Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 28, 2015 11:45 a.m.

 

On January 23, 2015, the Umphrey’s McGee band posted the following announcement on their website:

umpmcgUmphrey’s McGee is thrilled to bring you one of the most unique concert experiences yet — The Fort — held at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach, Florida. Fort Clinch is one of the most well-preserved 19th century forts in the United States and we’re preparing for battle. Joined by Lettuce each night, Umphrey’s and Live For Live Music will present the first rock shows ever held within its walls.

Limiting capacity to only 1,348 tickets, this intimate affair will be one to add to the list. Friday, April 10th and Saturday, April 11th will feature a set of Lettuce followed by two sets from UM. For those looking to camp, we are providing access to camp grounds immediately outside the state park for only $20.00. Additionally, for the most serious soldiers, umVIP has carefully planned The Fort experience to cater to all your needs, from phenomenal viewing locations, early entry, and private bar/bathrooms to exclusive Fort UM merchandise (Fort UM flag anyone?) and more.

Travel packages with accommodations at The Seaside Amelia Island Inn are also available, just steps away from the beach via a private boardwalk, and a short 3-minute shuttle ride to the Fort. Twenty dollars from every ticket to the The Fort will benefit Fort Clinch State Park to aid in their continued efforts of preservation of this unique and breathtaking oceanfront landmark.

Despite selling out all pre-sale tickets, the concert was cancelled for the Fort Clinch venue and moved to St. Augustine. Fort ticket holders were advised regarding the change of venue and refund policies.

How did the concert come to be scheduled at Fort Clinch in the first place? What happened to cause those last minute changes that disappointed so many local fans of the band? Are there any lessons to be learned in scheduling future events? This report will try to answer those questions.

The Booking

On December 10, 2014 a Booking Agreement was entered into between the Friends of Fort Clinch and Jay Robertson, who was listed as the contractor. Robertson, who was identified as the event coordinator, provided his home address and a personal telephone number on that agreement. Jay Robertson has been employed by the City of Fernandina Beach since May 2002 and currently serves as Parks and Recreation Manager in the Parks and Recreation Department.

Proposed layout for Umphrey's Magee concert at Fort Clinch.
Proposed layout for Umphrey’s Magee concert at Fort Clinch.

The Friends of Fort Clinch are a Citizen’s Support Organization (CSO), a non-profit corporation organized to promote and preserve the heritage and natural resources of Fort Clinch State Park. Penny Sansbury signed the contract on behalf of the Friends, which provided that the contractor would have use of the premises between April 9-12, 2015, pay a deposit of $400, provide proof of insurance, assume liability for damages and theft and participate in a mandatory logistics meeting. The stipulated rental fee was $2,500 per day plus $10 per guest per day. Security fees were also mandated.

Section 4 of the agreement addressed the state rules and regulations that must be followed by the contractor and stated “The Park Manager will interpret and enforce such Rules and his/her decision will be final and binding on both parties and shall be non-appealable. … Such approval will be withheld if the Event could have an adverse impact on public safety, the regular use and enjoyment of Fort Clinch State Park by the public or cause a compromise of the protection and preservation of this state park’s natural or cultural resources.”

The City’s involvement

In early February, the Fernandina Beach City Manager’s Office and the Police Chief each received an anonymous packet of materials entitled Save Our City! Consisting of “mostly copies of blogs which characterize the performer and followers as heavy drug users.” City officials were led to believe that the concert was a State Park event, and that the city was not involved in any way. The promoter had filed no application for an event with the city.

Via Public Records Request, a series of emails among the city manager’s office, Police Chief Hurley and Parks and Recreation Director Nan Voit, it appears that Chief Hurley expressed concerns as early as November 2014 that the event promoter was representing that there would be camping available in the city’s Central Park. Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary seemed to share Hurley’s concerns, while Voit talked about the possibility of permitting camping on Buccaneer Field “as a revenue source and a boost for the downtown restaurants …”

Hurley pressed to see if concert camping on city property had been approved. He wrote the following in an email to McCrary dated February 10, 2015:

FBPD Chief Hurley
FBPD Chief Hurley

“I really don’t want to be a stick in the mud. I just like things handled above board. I just spoke to Ben [Faure, Fort Clinch Park Manager] and he said that he is providing the venue, while everything else; getting the bands, the beer, the camping, etc. is referred to Jay Robertson and the City. … Your comment about City consideration suggests that the event organizer (Jay) is promoting the event, along with the camping at Central Park, with City approval. I know I wasn’t very keen on the idea of having 300 people (plus, no doubt) [camping] in Central Park, with City approval. When did the City Manager’s Office give the approval? As I said, this was being advertised around the state in November [2014]. According to Ben [Faure] 1300 tickets were sold in 24 hours. The event is going until 11:00 P.M., which is a concern that should be discussed.”

