BUNNELL – The financial structure of the Flagler Youth Orchestra came into question on Tuesday at the Flagler School Board’s workshop meeting. The bulk of the questioning came from Board member Will Furry, who alleged that a lack of oversight into the Orchestra was a trend that needed to stop.
Furry’s questioning opened up with an expression of betrayal against district staff; he scolded employees for allegedly providing misleading answers as to the nature of the Youth Orchestra’s financials when he’d asked at previous meetings. He centered his gripe around an oversight that no one disputed: the district had failed to audit the Flagler Youth Orchestra’s financials even once since 2005, even though it’d been written into district policy that such audits should take place. Furry didn’t direct his ire onto any one individual for his grievance, but Board member Colleen Conklin did step in to adamantly accept the blame on the district’s behalf. Orchestra Director Cheryl Tristam said that when she set up the FYO’s accounts with then-Superintendent Bill Delbrugge, she had not been given instructions on any sort of routine audits with the district.
One aspect Furry focused on was the exact nature in which checks intended for the Youth Orchestra were being written. It was improper, he contested, that checks be made out to Tristam, or sent to her home address. Board Chair Cheryl Massaro related this practice to how donations were made when she worked with the Flagler County Youth Center, saying checks were often delivered to individuals and made out to them or to the Center, and not the school district.
Massaro’s anecdote gave way to another of Furry’s points: that unlike in other cases where entities like high school football teams have accounts which are overseen by district staff, the Youth Orchestra’s director is Tristam, a non-employee. Board Attorney Kristy Gavin clarified that in some cases non-employee oversight is the norm, such as when said football coaches are retained through personal service contracts as opposed to formal employment. Like the football teams, the FYO is a school district program overseen by a contracted individual.
Furry at another point questioned Flagler Schools CFO Patty Wormeck on who had been signers on the Youth Orchestra’s account over the years. According to her, it had included Cheryl Tristam, Delbrugge, and Cheryl’s husband Pierre Tristam. Furry raised an eyebrow at Pierre’s mention; he has become well-known to the community as the head of the local news site FlaglerLive. Conklin clarified that Pierre at the time worked for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, before FlaglerLive’s inception.
Board member Christy Chong raised a relevant point given what was known at the time: Cheryl Tristam presently serves as treasurer for her husband’s website. With that assist, Furry then asked the obvious followup of whether district money had ever been paid by the FYO to FlaglerLive. Wormeck stated that it had done so for advertising purposes, something Gavin called “not best practice” but stopped short of calling improper.
In a statement sent to other local news outlets, Pierre strongly refuted the notion that any money had been sent from the FYO to FlaglerLive for any purposes. The Orchestra had been given free advertising on FlaglerLive, he said, and his website had paid money to sponsor FYO events to the tune of $975 since 2018.
Cheryl Tristam also strongly rebuked the notion that the FYO had ever sent money to FlaglerLive, confirming that she texted Wormeck during the meeting to call out the discrepancy. As for Pierre’s name being among those still associated with the account, Cheryl said she’d been in contact with the district multiple times over the issue, and was under the impression that her husband’s name and ex-Superintendent Delbrugge’s had been removed some time ago. She was surprised to learn in the present day that they hadn’t been. In regards to Gavin’s statement that she’d engaged in not best practices, Cheryl agreed this would’ve been true if she’d sent funds to FlaglerLive for any reason, but maintained that Wormeck was incorrect to say she’d done so.
Pierre went on to say that he too was unaware his name had ever been attached to FYO accounts, and that his involvement with the Orchestra had been on a volunteer basis and almost nonexistent after he launched his site. He said he never exercised his status as a signer on the account. In Pierre’s estimate, FYO has been the recipient of ad spots valued $200 to $300 for each school year, but without being charged for any of it.
Furry and Conklin briefly clashed over how exactly to hold the Youth Orchestra’s financials accountable and provide oversight in the future; Furry was focused on investigating the structure of the arrangement over the last 18 years, while Conklin was adamant that an investigation into the FYO’s accounts would yield all pertinent specifics. Eventually Conklin got Gavin to, in so many words, confirm to Furry that the FYO almost certainly didn’t run afoul of any tax laws at the very least. The FYO is a function of the school district and, under Florida law, government entities including school boards are tax-exempt. Whether the relationship between it and the school district was suitable for all involved was something all agreed to revisit after a pending full audit is completed, and chart a path from there.
“There’s no mystery here,” Pierre said to conclude his statement. “Will Furry, ever the sleaze (with Jill Woolbright as his whisperer), is looking to slander Cheryl in an attempt to get at me and FlaglerLive, since I’ve reported his assaults on all things cultural, worthy, diverse and professional (recall the Mittelstadt putsch) in our schools. That’s not going to end of course. But if he’s looking to tear down one of the best and cheapest programs the district has going for it, he’s well on his way.” Furry has been contacted for response to these characterizations, and any statement he might provide will be added to this story.