Ad agency for Volusia County once again under fire

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - A Volusia County agency that uses tax dollars to promote tourism is under fire, again.

On Thursday a member of the Volusia County Council accused the county's advertising board of questionable spending and a Florida Sunshine Law violation.

Channel 9's Lori Brown learned that Volusia County is the only county in the state with three advertising agencies that essentially work in the same fashion as Visit Orlando.

Jason Davis, Volusia County Council chair, said he believes a lot of problems could be resolved if the three agencies were consolidated into one.

The Southeast Volusia Advertising Agency receives $2 million a year to fill up hotel rooms.

Davis said he became concerned when he found out the new director was filling up the board members' stomachs with meals charged to taxpayers on four occasions.

"They came here and then left and went down the street, and had lunch and we paid for it," said Davis.

Davis said he also learned that the director charged $630 to pay for a lunch for bicyclists on a tour. The director said it was to encourage them to come back.

Criticisms of the director then led to a series of email exchanges between the SVAA board members, which is a violation of the Florida Sunshine Law.

In the emails, copied to one another, three board members expressed support of the executive director.

The chair of the SVAA board, Tom Clapsaddle, said the email issue was an accident by another board member.

"(He) hit 'reply all' on accident, felt bad about it, but he knows he did it," said Clapsaddle.

But in another email Clapsaddle wrote directly to the board member about the director, whom they will vote on later this year.

Volusia County resident Bill Tavernier is concerned about the violation of the Sunshine laws.

"They're in place to protect you and I, and make sure there are no backroom dealings," said Tavernier.

Davis moved to remove the three board members.

His motions failed in a 4-3 vote.

The former director of the SVAA, Nicole Carni, is under investigation by the state attorney after $47,000 disappeared from the authority's account.

While  Davis' motion to remove the three board members failed, he said he plans to propose a motion to create sweeping changes to bring more accountability to the county's three ad agencies