Jay Robertson, Parks and Recreation Manager
Jay Robertson, Parks and Recreation Manager

Robertson drafted a response for Nan Voit, Parks and Recreation Director, to address concerns being raised by both the Police Chief and the City Manager’s Office. He explained camping options that he had provided to the Fort group, “even lending a hand as a local point of contact,” he wrote in an email dated February 10. He cited his personal vote for the Central Park site and provided his reasons. The group admitted, Robertson said, to jumping the gun with an announcement before getting a Special Events Permit. Robertson wrote, “I know this will look as something negative, but I think it can be a great revenue source for us for this one time and should really not be viewed more differently than the RV city that we allow for Shrimp Festival. We stand to gain a rental fee for two days and then a price per head for them to come in and set up a tent and that is it. We could require a police presence and I would be happy to organize it.”

On February 18, Stuart Wilson executed an event application on behalf of Wilson Brothers Entertainment for the concert. In that application he expressed a need for 5 off duty police officers and disclosed that the event would be providing music and serving or selling both food and alcohol. The cost of a ticket was $150.

Second thoughts

As word began to circulate among Fort Clinch supporters and local citizens, many people starting expressing reservations on holding such an event at Fort Clinch. Initially, the Friends of Fort Clinch had hoped that revenue from the rental for a sold out rock concert would come in handy for making many needed repairs to the Fort. According to an article in the Nassau County Independent (http://ncflindependent.com) published on March 4, fears that a rock concert of such size could both physically damage the Fort structure and its reputation began to surface.

Friends of Fort Clinch Vice Chair George Berninger was quoted as saying that he was concerned about alcohol sales and drug use that could lead to physical safety concerns for both concert goers and the general population, as concert goers left the concert bound for home.

Mary Maguire, author of the article, spoke to Jay Robertson, whom she identified as the local promoter. Robertson expressed his belief that concertgoers would be respectful.

County involvement

Maguire reported that the band’s website was now directing ticketholders to park their RVs at Peters Point, the county park, overnight. The county manager’s office also received a request to camp with tents at the Dee Dee Bartels Boar Ramp Park at the end of N. 14th Street. Promoters agreed to pay $1,000 per day and provide security and liability insurance. Sabrina Robertson, Jay Robertson’s wife, works as a special projects manager in County Manager Ted Selby’s Office.

On March 9, Jay Robertson, wearing a City of Fernandina Beach shirt, spoke before the County Commission. In a letter to the county dated February 26, 2015 on the letterhead of Goin Coastal Music, Robertson had identified himself as “part of a group that is hosting a fundraising concert at Fort Clinch State Park on April 10th and 11th of this year.” In that letter, which he signed as Event Organizer, he explained the needs for campsites and his willingness to provide rent, security and clean up for as many as 225 campers at the North End Boat Ramp.

Minutes of that meeting reflect that the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the request for camping at the boat ramp site and also authorized two port-o-lets and a washing station for the site.

But the Sheriff’s Office had still not been brought into the discussions.

Nassau County Sheriff’s Office concerns

On March 17, Fernandina Beach Police Captain Mark Foxworth advised Chief Hurley that the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office had expressed concerns over campsites being advertised for Peters Point and the North End Boat Ramp. NCSO Captain Osborne said that Fort Clinch had advised him that the concert had been organized by Jay Robertson, under the city’s Goin Coastal series. NCSO expressed that no one had to date coordinated with them and that unlike previous events, there had been no planning meetings or security reviews. Both Osborne and Foxworth wanted to know who is in charge of the event.

