Commentary: Largo Pair Want a Freeze on Any Look at Center Transactions
LARGO - That creaking sound you hear is the assemblage and circling of wagons.
And when the wagons are being circled, something is at stake; something is wrong; something needs to be protected.
First, a stipulation - everyone is entitled to her and his opinion, no matter how nonsensical.
This begins last Friday when an email from Commissioner Gigi Brown Arntzen arrived at Largo City Hall for distribution to one and all.
Not long afterward, another email, from Commissioner Bob Murray, on the same subject, arrived at City Hall for distribution to one and all.
Here's the nub of it - on the one hand is Commissioner Curtis Holmes who is obviously doing his job which is primarily to protect the public treasury and support the essential services of the city. On the other hand are Arntzen and Murray, both on the City Commission for several years of undistinguished service.
Last week, with the controversy over how transactions are conducted at the Cultural Center's bar, Holmes asked the head of the Recreation, Parks and Arts Department for the receipts of all purchases for the bar - soda pop, beer, wine and spirits.
Why? Because it has come to light from a host of witnesses, including Holmes himself, that the cash register drawer is left open when the business of selling product and collecting money is taking place. This alone is a red flag of the brightest hue.
That flag first went up back in June when RPA reported something like $63,000 in revenue on product that cost $27,000 or so. The markup for alcoholic beverages is far greater than those figures would indicate.
The Florida Department of Revenue has some standards, which it applies to such sales; i.e., so much paid for a particular item, so much anticipated in revenue. It is very simple. The state wants to get every penny of tax money that is due. We all know that.
So let's take a careful look at the 274 words in Arntzen's missive, and comment pertinently on same -
"I am growing increasingly concerned about the accusations against the Cultural Center and the handling of funds at the concession area." - No accusations have been made. Check the record.
"I am further concerned about the appropriateness of Commissioner Holmes conducting any sort of 'audit' to draw his own conclusions on revenues and applicable sales taxes paid. I, for one, am not comfortable with this occurring." - Comfort does come from having some familiarity with a position. In fact, Holmes is doing exactly what his job demands and he has every right to check city records. Arntzen, having done nothing in her time on the commission, is comfortable with a mode of doing nothing, obviously.
"We have a highly trained, extremely professional staff that has earned this city many outstanding performance awards in its accounting practices." - Irrelevant.
"Over the years since the opening of the Cultural Center, I can easily say I have attended possibly two hundred events and have NEVER received a disparaging remark about the conduct or work ethic of any employee." - Irrelevant, this is not what is at issue. No one has disparaged anyone.
"The accusations leveled at the Cultural Center and Recreation, Parks and Arts as a whole, are demoralizing to our staff. I have been contacted by employees who are distraught by the claims made and feel helpless in defending themselves and their fellow workers." - Irrelevant. No accusations have been made. Check the record. If something is fishy, and this is the purpose of the Holmes inquiry, then the staff might well be demoralized.
"The Clearwater Gazette tells of an incident witnessed by a Ms. Carter. I have to ask why Ms. Carter did not report the alleged incident IMMEDIATELY to a staff member at the Cultural Center." - Again, irrelevant. It is not a citizen's job to monitor such things. The citizen corroborated, in an email to City Hall, what others had seen as well.
"If a member of Partners N Progress witnessed such an event, I would expect nothing less than an immediate report to a staff member." - In fact, such was reported to an elected official - Holmes.
"Reporting 'many citizens' witnessing such an event, I consider nothing more than hearsay." - This is not the meaning of "hearsay." Arntzen obviously chooses to believe what she has no basic fact to support and, alarmingly, is contemptuous of citizens.
"Our employees deserve our trust and appreciation, not demoralizing accusations." - Irrelevant, no accusations made.
"If Commissioner Holmes wishes to review the receipts of sales, I would recommend he be invited to the office that holds them and he review them in office and ask whatever questions he feels appropriate." - He has asked for the receipts, not a report, not an investigation; just merely a request for receipts that are on file. And eventually those receipts will speak for themselves.
And now for an examination of Murray's 123 words -
"I agree with many of the statements made by Commissioner Arntzen regarding the concession area at the Cultural Center." - Vague, meaningless, irrelevant.
"I have attended many events and seen the hardworking dedicated volunteers serving the patrons." - Inarguable and irrelevant. No one has ever indicated otherwise. This is not what is at issue.
"My concern is if the accusations are untrue, we have destroyed a level of trust with the volunteers and the staff." - Very true. But the only way to find the truth is to examine the available evidence. This is the purpose of Holmes's quest.
"While accountability is essential in government, it must be done without accusations and innuendos." - A false statement. No accusations have been made and there have been no innuendoes. Holmes has been forthright in his request and purpose. Check the record.
"The City does have an outside auditing firm that looks at the City's accounting practices and processes each year." - Irrelevant.
"As each audit is completed, staff receives praise from the auditing firm for their governmental accounting practices and processes. Unless there is concrete evidence to the contrary, I believe this matter should be put to rest." - Utter nonsense. The whole purpose in Holmes's quest is to find concrete evidence or not. If it comes to nothing, no one has been hurt; if discrepancies are found, there will be remedial action. One hopes.
Arntzen's attack on her fellow commissioner, Holmes, who is doing his job, in which she is joined by Murray, another commissioner with a do-nothing, undistinguished record, is a grave mistake. Making personal an issue Holmes brought forth that is protective of the taxpayers is an attempt to undermine Holmes's principal duty under oath.
The attacks by Arntzen and Murray in their view apparently hold water. They don't. It is so much irrelevant and misleading blather.
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