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Saturday November 1st 2014

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Trouble in Swave Paradise

For the city council and the public, there appeared to be few issues with Zimmerman and their marketing efforts once the new fiscal year began. However, there were warning signs of trouble in swave paradise.

Mayor Hayward hired Tamara Fountain, who had recently managed the election campaigns of judges Terry Terrell and Mary Polson in Okaloosa County, for $60,000 a year to head his communications team and supervise the Zimmerman contract.

In December, Florida Auditor General’s Office released its preliminary findings from its audit of the Okaloosa County Commission’s oversight of the Tourist Development Council and the TDC’s use of bed taxes and BP funds.

Last May, the former Okaloosa TDC executive director, Mark Bellinger, committed suicide when allegations of misuse of funds surfaced. A yacht and Bellinger’s home were purchased using county funds. Zimmerman and Mobile-based Lewis Communications were the TDC’s two advertising firms.

The Auditor General’s found that:

“The [Okaloosa] County did not perform an adequate review or pre-audit of invoices submitted by two advertising and marketing firms, including a comparison of payment requests to the provisions of contracts. As a result, the County paid two advertising and marketing firms $12.1 million without obtaining adequate documentation supporting the goods or services received, including payments of several invoices that incorrectly or inadequately described the actual goods or services purchased.”

On Jan. 29, Tamara Fountain emailed Curtis Zimmerman a notice of termination signed by the city administrator. Reynolds wrote, “I, in my role as City Administrator, have determined that the termination is in the best interest of the City.” (TZA Contract Termination)

When the notice was then sent, the city had paid the agency $926,203 and owed another $41,380. More bills had yet to be processed.

Though the notice gave no other reasons for termination, city emails show that Fountain had outlined the city’s case to Reynolds on Jan. 14. (Fountain_Jan14 )

“In short, the retainer fees make no sense. We are receiving very lackluster results for this money,” she told Reynolds. “Now that cohesive branding has been achieved across the City’s entities, I think we need to rethink our contract with Zimmerman going forward.”

She recommended that the Zimmerman contract be terminated for all city entities and that the firm turn over all creative work. The city would use that work to place targeted marketing.

“I think it is critical that we do our homework on our advertising,” she said. “We do not want to spend precious dollars without very carefully defining who we want to talk to and what it is that we want to say to them.”

Fountain recommended a new RFP with “language that ensures the advertising firm chosen will remain consistent with our existing branding efforts.” In 2011, Mayor Hayward appeared to be set on using an out-of-town agency. Fountain reversed that position—“these accounts will be awarded to the ‘highest and best’ local advertising firm.”

Two days later, Reynolds expressed his agreement with Fountain’s analysis. He wrote, “Please let the mayor know that I am in full agreement to your recommendation to terminate the contract.”

There was no mention of the finance director’s concerns over the impact of changing ad agencies on the revenues of the gas utility and airport. According to city emails, it doesn’t appear Barker was notified of the termination or asked for input on its possible impact on city finances. The city council wasn’t copied on the notice of termination.

The Pensacola City Council is currently debating whether to investigate the Zimmerman relationship. Reynolds’ attitude has been that the mayor terminated the contract and there is nothing to investigate. Cosson has labeled Councilman Charles Bare’s inquires as attempts to “use this issue for political purposes.”

The Independent News requested an interview with Mayor Hayward and was told that he was unavailable. Cosson and Reynolds refused to comment on hiding the logos.

The process of creating a new image and revamping the city’s advertising, marketing and public relations appears to be in disarray, with no clear direction. The $475,500 in monthly retainer fees got the city of Pensacola a tagline “The Upside of Pensacola,” a swave and plenty to talk about.

And the talk will continue for quite some time.

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