City Manager’s Office reacts

joe gAfter learning this information, City Manager Joe Gerrity emailed Chief Hurley: “FYI—I hope there is no city involvement at all …”

Robertson quickly sent a reply via email to the City Manager with copies to McCrary, Voit and Hurley. “As I have stated before,” he wrote, “there is no official City involvement. I have personally been helping this group take care of some local matters and be the direct contact with the Fort to kind of ease their minds.” He went on to speak about misinformation circulating in the media. “Just recently I was labeled as local concert promoter and the man in charge when that is furthest from the case. “

The following day, Deputy Manager McCrary informed Robertson and others via email: “I think the City Manager would like it best if Jay was NOT so much the front man concerning these questions—it gives the impression of City involvement/sponsorship/ownership/responsibility. Your involvement should be limited to off duty activities as you choose to assist the sponsoring entity. Jay’s visibility

Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary
Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary

(use of his email in publications, etc.) works against our efforts to provide transparency in our conduct. Why wouldn’t someone think the City was involved when seeing a fbfl.org email address? The sponsoring entity(ies) should be reaching out to the Sheriff’s office and other concerned parties in an effort to address their questions.” Robertson sent an email apology an hour later: “I apologize as I never intentioned to give off the impression to anyone that the City is involved.”

Fort Clinch backs off

 

Ben Faure, Park Manager Fort Clinch State Park
Ben Faure, Park Manager
Fort Clinch State Park

In a letter to Jay Robertson dated March 25, Fort Clinch Park Manager Ben Faure invoked his right to cancel the concert. Faure cited several problems, including failure to receive a finalized plan for the stage and lighting safety, concerns over inadequate safety planning and concerns about unauthorized entry through the park’s boundary from an adjacent camping area. Faure said that he did not receive a full operations plan addressing all of the logistics of the event, security, EMS, staffing, staging, lighting, parking, etc. to be able to approve the safe use of the site. “Finally,” he wrote, “the contract lists you as the Contractor, however the insurance provided lists Big O Productions, and there are discrepancies between the booking agreement and the insurance provider which has me concerned regarding actual liability for this event.” With that, Faure notified all parties that he was canceling the event and refunding the security deposit.

Concert rescheduled to St. Augustine
Concert rescheduled to St. Augustine

Two days later, Umphrey’s McGee announced with regret the cancelling the event at the Fort and the moving of the concert to St. Augustine.

The City reaction

At some point during the events leading up to the cancellation, the City Manager asked Police Chief Jim Hurley to look into events surrounding the city’s involvement with the Umphrey’s McGee concert.

On March 31, Chief Hurley submitted a lengthy written report to City Manager Joe Gerrity. In it he detailed a series of different names and organizations, which seemed at one point or another to be responsible for various aspects of the event. During a March 25th meeting, which Hurley initiated, Robertson acknowledged that he was the event promoter.  This report is a public record and available through the Clerk’s Office.

Hurley wrote, “As the City Police Chief and Chairman of the Special Events Committee my duty includes managing risk at special events and to be aware of factors that can impact liability to the City. I should not have to conduct an investigation simply to find out what is happening in the City, especially if City employees are involved. … I believe several other questions should be addressed and answered before moving forward with events of this kind, such as how City pay rules are impacted, outside employment approvals, compensatory time accruals, whether decision-makers are benefitting financially from the event, branding issues, alcohol tax compliance, ASCAP requirements, clear rules with non-profits, special event application process, etc. In this instance, it appears that some information may have been deliberately concealed or manufactured, which tends to create an atmosphere of distrust. City events should be transparent in every way. For example, the city tagline should not be used if the event is not being produced by the City, nor should the website of the same name, which identifies the City as the marketer.”

Aftermath

Based upon public information requests filed with the city, it appears that as of May 28, 2015 – almost two months following Chief Hurley’s report to the City Manager on his investigations, there is no record of discipline or admonishment for any city employee.

When contacted for comment today, City Manager Joe Gerrity provided the following:

Prior to my arrival in 2012, there was a strong push to “generate revenue”, even in General Fund departments including Recreation. It has been a culture that has been difficult to change. In the past 6 weeks, I have met several times (most recently Tuesday) with various Department Directors including Finance, Public Safety and the Deputy City Manager to refine our approach to special events.

Some of the ideas talked about include:
1. Moving Special Events out of Recreation to another Department.
2. Better coordination with the TDC regarding Special Events.
3. Creating a City funded Special Events Coordinator position (Won’t happen in the 15-16 fiscal year).

I spoke with both Nan and Jay several times regarding the use of City equipment (cell phones, email, etc.) and believe they have a much clearer picture regarding the use of those tools and the proper way to approach the use of City parks. While I can’t dictate to any City employee what they do with their off time, both Nan and Jay will follow the Special Events application moving forward. The community seems to enjoy all of our special events and we need to find a system that all can benefit from moving forward.

 

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_36437)
7 years ago

Suanne, you put 20/20 to shame with the quality of your investigative reports. Great job as usual of laying out all the facts in an objective manner.

