The ECHO Advisory Committee did not agree with Lake Helen’s assessment that its Creative Arts Café now meets ECHO grant restriction rules, and members were somewhat miffed by the decision by the Lake Helen City Commission to withdraw a scope change request and cancel a planned site visit.
“I watched that meeting,” Committee Chair Pat Northey said Jan. 26, referencing the Jan. 12 Lake Helen City Commission meeting at which the commission unanimously voted to withdraw their request to change the scope of the grant. “And I’m, frankly, I’m about over it.”
The Creative Arts Café has been out of compliance with amended grant restrictions since 2017, ECHO staff estimated, but has recently taken the stance that a new project, headed by 10 longtime Lake Helen families, actually meets requirements.
“They have had opportunities from other organizations to operate as something that would be an ECHO facility, and they thumbed their noses at us,” Committee Member Jeffrey Ault said. “I am not interested in giving them any more opportunity. They had the opportunity today with the site visit to explain themselves, and they chose not to.”
A site visit was scheduled for Jan. 26, but was canceled after the committee received notice from Lake Helen City Administrator Lee Evett.
“After careful consideration and legal consultation, we have decided to withdraw our scope change request,” Evett wrote to the committee. “As we are withdrawing our request for a scope change, the items should be removed from the agenda and there is no need to have our previously scheduled site visit this Thursday, January 26th.”
The ECHO committee was unimpressed.
“I think from my perspective, I am ready to request the payment back or to refer them to the Council for discussion with the Council with a recommendation from this board that they have not been in compliance. For five years they have not been in compliance,” Northey said. “This board, this committee has been bent over backwards, and it was a missed opportunity today.”
The ECHO Advisory Committee voted 8-1 to recommend that the Volusia County Council “take the necessary steps to rescind the grant money awarded to the project in the sum of $156,646.”
Committee Member Jack Surrette voted against the motion, not because he did not agree with the other members, he said, but because he believed there should be more discussion between the attorney for the county and the Lake Helen attorney.
As of now, the recommendation will advance to a County Council meeting in March. The ECHO Advisory Committee will meet again Feb. 17.