Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Scandal Rocks Gulf Coast Arts World

Carlton Proctor reports in today's Pensacola News Journal:
Funding for the Arts Council of Northwest Florida may be terminated in 2010 if Escambia County commissioners follow a recommendation contained in a scathing audit of the organization.

In the 11-page report, Patty Sheldon, financial services administrator for the Escambia Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office, revealed the full extent of the Arts Council's fiscal woes.

The organization's 2009 budget was $520,400, but its actual revenues were $364,821.98, a deficit of $155,578.02.

In addition, Sheldon's report cited the Arts Council for the following:

• Failure to properly record purchases made by credit card.

• Failure to properly account for grant payments from granting agencies.

• A lack of internal accounting controls.

n Inconsistencies in the handling of records and policies and procedures.

• Failure to distribute in a timely manner program activity checks to local arts organizations.

n Using available cash that was supposed to go to local arts groups to pay salary and benefits for its two employees and other office operating costs.

n Budgeting far more revenue that it actually received in fiscal 2009.

• Retroactively altering accounting records to qualify the Arts Council for the City of Pensacola's fiscal year 2010 allocation of $40,000.

No Comment

As a result of the audit's findings, Sheldon recommends "no fiscal 2010 appropriations to the Arts Council be made ... since it may be requested to repay the county those payments from fiscal 2009 that were represented as being paid to the arts organizations and were not, in fact, actually paid."
But help is apparently on the way, according to Proctor's account...from dedicated volunteers willing to do the work:
Meanwhile, a volunteer group calling itself ACE (Arts, Culture and Entertainment) has formed under the leadership of arts patron David Bear, former president of the Arts Council and former member of the Florida Arts Council.

ACE is being formed, Bear said, to take over distribution of now-frozen city and county funds to local cultural groups should the city and county permanently terminate funding to the Arts Council.

The new arts group would be based on an all-volunteer model similar to Pensacola's IMPACT 100, where 100 percent of the money awarded by the city and county would be passed through to the arts, Bear said.

IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area is an all-volunteer organization of women who contribute $1,000 each to fund $100,000 grants to nonprofit organizations. The nonprofits apply for the grants, and the women vote on the recipients.

Most local arts organizations have expressed initial support for ACE should the Arts Council be relieved permanently of its role as the single distributor of city and county arts grants.
UPDATE: Probe into Arts Council finances deepens:
State attorney looks for signs of embezzlement