Will county sidestep commissioners to run arts plan in-house?
The political dustup over who administers the long delayed Collier County Arts & Culture Strategic Plan apparently has been settled.
But perhaps not by the elected body empowered to do it.
Two weeks ago, the Collier County Human Resources Department advertised an executive office position for an "arts & culture manager." Its duties sound strikingly similar to those the County Board of Commissioners voted to contract out to the United Arts Council of Collier County.
On paper, the agreement to work with the UAC — the independent umbrella agency for arts in Collier County — stands. It is part of the long-range arts plan adopted by the county in March 2020.
In practice, that apparently won't happen. At a contentious Jan. 26 meeting questioning the UAC as administrator of choice, Commissioner Penny Taylor proposed an amendment that would entirely cut out the UAC, one of the prime movers behind the plan.
UAC supporters showed up to object, and county commissioners eventually voted instead for a continuance on her amendment. They asked for more administrative alternatives or some sort of hearing for the unhappy arts supporters.
"I think there is tremendous lack of communication somewhere. Somebody's not talking to somebody," said Commissioner Bill McDaniel at the meeting.
So Taylor asked then-County Manager Leo Ochs to research the cost to have the plan administered in-house. She said it would be more economical, costing closer to $100,000 annually than the $125,000 cost proposed by the United Arts Council for the job.
Suddenly, there's a manager job
But apparently the request was taken a step further, although under whose order isn't known. The county manager's office, as Deputy Manager Sean Callahan put it, researched "repurposing" an existing open position in its office. The new description of that open position calls for a person who will "work with staff and the community as an advocate for arts and culture and implementation of the County’s Arts and Culture Strategic Plan." Its annual salary range is $66,597 to $107,887.
Questions about the new position were referred to Taylor, chair of the board of commissioners this year and liaison to the arts and strategic plan organizers.
"That has always been part of the strategic arts plan. In fact, it’s Policy 22.214.171.124," Taylor told the Daily News last week, referring to a clause that says "Assign a Cultural Tourism staff position to manage cultural tourism initiatives."
"That’s the person who is going to be administering it in-house," she said of the advertisement. "We were always going to hire an in-house person. The question is: Do we need someone who is on the outside to have the liaison between the government and the TDC, the community, and become an advocate?"
Taylor apparently thinks not. She said she has no plans to bring the matter back to the commission, despite the fact it has not voted on the amended plan that would eliminate the UAC involvement.
"I don’t think it’s going to take place. I’ve had my requisite meetings with the United Arts Council and it is what it is right now," she said.
Taylor could not give dates on those meetings. UAC Executive Director Laura Burns recalled only one time when she has seen Taylor since the Jan. 26 meeting. She said Taylor and a county attorney had attended a virtual meeting of the UAC board March 18.
"They attended and talked about determining a way to move forward. We had agreed they would be providing the United Arts Council with some information. We have yet to receive what we had agreed on at that time," Burns said. "We're still waiting to hear from the county."
In the meantime, the county is seeking applicants for a position that, in part, sounds like a clone of the United Arts Council's role. The person hired would, among other things:
- Organize programs in community arts, arts education, public art and cultural tourism.
- Provide oversight of cultural programs, solicitations and grants administration, acquisition negotiations, contracts and services as they relate to the Collier County Arts and Culture Strategic Plan.
- Oversee fundraising solicitations and grants administration, acquisition negotiations and other contracts
- Promote cooperation and participation in art, culture between other institutions, citizens, agencies and governmental entities.
There are a few quirks in the job:
- The manager would also be empowered to organize public events. But that ability is what brought Taylor's initial opposition to the UAC last October as potentially competing with other arts organizations for funds. She made it a point in suggesting that only the county would be a "neutral" implementer.
Signs of trouble:Collier commissioners quash vote on UAC arts contract
- The arts and culture manager may be asked to perform clerical tasks: answering phone calls, greeting visitors, making copies and faxes, filing or processing incoming/outgoing mail.
Because it's an internal hire, Callahan said the position does not require commissioners' approval to be filled. But it's apparently not attracting enough qualified candidates; the job posting, which first closed May 27, went back online Friday.
Having the administration in-house may not save the money Taylor thought it would, either. Unless the employee comes in at the low end of the advertised scale, once the benefits costs — about 32 percent in today's market — are added, it approaches the $125,000 contract proposed by the United Arts Council to administer the plan.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.