American Music Festival fiasco remains albatross for Daytona State College

DAYTONA BEACH -- The fact that certain people have behaved deplorably in putting Daytona State College in the hole for nearly $1.5 million with the failed American Music Festival, the institution itself is holding strong in its educational mission. DSC has consistently ranked in the top 10% of the 1,200 community colleges across America.

Forty-two candidates have applied for the president’s job; the list will be trimmed to the final four or five who will be interviewed by the Board of Trustees in mid-June. Daytona Beach has a wonderful small-town atmosphere in many respects. However, this means those in positions of power often cross-pollinate and serve on many different boards throughout the area. I would hope the trustees choose a new president from among the many qualified candidates outside our area who bring experience without undue influence or someone local with no ties to these power brokers.

Former DSC President Kent Sharples wrote hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks to pay for the CCF fiasco. The total debt due from CCF to DSC is close to $1.5 million.

Previously, Sharples presented a proposed document regarding student housing. Had DSC Board member Forough Hosseini not raised questions about the financing -- or lack thereof -- this may have gone through as well. Her questions helped determined that the potential bid winner did not have the required $2 million in the bank to start up.

Personally, I would feel quite uneasy if any friends of Sharples were chosen to replace him. Obviously, all candidates must be thoroughly vetted. After all, his close friend and former DSC Chief Financial Officer Randy Spiwak stabbed DSC in the back by sending 1,000 pages of documents to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission.

No college wants an unexpected visit from that commission, which is the recognized regional accrediting body in eleven southern states. Spiwak even used the DSC's FedEx account to pay for the 61-pound shipment.

Sounds like sour grapes on Spiwak's part.

Before that, Spiwak, without consulting the DSC board of trustees, sent a bunch of the college's computers to a school he consults with in Idaho.

The SACS Commissioners were in Daytona Beach the tail end of last week to interview relevant parties and present their preliminary findings. Spiwak left town for Idaho where he now resides so they didn’t have a chance to interview him.

Interim President Dr. Frank Lombardo has done a yeoman’s job of reviewing procedures, setting higher standards and getting the College back on track. The SACS Commission pretty much gave DSC a verbal clean bill of health with orders to do two things: First, clarify and delineate the jobs of the trustees and the administration; and second, clearly define the role of the college and to protect it from outside influences.

Lombardo’s actions and those of the new trustees showed SACS they were serious about reforming programs and adhering to procedures already in place that were ignored by Sharples' administration.

Senior Executive Director Donna Sue Sanders of the DSC Foundation was another water-carrier for Sharples. At his request, she took pledges directed solely to the London Symphony Orchestra, dumped them into the DSC Foundation and tried to use them to get matching money from the state.

Personally, I would quit my job before I’d do this for anyone and I hope the State Attorney looks further into this for possible prosecution.

After saying nothing about this for months, Sanders suddenly tossed Sharples under the bus by describing her efforts to get his legal fees paid during the negotiations to terminate him. Many faculty members and others who shall remain nameless think she did this to save her job.

The new DSC board chair, John Tanner, aided by whomever, whipped up a separation agreement which was never discussed by the board until they spent a few minutes at a regular board meeting and approved it. This was much too swift as it happened before any investigation was completed regarding the CCF and the college board itself.

Apparently $1.2 million of separation loot, car, health care, etc. couldn’t stop the poor-mouthing by Sharples. Fortunately for taxpayers, the DSC Foundation Board members stood together and said a resounding “no” to the additional squeeze for dollars.

Then there is the matter of the over-the-top retirement party for Sharples held at Oceanside County Club. Of course, I was concerned that taxpayers may footed the bill for 400 close, personal friends at the event. But Sanders was on the Marc Bernier radio show on WNDB in January and told him: “Sharples' retirement party was paid for out of the money he and (Sharples’ wife) Linda donated.”

So they wanted to take back money donated for scholarships and use it for a party? I suppose this is better than tax dollars for this celebration, but still, it is questionable at best.

Another note about Sanders: She is featured as “one of the most powerful and influential women in the area” in the slick new local magazine published by one Manuel Bornia, architect of the failed American Music Festival and a so-called free concert before that last year, which has cost taxpayers close to $1.5 million. You will recall that Bornia was an employee of DSC, but reported to the Community Cultural Foundation. Sharples, unfortunately inherited Bornia and several other employees when he agreed to to have the college take over the News-Journal Center.

Bornia had the local media snowed and manipulated last year with big advertising contracts. He and his staff were paid upwards of $370,000 by DSC when they became the go-to slush fund for the concerts. Nice write up to pay back your former boss for her sponsorship.

There are faculty members and others on campus who feel strongly that all the people directly involved in Sharples’ entanglement with the CCF and Bornia, should be let go or else the college could suffer the consequences for years to come.

In addition to Sanders, one who should look for work elsewhere is Bob Williams, the former economic development director under Sharples, who is now running the TV station which no longer broadcasts DSC board meetings live. He squired Bornia all over town last summer. It is my understanding that some vendors still have not been paid for goods and/or services from the failed music festival.

Daytona Mayor Glenn Ritchey has floated the idea of the London Symphony Orchestra’s return in a series of concerts which would pay off the above-mentioned debt over a number of years. Three people who helmed the LSO events for a total of 13 years, Monya Gilbert of DeLand, Dewey Anderson of Orlando and David Newman of Durham, N.C., completely disagree.

I’m with them. I think it would be more like a number of decades as these concerts do not generate profits.

Profit is the name of the game for the News-Journal, too. The newspaper is walking a very fine line between advertising revenue and this story, which involves so many of the “movers and shakers” in our area. All news organizations attempt to do this to give themselves editorial freedom.

Reporter Deborah Circelli and others at the News-Journal have done a pretty good job recently of getting the facts out about DSC and the CCF without rocking the newspaper's boat that floats due to advertising revenue that comes with marketing arrangements like the one with Bornia. However, it should be noted that until the News-Journal and other media outlets were stiffed by Bornia, the coverage was pure fluff. 

Rather than push too hard for accountability for folks with the Community Cultural Foundation or the college board to step up to the plate and make some serious donations to reduce the burden to taxpayers, the News-Journal has instead editorialized that CCF board members “do something” about the repayment of the taxpayers’ nearly $1.5 million wasted.

I’m afraid we’re six months past the “pretty please” stage and much stronger measures are needed. One could be the DSC’s Board of Trustees insisting that the Community Cultural Foundation board do its fiduciary duty, even if it means suing CCF board members or putting pressure on them to open their own wallets and give some of that money back. That is actually the fiduciary duty of the DSC board, too.

The money may have been wasted, but I’m not forgetting that the college needs to be made whole. The taxpayers I’ve spoken to want it back as much as I do.

© Sally Gillies 2011 / NSB News LLC
NSBNews.net, also known as VolusiaNews.net, provides Volusia County 24 / 7 Internet newspaper coverage, 100% free with breaking news, news of record and investigative reports from New Smyrna Beach, FL, for a 21st-century digital world. 

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Always Right by Sally Gillies
Sally Gillies of Ormond Beach, an accomplished book author, is a community blogger, who also has her own political website, SallyGillies.net. The blog, "Always Right" (and its contents), is the sole copyright-protected intellectual property of NSB News LLC, and cannot be reproduced, copied or published in whole or in part elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the publisher. NSBNews.net, VolusiaNews.net and HeadlineSurfer.com are owned by NSB News LLC. All three domains fall under the umbrella of Headline Surfer, a registered trademark.

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