Confusion Follows $800K Vote for Dunedin Fine Art Center, Historical Museum, Blatchley House
A motion to fund only two of the three proposed projects in an $800,000 package benefitting the Dunedin Fine Art Center, Historical Museum and the Blatchley House at Weaver Park, left some officials confused and surprised at Thursday's city meeting.
Dunedin Commissioner Julie Scales made a last-minute clarification Thursday that left some officials seeking a legal opinion.
Scales wanted to make clear, just before city leaders were to cast their vote, that her motion was not actually supporting all of what was proposed on Feb. 21.
The motion to fund only two of the three proposed projects in an $800,000 package benefiting the Dunedin Fine Art Center, Dunedin Historical Museum and the Blatchley House at Weaver Park, caught some officials off guard.
"We all talked about all three items tonight," Mayor Dave Eggers said, trying to gain clarity.
The original package proposal, called a "Quality of Life Initiative," included $500,000 to support a state grant application for a planned expansion at the Dunedin Fine Art Center; $200,000 for additional display space, front entrance construction and formal accreditation for the the Dunedin Historical Museum; and $100,000 to turn the Blatchley House into an environmental education center at Weaver Park.
Scales's clarification came after a lengthy 80-minute discussion, during which Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski and Commissioner Heather Gracy both shared positive feedback on funding that would be used to renovate the Blatchley House.
She said her motion was in support of only funding for the Art Center and Historical Museum.
"I just wanted to make that clear, since a lot of people were saying the Blatchley House," Scales said.
Bujalski asked Scales to amend the motion to include all the projects, as she believed them all to be on table in the first place.
Scales refused, arguing that the Art Center and Museum projects were more pressing, and that the city could look into a grant for the Blatchley House renovation.
Bujalski countered that the Blatchley House project was estimated to cost more than $100,000, an amount that was intended to supplement whatever grant the city could obtain. City Manager Rob DiSpirito confirmed Bujalski's budget assessment.
"You know, there's a motion on the table. I'm not open to amending my motion," Scales said.
"Well that's a real shame," Bujalski said.
The package passed 4-1, despite the confusion. Eggers was the only dissenting vote. He cited a long list of funding concerns, to include employee raises, which he believed should be brought up during upcoming budget talks.
"I'm not quite sure why these three projects were lumped together," he said. "I think each one needs to stand on its own merit."
Eggers congratulated the two groups in the room benefiting from the $700,000 vote.
A loud applause broke out among the approximate 50 supporters in the audience, many holding green paper fans with the words "I'm a fan of Dunedin Fine Art Center."
But confusion over the vote remained. A brief dialogue recorded before officials' microphones were turned off for a five-minute break picked up the following:
"Is that what you understood?" Bujalski asked Gracy.
"Yeah, I did," Gracy replied.
"You understood it was just the two?" Bujalski asked again.
"I did speak on behalf of the Blatchley because I did think (inaudible)" Gracy said.
Not even DiSpirito seemed to understand what happened.
The next day, he checked with City Attorney Tom Trask on what exactly was approved in his "Quality of Life Initiative" package.
Trask explained in a Feb. 22 email:
I have reviewed the language of the Motion from last night. It is clear to me that the Motion:
I move that the Commission approve the provisions of the Quality of Life Initiative, and that the City Manager be directed to provide the Dunedin Fine Arts Center and the Dunedin Historical Society with letters of commitment from the City, for participation in their capital projects, in the amounts that they have requested.
approves the Quality of Life Initiative as presented. It is unfortunate that there was some confusion as to whether or not the Motion included the third project. The Motion is what controls your direction, not the discussion. It is my opinion that the passage/approval of the Motion authorizes you to include the development of the Coastal Environmental Education Center at Weaver Park (referred to as the Blatchley House project).
Get local news like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone every day with the free Dunedin Patch newsletter.