Wednesday, May 8, 2013
In a surprise move Tuesday, the Georgetown Business Association and CASE Solutions of Pawleys Island announced they are no longer marketing the City of Georgetown.
GBA Chairman Al Joseph, at the start of the organization’s regular meeting, read a letter announcing that the GBA will no longer be the marketing agent for the city.
A majority of board members voted to approve the letter.
Advertising agency CASE Solutions, on May 2, terminated its partnership with the GBA.
The move comes two weeks before the GBA was expected to make a final pitch to Georgetown City Council for $297,000 to market the city next year.
The marketing budget for the current year is $80,000. According to information released last week, less than half of that money has been spent.
Not enough support
GBA board member Bryan Shepler said a meeting was held with Mayor Jack Scoville and Councilman Paige Sawyer and the GBA was told they do not have the support on council to get the $297,000 or maybe not even a repeat of $80,000 in funding.
In a letter that was read at the meeting, GBA board member Lynn Mueller said for the past two years, the marketing campaign put together by the GBA and CASE has been a success by multiple measures.
In the letter, Mueller said the Georgetown Times “has printed multiple articles attacking the GBA, the Chamber (of Commerce) and CASE Solutions with innuendo and accusations.”
Shepler claims the Times was inaccurate in a May 3 article which stated “some parts” of last year’s Rock the Equinox festival on Front Street was “paid for with city funds given to the GBA for marketing.” He said the festival was paid for entirely with GBA funds.
The Georgetown Times has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the documentation of the festival’s expenditures.
No other examples of inaccurate reporting were given at the hour-long meeting.
Joseph said Tuesday the GBA has 15 days from the time the request was received to comply.
“Multiple FOIA requests have been submitted by the Georgetown Times requesting information already in the public domain,” Mueller’s letter states.
Brian Tucker, president of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, said fulfilling some of the FOIA requests is difficult.
“It is not necessarily information we have. Some of it is information the city never asked us for. Prior to my coming on board the city’s requirements for what they expected us to report was virtually nothing,” Tucker said.
Joseph’s letter which will be submitted to council, echoed Mueller’s remarks. He said the decision to no longer market the city was “largely due to negative and unsubstantiated reporting by the Georgetown Times as well as negative comments made by some council members. We cannot continue without the support of council.”
Georgetown Times Editor Tommy Howard noted that Mueller has been a regular contributor to the Times for a number of years. He has often used his column and letters to the editor to call for transparency from others.
On July 6, 2012 Mueller wrote about the Town Clock: “No one knows what is going on, people quoted contradict each other, and the money is still not fully accounted for.”
“There needs to be full disclosure and a forensic sources and uses of funds commissioned to assure and explain to tax payers, elected officials and donors, what has gone on!
“Stay on this story … PLEASE!”
And the letter was signed Lynn Mueller. He penned at least a half-dozen similar calls for transparency and full disclosure regarding funds for the Town Clock.
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do now with regards to the public funding entrusted by the City to the GBA,” Howard said.
The city’s project evaluation form calls for a Financial Profile Form to be created. It states the form should list “actual expenditures incurred for the project. Documentation (invoices and checks) must be attached, if not previously submitted, for all accommodations and hospitality funded expenditures.
“Note: The award is not closed until both the Project Evaluation and Financial Profile forms are submitted.”
And that form was signed by Tucker on Dec. 11, 2012.
“The FOIA requests we have submitted simply ask for the city’s required invoices and checks,” Howard said.
That same report shows that the only checks paid out were to the Chamber and to CASE Solutions. The Chamber received $4,100, apparently for its administrative services.
“The Times has requested that the GBA, CASE Solutions and the Chamber of Commerce supply copies of the documentation that the City of Georgetown requires on its Financial Profile form,” Howard said.
The City’s Purchasing Ordinance calls for competitive bidding, Requests for Proposals and sealed bids. While the requirements vary depending on circumstances, Howard said, it is clear that the intent of the ordinance is that the City expects transparency and openness.
Some on council have expressed concerns that CASE Solutions was chosen as the ad agency used by the GBA two years ago without going through the Requests for Proposals process.
Councilmember Peggy Wayne said she is a subscriber of many of the magazines in which CASE said it has placed ads about the city. She said she has never seen any of the ads.
Joseph said council, at a meeting last month, was presented copies of some of the magazine ads. The council and media were given photocopies of magazine covers. The ads themselves were not part of the packets presented.
On Tuesday, Scoville said he also has not seen a hard copy of the ads.
Councilman Brendon Barber, at a meeting last week, said he is concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding the funds spent by the GBA and CASE.
“We have submitted detailed quarterly reports. It’s not our responsibility to make council look at them,” Joseph said. “They would rather sit back and say there is no transparency rather than go find out yes there is.”
Joseph said the ad campaign created by CASE was a huge success and “would have grown” if the requested funds were granted.
Opposed to the letters
GBA board member Rod Stalvey said he was opposed to the letters written by Mueller and Joseph.
“I think we should sit down and talk with the mayor and council about how we should resolve this. This sounds like a spoiled child writing a letter. You send that letter, it will be etched in stone and we will never recover from it,” Stalvey said.
Shepler fired back at Stalvey.
“This is not Al’s fault. Or the fault of a letter to a council member. The City of Georgetown does not give a damn about what we have done,” Shepler said. “The only thing that is going to change anything about this situation is to get these a------- off of city council who are keeping this from happening.”
Board member Marty Alfonsi did not want the GBA to withdraw from marketing the city.
“I don’t think we should back away just because there is a big bully on the playground. There are people in town that would not be here if not for our efforts. We have more people here now than I have seen since I have been here,” Alfonsi said.
Councilwoman Jeanette Ard said Tuesday the city will be marketed after Requests for Proposals are asked for and received from other ad agencies. She said the new ad agency needs to market not only to tourists but to people who may come to the city for any reason.
By Scott Harper
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