SEV ad authority to reconsider chamber contracts in wake of chairman's ouster

Investigative Reporting: Show Me the Money: New Smyrna Beach / Headliner Surfer

Palmer Wilson / Headline SurferHeadline Surfer photo / Palmer Wilson, shown here (far left) at the Aug. 8 meeting of the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority in his then-role of chairman  was fired later that day by the County Council only to be re-instated two weeks later in a unanimous vote. Then he was removed a second time Thursday in yet another 4-3 vote.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Six days before the County Council removed Palmer Wilson from the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority on Thursday in a 4-3 vote led by Deborah Denys an unprecedented second time, another member of the tourism board asked that re-reconsideration of funding for two local chambers be added onto the agenda for today's meeting.

The request to have the funding discussed was requested by fellow SVAA board member Tony Stagni and approved by the executive director, Carl Watson, without the knowledge or consent of Wilson, who was chairman until his ouster.

Stagni is the general manager of the Hampton Inn on Flagler Avenue and it was at that local on Sept. 26 that Denys, the district 3 Council member up for re-election next year, held a fundraiser with strong support from key members of the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce. Stagni did not return Headline Surfer's calls for comment.

The very next day, Denys was adamant Wilson to to go, but took back her motion for one meeting to give at-large Council member Joyce Cusack a chance to speak with Wilson and get feedback to Denys' allegations that he had strong-armed his SVAA board members and colleagues into re-naming him as chair.

"This was purposely orchestrated at my expense and that of the public by Denys and the chamber for their mutual benefit," Wilson insisted.

"This was purposely orchestrated at my expense and that of the public by Denys and the chamber for their mutual benefit," Wilson insisted.

Wilson's ascendency to the chairmanship came two weeks after he confronted the council members after a 4-3 vote the afternoon of Aug. 8 where he was initially thrown off the council.

It was earlier in the day on that same date, which was Watson's first meeting, that Wilson outlined for his fellow board members problems then-interim Director Renee Tallevast had with requests for $10,000 each from the Port Orange-South Daytona Chamber of Commerce and the New Smyrna Beach-based Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce.

Tallevast said the chambers did not live up to their promises in the previous year's contracts and she recommended they not be funded as a result.

Twice Wilson asked his fellow board members if they understood, in the presence of Assistant County Attorney Doug Griffin and none of the members, including Stagni had an issue with the contracts not being funded. The vote was unanimous.

Stagni did not return calls for comment from Headline Surfer. Wilson believes he was pushed out the door the second time by Denys to pave the way for the chambers to get their funding in exchange for their support of her re-election bid. Denys has not returned the 24/7 internet newspaper's repeated messages by phone and e-mail for comment and chamber officials also have not returned calls.

Wilson was initially removed in a 4-3 vote led by Council member Joshua Wagner after the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote two prominent stories -- the first on the front page and the second on its local section front quoting New Smyrna Beach Mayor Adam Barringer questioning Wilson's role in the SVAA and Headline Surfer entering into a $10,000 six-month contract for marketing.

Barringer, facing multiple state ethics investigations, was openly critical of Headline Surfer's reporting of New Smyrna Beach in the News-Journal second-day story. The mayor also led a letter-writing campaign to Council members critical of Headline Surfer and Wilson.

The News-Journal also allowed the mayor to make statements that were factually wrong without printing Headline Surfer's response. When Wagner appeared two weeks later to confront the Council he was unanimously re-instated to the SVAA, with the biggest support coming from Denys who chastised Wagner for a rush to judgment.

The Council members all agreed Headline Surfer's contract was lawful and proper and that Wilson had done nothing improper.

At Thursday's meeting, it was Wagner who was supportive of Wilson in trying to stave off his removal a second time.  

The News-Journal has referenced Headline Surfer's contract in 14 stories and has refused to address the internet newspaper's claims of incorrect facts in the published coverage. Headline Surfer is at a distinct disadvantage because it doesn't have adequate funding to take the matter to court.

Headline Surfer will have full reaction after the SVAA meeting, scheduled for 11 a.m. at the New Smyrna Beach City Hall chambers, 205 Sams Ave.

Henry Frederick Picture

Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.