gave them a complete financial record of JCDC, specifically in response to Mr. Peacock saying he wanted part of JCDC’s money, the first time he broached the subject. This included a history of the source our monies from inception, in 1994, until that date, and a separate history of the money that was invested by the county in JCDC on an annual basis for roughly the period of time that the count y invested, along with return- on-investment sheets as annual documents. I gave them the information and showed them that there was no basis for (the county receiving any money from JCDC), and they went quiet. I was able to show them that the accumulated money was none of that which the city or county had invested in the organization. That money was consumed in the operational costs during the years it was received. That was its purpose. This is the first time it has been formally raised since that time (in January, 2018). I’ve provided this information to them in the past, and will do it again.”
Stanton went on to say that county commission member Chuck Lockey, as a member of the JCDC board representing the county’s interests, has received financial reports all along as they’ were presented at every JCDC meeting. “There’s nothing to hide and frankly no basis for the county to assert that any of the monies we have are left over funds from the years they funded us for operations,” Stanton added.
In Tuesday’s discussion, Lockey said he thought that the county will find that its contributions were in fact used for operational purposes.
“Before we jump out and do,” Lockey commented, “we need to have all the facts.”