Are Officials Playing Favorites with Honeymoon Island Business?

A legal agreement the owner of Sail Honeymoon made three years ago with Dunedin requires that he re-bid for his kayak and sailboat rental business, but some commissioners are looking to create a loophole to bypass the bidding process.

Glen Steinke knows he's getting a good deal.

He's paying $1,000 a month to run a kayak and sailboat rental business on the only land bridge connecting a million annual visitors to Honeymoon Island State Park.

Steinke has an agreement with the city to run Sail Honeymoon on the Dunedin Causeway. He has been there for the better part of 20 years.

"You're not getting a good deal," Steinke told commissioners during the Jan. 24 public hearing. "I'd like to give you more money. I'd like a long-term contract in exchange."

A legal agreement he made three years ago with the city requires that operations of the iconic concession would go to bid on Jan. 18, before the contract expires on July 31.

But commissioners are divided when it comes to renegotiating Steinke's deal, with some looking to create a loophole to bypass the city's bidding process.

After the Jan. 24 discussion at City Hall, a decision was deferred until commissioners can review the city's purchasing plan, the city's set of legal standards used to enter into agreements with contractors and concessionaires.

Small Businessman Deserves More, Commissioner Says

Commissioner Julie Scales called for adding "more flexibility" to the purchasing plan — enough to allow the city to bypass the bidding process for Steinke on the grounds that he is doing a good job, and only go to bid at the end of a concessionaire's agreement if his or her business is doing poorly.

The purchasing plan already allows the city to give preference to the standing concessionaire, regardless of price, but does not allow for skipping the bidding process at the end of a contract based on performance.

At first, Scales said she didn't want to "get into the history of what happened there three years ago," but then dove into it and explained Steinke's frustration in not being able to obtain a long-term city contract because of plans to improve the area.

"He's always wanted a longer contract," Scales said.

She called for justifying it through policy amendments.

"For whatever reason, I don't know what happened behind the scenes, but the rug was pulled out from him. Now, I don't think that's the way to treat a small business man or woman."

Steinke is so endeared by residents on Causeway Boulevard that they wrote a letter pleading officials to reconsider his contract and not go to bid.

"Glen has been our eyes and ears to assure the maintenance of this entire Causeway area," the Dunedin Beach Civic Association president wrote in a Jan. 12 letter. 

Many of Scales' campaign contributors are a part of that neighborhood group.

Commissioner Heather Gracy, who accepted a $500 campaign contribution from Sail Honeymoon, also criticized the purchasing plan.

"Hold off on the contract is what my position is," Gracy said, clarifying that she would rather allow Steinke to continue until after the commission reviewed the purchasing policy.

Loophole is 'Stinky Form of Government,' Vice Mayor Says

Not all Dunedin officials agree.

Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said the push to negate Steinke's contract is "cronyism," a term Gracy used on her campaign mailers to describe her opponent, former Commissioner David Carson, and "a stinky form of government."

Bujalski reminded the commission that Steinke agreed to a three-year contract that would require him him to re-bid during the city's RFP (request for proposal) process. 

"There's words like 'flexibility,' 'If it's going great,' and 'Maybe,' " she said. "But, what if it's not going great, and you have this 'flexibility?' You've got nothing to rely on that says, 'Sorry, gotta go out to RFP.' You cannot have purchasing policies like that."

"I still believe that for the public — this is not our money — that we should be going out and doing an RFP so that we can say we've done our due diligence, we've been good public stewards, we've checked into the market to make sure that we're managing the money the right way, and even if someone does come out and bid a little higher, we can always give preference," Bujalski said.

Since finishing the city's purchasing policy three years ago, Bujalski said, two other concessionaires, including the Olde Bay Cafe & Dunedin Fish Market, have gone through he process, and "right at the very time we're going to bid," ... "we want to change the policy?"

"You're asking to defer a particular contract," she said. "So yes, there is favoritism going on."

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