SE Volusia ad authority's $70,000 exec. director, operations manager & board chair chow down on public dime

$162.10 in meal purchases for the three; additional $673.87 for bicycle tour group 

SVAA Director Carl Watson / Headline Surfer®SVAA Chairman Tom Clapsaddle / Headline Surfer®Photos for Headline Surfer® / Carl Watson, executive director of the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority, shown at far left, Board Chairman Tom Clapsaddle, shown next to him and Operations Manager Sherry Hendershot, shown below, had meals at local restaurants that were charged to the tourism authority's credit cards.

DAYTONA BEACH -- After Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority Chairman Palmer Wilson was removed an unprecedented second time with County Councilwoman Deb Denys imploring her colleagues to "finish this" and getting her way in a 4-3 split vote seen by some as politically-motivated, Wilson's successor, Tom Clapsaddle, ate on the public's dime.

And it was courtesy of the tourism aurthority's executive director, Carl Watson, whose first day on the job was Aug. 5, when he and office operations manager Sherry Hendershot treated themselves to lunch by charging it on his new SVAA credit card.

He wasn't the only public official with the authority chowing down at local restaurants, Headline Surfer® has learned in its exclusive investigative report. Watson and Operations Manager Sherry Hendershot charged multiple lunches to their SVAA-issued credit cards.

Reached for comment later in the day Monday, Clapsaddle said he wasn't even aware of the credit card issue until the audit came back.

"When someone pulls out their wallet and tells you they've got you covered you don't question it -- you say 'thank you'" Clapsaddle said. Asked by the internet newspaper if he believed Watson  was taking care of the bill himself, Clapsaddle hesitingly responded, "Yes, that was the assumption that he was paying."

Headline Surfer® asked Clapsaddle why he would accept a free meal on the card since, especiually since he was vice chair at the time and fully apprised of the county's written policies and procedures on proper use of credit cards. Free lunches aren't part of the protocol.

Clapsaddle didn't have an answer.

Clapsaddle, in fact received that free lunch just thee days after he was rewarded with the chairmanship taken away from his predecessor Palmer Wilson after he was removed from the board a second time in three months.

Wilson who had initially been removed at the urging of County Councilman Joshua Wagner on Aug. 8, based on heresay and innuendo as to oversight. In fact, Wilson confronted the council the following month in chambers and explained how he had actually been cleaning it up from the scandal in the wake of the 2012 firing of then-Executive Director Nicole Carni.

Wilson was subsequently re-instated by the council to the SVAA board, but not before County Councilwoman Deb Denys tore into Wagner for not doing his homework on Wilson.

But after his colleagues on the SVAA voted him in as chair and Clapsaddle returned as vice chair, Denys then turned on Wilson the day after holding a fundraiser with local merchants at the Hampron Inn in New Smyrna Beach. 

Clapsaddle said Watson reimbursed the SVAA for the meals but didn't even mention anything about it to him, until he, himself, was confronted by Headline Surfer®. The free meal came the day he was named chairman a second time of the SVAA board. 

Receipts obtained Saturday by Headline Surfer® through a public records request the day before and a strongly-worded e-mail to Volusia County spokesman Dave Byron, who held back a critical document from the public and press related to the Waverly park bench scandal, showed the collective tab for Clapsaddle, Watson and Hendershot totaled $135.73.

The free meals didn't stop there. Watson directed SVAA Marketing & Project Manager Elizabeth Gifford to use her SVAA-issued credit card to pay for the meals as a "thank you" and a "reward" to a bicycle touring group after an agreement to stage a bike-riding tourism event was consummated. The total cos for the meals put on the credit card was $673.87

County Chair Jason Davis was furious, especially after the 24/7 internet newspaper provided him with specifics on the amounts charged. "Didn't they get the memo that there's no free lunch?" Davis said, the tone of his voice becoming more pronounced. "You'd think the executive director would know better. From what I'm continuing to hear complaints, I have no faith he can do the job."

County Chair Jason Davis was furious, especially after the 24/7 internet newspaper provided him with specifics on the amounts charged. "Didn't they get the memo that there's no free lunch?" Davis said, the tone of his voice becoming more pronounced. "You'd think the executive director would know better. From what I'm continuing to hear complaints, I have no faith he can do the job."

Watson has not returned messages for comment.

Headline Surfer® reached out to the other six members of the County Council, but did not get call backs or acknowledgment from Deltona-area Councilwoman Pat Northey nor from Ormond Beach-area Council member Doug Daniels.

Hendershot told Headline Surfer® she reimbursed the SVAA for the meals they and Clapsaddle ordered at restaurants, but conceded that was only after an audit revealed the charges.

And even then, it was Hendershot, not Watson, who first offered to pay up.

And it was on Watson's very first day on the job that he accepted Hendershot's offer for lunch. Watson was well aware both their meals were being charged, Hendershot acknowledged when asked in a brief meeting in her office Saturday morning at the SVAA's New Smyrna Beach Visitors Center.

Asked directly which of the three SVAA officials agreed to pay up, Hendershot said, "It was mine."

Watson was well aware of the public records inquiry made Friday afternoon by Headline Surfer®, but because Hendershot called in sick, the internet newspaper emphasized to support staff there that it was prepared to write a story making clear the records weren't produced and that this would require follow-up stories once copies of the records were turned over.

Watson was on the phone in his office at the time and made no attempt to come out and assist. A staffer there logged onto Hendershot's computer in an attempt to try and find the records, but wasn't able to find receipts or an audit report.

Late Friday night, Hendershot called Headline Surfer® stating she didn't understand why Headline Surfer® was "making a big deal out of it and not just wait until Monday when she was back in the office," Headline Surfer® made clear to her that was was "reaffirming its right to timely access under provisions of Florida's public records statutes and government in the Sunshine, especially since there was nothing to redact or research."

She then agreed to meet Headline Surfer at her office at 11 a.m. Saturday. Hendershot turned over copies of receipts for the meal purchases, along with copies of cancelled checks showing the reimbursements were done and a copy of the audit report.

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.