There is no doubt that full transparency of any City involvement should be a guiding principle and Chief Hurley’s safety concerns were well founded. Knowing Jay from other events that he has lead (music and BBQ events at Main Beach and Central Park), I am confident that his intentions were the best. It appears this was a very complex event with all the different parties involved and may have been more than Jay could handle on his personal time.
If the average citizen could see the amount of time that Nan, Jan, Scott, Meredith and others in the P&R Department put into the planning and operation of these special event programs they would be amazed. They work tirelessly (with no additional compensation) to do all they can to make these events run smoothly and be a positive for the City. As an example, back in 2012, a severe weather forecast was threatening to cause the outdoor Memorial Day ceremony at the foot of Centre Street to have to be cancelled. After seeing early that morning that the severe weather was indeed coming and after consulting with Director Nan Voit, an offer was made to the ceremony’s organizer John Crow, to move the event indoors to the Atlantic Avenue auditorium. John was most appreciative and Nan, Jay, Scott and others worked at a rapid pace to clean the auditorium from a reception the previous evening and set up the chairs and all. The participants were all thankfull for their dry surroundings as the intense thunderstorms did move through during the ceremony. Fortunately, the sun came out just in time to move the conclusion of the ceremony involving the wreath laying to be held at the Memorial monument and marina. Such was just one of the many examples of their dedication.
It is clear from Joe’s response that learnings from these circumstances have been determined and are being implemented. Even with the principle of “no good deed goes unpunished” often employed in life, I don’t see any need for any discipline or admonishment for those involved. From my perspective, there were the best of intentions from all parties and I see no harm to the City’s reputation from a visitor’s standpoint. It would be interesting to get a report on how the event went down in St. Augustine and if there were any problems.
Again, great job Suanne.

Cindy Gass Fetch
Cindy Gass Fetch (@guest_36441)
7 years ago

Thank God! When I first heard an Umphrey’s Magee concert was scheduled I was aghast and appalled. Those are sacred grounds and should remain so. I’m astonished this Jay Robertson character had the audacity to book a band of such notoriety without pausing to follow protocol that goes along with his hired position with the city. And to state “concertgoer’s would be respectful” of the fort environment suggests Robertson’s naïveté (doubtful) or disengenious doing’s (most likely.) Thank you, City officials, for looking this gift horse in the mouth and sending it packing.

Jeremy Schreiber
Jeremy Schreiber (@guest_36530)
7 years ago

Suanne thank you for such an unbiased, factual report on the situation.

Cindy, not so much for your rant of filled with YOUR opinions and YOUR emotions.

“This Jay Robertson character” has brought more new and exciting events to the island in the past two years than anyone else has in the past 20. Your accusation of him as disingenuous (with an I, mind you) is nothing more than unfounded slander.

Thanks for all your efforts Jay. Opposition is surest sign of progress.

Joe Anderson
Joe Anderson (@guest_36495)
7 years ago

Officials here certainly worried about many problems the concert COULD cause.
In fact, DID the concert actually result in those problems?
I would like to hear what actually happened in St. Augustine,
so we could learn from the experience.

Christine Corso
Christine Corso (@guest_36514)
7 years ago

If it was so easy to be a concert promoter, everybody would be in the business. Frankly, those directly involved in this non-event had no business on either side of the transaction executing any contracts. The plan was a two day event that based upon ticket prices and projected attendance would have resulted in gross ticket sales of over $404 thousand dollars (excluding merchandise sales) of which approximately $37 thousand dollars (based upon 4 days of park use at $2500 plus $10 of each ticket sold per attendee per day) would have benefitted Fort Clinch. That is less than 10%. Contractually there should have been another override on merchandise and food/alcohol sales revenue as these components have always been another source of income for entertainment venues. The Fort is not an appropriate venue for a large event and any one considering the use of the Fort for such an event is not a “friend” of the Fort.

Further experienced promoters are required to post financial guarantees in thousands of dollars, not simply insurance, to protect property venues (stadiums and concert facilities included). So what is the value of Fort Clinch? And who assessed the value? And whose insurance policy would replace it? Lloyds of London?

I am a strong advocate of entrepreneurial activity, but not when it is executed on taxpayer time. This aspect is offensive and the parties involved clearly should have been terminated.

Our community is very lucky that this fiasco in the making didn’t happen. Kudos to Fort Clinch Park Manager Ben Faure and Police Chief Hurley for their demonstrated business acumen and proactive efforts to stop the concert.

