Audit of Cortez museum discloses concerns

A September 2010 discovery of more than $6,000 in a Florida Maritime Museum cashbox, in Cortez, led Manatee County clerk of circuit court and comptroller R.B. “Chips” Shore to order an internal audit of museum fundraising activities since 2008.

The cash was discovered following the departure of the museum’s former manager, Roger Allen.

Two nonprofit agencies are actively involved with the museum, as outlined in the Florida Communities Trust grant, and they include FISH, and the Cortez Village Historical Society. Both agencies use the museum or museum grounds to raise money, which is contradictory to FCT grant requirements without a lease/rental agreement.

Use of museum grounds for FISH fundraisers has been ongoing without any such agreement and without approval from FCT, according to the audit.

The audit revealed a history of poor record-keeping, a lack of receipts, and a lack of overall adherence to the FCT management requirements outlined in the grant contract.

Shore discussed the audit results at the Feb. 6 FISH board meeting, in Cortez.

“After (Allen) left, we found the box with $6,000 in it and we asked for the audit,” said Shore, while pointing out other shortcomings to FCT requirements.

“It’s (the requirements for the grant) that bothers us, because they could come back and require us to pay back that money, and that’s what scares us,” he said.

Shore also noted the FCT stipulation for no concession activity on museum property by any person or organization other than governmental agencies without a preapproved user fee lease/rental agreement benefitting the museum.


Audit recommends change in overall policies

The audit notes on several occasions the lack of documentation in the past for museum expenses, revenue and fund disbursements. Even interviews with museum staff to gain insight to museum purchases proved “inconsistent,” according to the audit.

However, recommendations were set forth for the museum to become compliant with FCT contract stipulations, including:

• Develop procedures for the reconciliation of revenues received by the museum with appropriate supporting documentation, and require monies to be deposited in a timely manner.

• Develop procedures that define authorized petty cash purchases and designate a custodian of the funds to ensure all reimbursements are properly supported by receipts.

• Obtain a lease/rental agreement for each fundraising activity or festival held at the museum property that defines distribution of all revenues collected.

Shore said the creation of the lease/rental agreements between the museum, FISH and/or CVHS was a top priority.

The FISH board of directors agreed to form a subcommittee to begin working on the details of a lease/rental agreement and would bring their recommendations to the board at their March 5 meeting, to begin the process of coming into compliance with the FCT grant requirements.

The remainder of the changes will need to come from the museum. Shore said he is currently working with the Manatee County administrator to expedite the museum conformance to the audit recommendations.



Agencies involved with Cortez Museum and Preserve

Florida Maritime Museum:

The Florida Maritime Museum is a joint endeavor of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, the Cortez Village Historical Society, Manatee County clerk of circuit court and the Manatee County Board of Commissioners.

The museum is a restored 1912 schoolhouse located on the grounds of the Cortez Nature Preserve. The museum features maritime heritage of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

A grant to restore the schoolhouse was funded through Florida Communities Trust and Manatee County took ownership in 1997. In 2004, the county transitioned daily operational duties to the clerk of circuit court.

Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage:

        The FISH board of directors are elected to their position in two-year rotation cycles and it is a volunteer board in charge of organizing the Cortez fishing festivals, including the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, which draws an estimated 20,000-25,000 people annually, and a Folk Music Festival.

FISH, a nonprofit agency, aids the Florida Maritime Museum by providing volunteers to assist in the museum’s operations. FISH also works to preserve the culture of Cortez and other traditional Gulf Coast maritime communities.

FISH works to restore the nature preserve, which entails more than 95 acres.

Florida Communities Trust:

        FCT provides funding to local governments and eligible environmental organizations for acquisition of community-based parks, open space and greenways that further outdoor recreation and natural resource protection.

FCT, a Florida State government program, provided the land acquisition of museum property, for the Cortez Nature Preserve and funded the restoration of the Florida Maritime Museum.

Cortez Village Historical Society:

CVHS was the driving force in the formation of FISH in the 1990s. CVHS formed in 1984 by direct descendants of Cortez’s original settlers, who date back to the 1880s.

CVHS was included in the FCT grant agreement by being tasked with providing volunteers to the museum and for finding museum-worthy items for display.

CVHS, alongside other community organizations, spearheaded the effort to have the community of Cortez registered as a historic district on the state and national Register of Historic Places.

CVHS was instrumental in securing the FCT funding that restored the 1912 schoolhouse, and in moving the “Burton” store, built in 1890, to its current location.

Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller:

The Florida Constitution established the clerk of the circuit court and comptroller office as an independently elected official to protect public funds and public records, as part of the office’s duties.

In 2004, the Manatee County Board of Commissioners tasked the clerk’s office with the daily responsibilities of operating the Florida Maritime Museum, in Cortez, which is owned by the county.

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