Chamber foundation scrutinized

Posted on September 30, 2016 by Romi White

Anglers disappointed with the Navarre Beach Fishing Rodeo are speaking out on social media, but that may not be the Navarre Chamber Foundation’s biggest problem.

A public records request this week revealed Chamber Foundation board member Sandi Kemp’s business, Sandpaper Marketing, received $2,170 from county bed tax revenues through the non-profit organization for advertising the group’s 2015 rodeo.

And that’s a two-fold issue, which could potentially jeopardize the Foundation’s tax-exempt status, or result in sanction penalties — if the Internal Revenue Service determines there was a violation of the Internal Revenue Code’s inurement prohibition or that the organization engaged in an excess benefit transaction.

According to the Code’s inurement or “benefit” prohibition, which applies to 501(c)(3) corporations, it is forbidden for the use of the income or assets of a tax-exempt organization to directly or indirectly unduly benefit an individual or other person who has a close relationship with the organization or is able to exercise significant control over the organization.

Secondly, Florida Statutes dictate how county bed tax revenues must be spent. The Chamber Foundation received $10,000 in county bed tax dollars for the 2015 rodeo.

“Tourism funds cannot be used as a pass-through to support a charity or business of your choosing. If we find the coordinator of this event or any event is not utilizing tourism bed tax funds consistent with state law, we will not tolerate it,” said Santa Rosa County District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson.

According to the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Office, reports for 2013, 2014 and 2016 will be available in the near future.

In the 2015 post-event report submitted by the Foundation, the number of hotel room nights generated by the event was listed as “unknown.”



“We had lodging partners, but they couldn’t account for rooms for the event,” stated the report.

By comparison, a front-page story in the Aug. 13 issue of Santa Rosa Press Gazette detailed how organizers of another event, Tough Mudder, decided not to bring back the event in 2017 after two years, following “negative press,” which Williamson blamed on Kemp, who also owns Navarre Press.

Kemp’s newspaper heavily scrutinized the East Milton event, which received $80,000 in county bed tax revenues and, according to a Haas Center report, generated more than $140,000 for the county.

But unlike the Fishing Rodeo, in which the vast majority of its 215 paid registrants were Santa Rosa County residents, the Tough Mudder event attracted roughly 6,000 visitors to the county — 2,000 of which were from outside Florida.

“The investment of our tourism bed tax dollars must be based on performance, not personalities,” said Williamson. “It must be fair, transparent and outcomes based.”
Williamson said rodeo organizations will have to submit post-event budget numbers “to account for every penny received.”

So far the Foundation is defending Kemp.

“Sandi leaves the room when we discuss bids and/or invoices and when we vote on anything relating to the Navarre Press or Sandpaper Marketing,” stated the Foundation in a statement, adding, “We have a conflict of interest policy and Sandi has always disclosed that one or both companies received money and reimbursement for the rodeo since its inception more than four years ago.”

The statement went on to say that “reimbursements are for the hard costs but in no way reimburse her for the hundreds of hours she and her staff donate toward the event for the purpose of giving back to the community.”

Meanwhile, fisherman are angry about how the tournament has been run since the original organizers didn’t return and Kemp and others took over operations in 2015.

“I have fished many tournaments for the past 30 years, from Billfish to family rodeos, and this one by far is the worst ever,” said Navarre resident James Sousa, who was one of many posters complaining about the rodeo on the Pensacola Fishing Forum.

Other issues brought up by anglers include the lack of a leader board at the 2015 event and incorrect identification of fish during the tournament award process.

Additionally, the 2016 Navarre Beach Fishing Rodeo initially included a sailfish division, which was eliminated by organizers, according to a Sept. 23 announcement.

The 2016 Navarre Beach Fishing Rodeo is scheduled for Oct. 1 and 2.