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:
Umphrey’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.
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.
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:
“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 . 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.”
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.
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.
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
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
(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
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.
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.”
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.
Editor’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.