The relationship between the City of Brooksville and the Brooksville Main Street Program has been strained for some time. Contributing factors include concerns of a lack of financial transparency by Main Street, and the City’s additional expectations in an amended contract (funding agreement) on Oct. 21, 2019.
The Council discussed and voted on amending that agreement at the March 16, 2020 meeting. Then meetings were suspended due to pandemic precautions. The May 4, 2020 City Council meeting, held via Zoom, was the first Council meeting in nearly two months.
Council Member Betty Erhard, opposed to continuing any funding for Main Street, moved to abolish the March 16 amendments. She desired more transparency by Main Street. Erhard expressed that using taxpayer money for a program that did not provide benefit to all businesses during a time of economic hardship was another concern.
The Citizen Input portion of the council meetings has been adjusted to fit the new Zoom meeting format. They call in and are recognized by the City Clerk, or an individual’s email is read by the City Clerk. Most of the input on this date was largely in favor of Brooksville Main Street. There were a few who questioned the financials, inquired about who benefits from the help, or suggested that in the time of hardship the money could be spent elsewhere.
The Main Street Program presentation to the City Council on May 18, 2020 was limited to 15 minutes. Executive Director Natalie Kahler highlighted the busy months of January and February. Kahler discussed new opportunities for engagement with the public including the Fancy Flea and opening of the Mermaid Trail as complementing the regular events of Friday Night Live and Arts and Autos.
When March and April plans changed due to COVID-19, Main Street and downtown businesses that were able, adapted. Others could not and were adversely affected. Main Street offered help with social media marketing, online events, and tracking.
The financial documents provided detailed sources of income from both private and public sectors and how the money was spent. Private sector income was double what Main Street received from the public sector.
Kahler said that one benefit of having a Main Street program allows both the City and the County to request funding from sources it would not have access to otherwise.
Payment of the invoice for the 3rd Quarter was discussed. Erhard asked Kahler about tips, revenue and transactions, and how Brooksville Main Street counted participants at events.
Vice Mayor Pat Brayton moved to pay the 3rd Quarter invoice, less the amount Brooksville Main Street owed the City ($524.47) for permits or event fees. Council Member Bill Kemerer seconded the motion.
Erhard wanted additional discussion. Kemerer stated that the Main Street program has met the requirements of the contract and the City is obligated to fulfill its requirements as well.
There has been an improvement in communication and activity level since a new Executive Director was selected, Kemerer said. Businesses express support of Brooksville Main Street because they feel supported by the Main Street program, he continued, so he supported paying the invoice.
Erhard disagreed. Not all businesses benefit from the program, she said, and said she felt that some businesses were being discriminated against, causing “animosity as a result of being alienated.” Erhard also expressed concern for the City’s finances.
With no additional discussion, the motion passed with a 4-1 vote. Erhard was the only one opposed.
Mayor Joe Bernardini paused before the City Attorney presentation of the contract terms. He asked for Council Members to determine whether they wanted to continue with the Main Street program.
Erhard moved to terminate the contract with Brooksville Main Street. Council Member Robert Battista seconded the motion, only for discussion. He admitted he has been skeptical of the program, mainly because of the available real estate in the downtown area.
Events and people come to Brooksville, Battista said, but there is no “draw” to entice them to return repeatedly. The area impacted by the Main Street program is relatively small when compared to the number of businesses within the city limits. In his opinion it is not sustainable.
Bernardini gave his support to the program. Having an Executive Director has changed the perception and increased the focus of the program.
The council voted 4-1 against Erhard’s motion to terminate the contract. Bernardini said that was a consensus from the Council to continue working with Brooksville Main Street through the end of the contract period.
City Attorney Nancy Stuparich reviewed the contract and the amendments for additional transparency. She offered four options the Council could choose:
A. No changes to the March 16, 2020 agreement, except approving the scrivener’s errors.
B. Return to the Oct. 21, 2019 contract with transparency provisions, including paragraph 12.
C. Return to the Oct. 21, 2019 contact with no transparency provisions.
D. Decide upon a new contract or combination.
Erhard moved to approve Option B. Battista seconded the motion, but for discussion purposes. Battista asked Stuparich about the changes discussed at the March 16 meeting and whether they had been shared with Brooksville Vision Foundation (BVF).
Stuparich advised council members that the changes had not been shared with BVF. Those include a copy of an organizational chart with job descriptions for each position, copies of cancelled checks showing the use of City funds, copies of minutes where the use of City funds was discussed, and expectations for Main Street from the City Council.
Kemerer disagreed with the proposed choice. The transparency requirements discussed are more detailed than the amount of funds the City is providing calls for, he said.
Brayton agreed with Kemerer, saying he was comfortable with the level of transparency Brooksville Main Street already provided.
For Erhard, there was not enough documentation, saying she wanted to see cancelled checks, credit card statements and more for the funding.
Kahler agreed to provide the organizational chart and meeting minutes found on the website.
Erhard’s motion to proceed with Option B failed, with Erhard and Battista the only votes in favor.
Brayton moved to proceed with Option A. Kemerer seconded the motion. There was no discussion. The motion passed 4-1, with Erhard the only opposing vote.
There will be no additional changes to the contract at this time, but continuing to work with Brooksville Main Street will be discussed during budget hearings for the next fiscal year.