Counting the Mango Money: Deerfield Festival's Mysterious 36-Grand

I've been stymied in my efforts to get an answer to the question I put at the bottom of this mammoth post from yesterday, about the Deerfield Beach's Mango Festival. Namely, why did the city cut the Mango Festival a check for $36,000 in June 2008?

Acting parks and recreation director George Edmunds might know, but he hasn't returned calls or emails. Nor has City Manager Mike Mahaney (update: until just a moment ago). Vice Mayor Sylvia Poitier, the festival's leading patron on the commission, isn't picking up her phone, either.

The president of the Mango Festival, Norm Edwards, didn't act on a appointment we had to discuss the issue yesterday. And he hasn't a returned a message I left for him today. So we'll have to try cracking the case without help from the people closest to it.

Yesterday's post raised questions about whether the organizers of the Mango Festival are giving an accurate account of the festival's attendance. That's a concern because attendance is the basis upon which the organizers report a big portion of the income of the event. Theoretically, the festival could under-report the attendance, then pocket the cash that comes from all visitors in excess of that reported figure. One organizer conceded that the festival's volunteers work, essentially, on an honor system, in which they're trusted by the city to not skim from the festival's revenue.

Today I spoke with Mayor Peggy Noland, who attended the 2008 Mango Festival and, like BSO Lt. Mark Frise, expressed astonishment at the 3,000-person attendance figure offered by the festival organizers. "I would say there was more than 3,000 there," she said of the festival, which occupies four city blocks. "You couldn't even get down the street."

Noland was not on the commission then -- she was elected this past March. "But I have the same questions," she said, about the festival. "Where does that (gate) money go?"

But there's also questions about exactly where the city's money goes. Records show that in the days before the 2008 Mango Festival, the city gave the festival a check for $36,286.27. In past conversations I had with festival president Edwards, he told me that the Mango hadn't gone through all of the $165,000 that the city had allocated and the $36,000 was to pay off the balance -- but here's the accounting from that year's festival that was provided to the city. It shows that the balance of unspent funds was about $17,000. So shouldn't the check have been for that amount, not $36,000?

Again, I haven't been able to pin down Edwards -- or anyone else -- on that question. But here's another thing that seems screwy: The Mango provided this document to the city, which appears to show how it spent the $36,000.

Now if you compare that list with the list of expenses I linked in the paragraph before (here it is again), you'll see that there are identical expenses. Shouldn't those expenses have already been paid? If so, then what happened to that $36,000?
 Now it'll get even more confusing. Here's a document that Mahaney just e-mailed me, along with a short explanation. By his recollection, the city was paying invoices racked up by festival organizers until, with about a week left before the festival, organizers "indicated they had a number of last minute purchases to make and would supply the invoices at a later date." So the city cut a check for the balance of what the Mango Festival had been budgeted in the city -- that's the $36,286.27.

The document then shows how all but $3,261 of that amount was spent on the festival. Clarity?

Not exactly. It just begs the question of why city records don't match up with records kept by the Mango Festival.

Finally, for all the specificity of the festival expenses, it's notable that one of the biggest expenses is a nearly $13,000 credit card bill. This week, Terry Scott told me that that line was a "mistake" -- the credit card charges were accrued in the previous year. But if that's so, then wouldn't it change all the numbers above? And did the city review the credit card statement, or was this another moment where the honor system was in effect?

As you can tell, it's all mighty perplexing. And whatever the festival's accounting methods, the 2010 Mango Festival (billed as the 25th anniversary, though the streak ended with this year's cancellation), has only $25,000 available in the city budget, due to economy-related cuts. That means the festival organizers will have to hustle for sponsors and rely much more on the gate revenue to pay back its bills. For organizers, that climate of frugality may take the fun out of the festival.

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