As for the current City Manager, this is another indication of his lack of leadership and management of City Affairs, Departments, and Personnel.

Brian Barnard
Brian Barnard (@guest_36528)
7 years ago

Everyone has to start somewhere. And for you Christine Corso, to call for someone to be fired is ridiculous. Jay is a great guy who has a family and has lived here his whole life. Nothing bad happened, the event was moved, the city and fort didn’t lose any money. And the event was easily moved. No harm no foul.

Jeremy Schreiber
Jeremy Schreiber (@guest_36531)
7 years ago

1348 (total tickets) x $150 (price of 2-day pass) = $202,200 (gross ticket sales)

$2,500 (daily rental fee to fort) x 4 (days of access) = $10,000

1348 (attendance) x $10 (per person fee to fort) x 2 (days) = $26,960

$10,000 + $26,960 = $36, 960

$36,960/$202,200 = 18.3%

If it was so easy to be a “counter,” everybody would be in the business.

Christine Corso
Christine Corso (@guest_36540)
7 years ago

Saint Augustine Amphitheatre seats 4100. The relocation provided additional seating and UM dropped the ticket price to $49 for per seat for each night or $99 per seat for the two consecutive nights. The ticket gross stays the same…

John Bertsch
John Bertsch(@jprbertschaol-com)
7 years ago

Whoa! Who’s minding the shop. If a “special events” coordinator is not in the plans now, I suggest you get one in the plans for 2016-2017 – or stop with the “making money” compulsion. On top of this, no public event should be planned without proper law enforcement supervision. Period!

Brian Barnard
Brian Barnard (@guest_36527)
7 years ago

Jay is a great guy who works harder for this community than most people. He has been responsible for organizing countless events that have gone off without a hitch. The Slide into Spring Festival that happened recently was a wonderful event that brought thousands of people to our community. So the Fort was reaching too far for our community. But, for people who state the reputation of Umphrey’s McGee, they are basically a progressive rock band like Rush, and they recently recorded an album at Apple studios in England (the Beatles) so “oh no” The Beatles and Rush are coming……. But seriously, don’t let this one failed event ruin all the successful events that Parks and Rec and Jay have organized. As old timers will tell you, a lot of people didn’t even want the Shrimp Festival to ever happen either. “Jay Robertson for Mayor!!!!!!!!!”

Ross Gass
Ross Gass (@guest_36545)
7 years ago

Wow. I guess we owe Chief Hurley quite the debt of gratitude for saving us from the mania and chaos of all those youths with their loud music and congregating ways. Oh the horror! And the fort?! What was that crazy fort manager, who works AND lives on the State Park property, thinking initially giving this thing the go ahead? Who can believe he’d put his job on the line (and the same goes for Mr. Robertson) for a rock concert?! And then, exercising his right to cancel as was provided in the original contract? Alarming!
Jay is a fine individual and the city of Fernandina is lucky to have a native son who cares so deeply for our hometown and is doing his best to improve it. All of his events (both as an employee of COFB and as a private citizen) have been well attended and well executed. I have not a doubt in my mind that this one would have been the same.
I pray Jay doesn’t get discouraged. If the T’s are crossed and I’s dotted, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to go to a concert in the fort. Chamber Music, Jazz, Marching Band, rock and roll…

Gantt williams
Gantt williams (@guest_36603)
7 years ago

I thought this concert was a great idea and would have provided income for the city and Fort Clinch. It was a shame it was moved to St. Augustine and the locals of FB missed out. Anything “could” have happened after the concert but I have not heard any stories since it took place in SA- our loss was their gain.
The people who really got screwed were the fans across the county who placed security deposits on houses to come visit our beautiful island and to experience a great concert. Only to be forced to drive an hour each way or suck it up and rent other lodging in SA. Yet not one of us complained. We dealt with it.
But we all remember the money our friends lost and the lost respect we have for the people that made a decision way after this plan was put into place….3 months cancellation-fine. 3 weeks- poor decision making. Communication is key and the people that decided to cancel this event failed on that one.
Luckily we have someone like Jay to allow great events to take place on this island. Everyone in America knew this event was happening as of mid november. For the city to blame this and blame that and cancel 3 weeks before is absurd. Get it together.
FB has alot of successful young professionals on this island who want to make it our home. Let us make it our home and enjoy the things we like, especially by supporting events we like, such as this concert that was canceled.

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