Thursday, December 9, 2010

Convention Center Advisory Panel Stacked with Insiders

The Star News reports that the Wilmington City Council is looking for "more community input" regarding the operation of the convention center through its Convention Center Advisory Committee (

So what do they do? Stack the committee with the same key players that sit on boards like the Chamber of Commerce, Wilmington Downtown Inc., the Planning Commission, and many other influential and powerful public boards and commissions:

The council voted Tuesday to appoint six members to the Convention Center Advisory Committee, but they also directed the city attorney to review the provisions for the committee to see if the council could add more at-large members.
Mayor pro-tem Earl Sheridan suggested the city consider adding more members on the board to get a better representation of the city as a whole. The committee includes the executive director of the visitors bureau, a hotelier in the Wilmington Convention Center tax district, the CEO of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, a representative from Wilmington Downtown Inc. and two at-large representatives.
Those key players are none other than Dale Smith, Louise McColl, Kim Hufham, Connie Majure-Rhett, Jackie Hodge, and John Hinnant. These folks all have been appointed to other boards by this same city council, and in some cases, multiple boards.

Louise McColl, who has gained notoriety as of late for her involvement in securing taxpayer money for the Gravely commissioning events such as "pub crawls" and plenty of fine dining for local V.I.P.s;, sits on the board for the Golf Course Advisory Committee, as well as the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees. Kim Hufham, Exec. Director of the Visitor's Bureau, sits on the Sister City Commission. Connie Majure-Rhett, in addition to her new role on the convention center board, is also the CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce, as well as a member of the heavily taxpayer-funded Southeastern Economic Development Commission. John Hinnant, Executive Director of Wilmington Downtown Inc., another heavily taxpayer-subsidized organization, is a member of the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee in addition to his new duties.

One may ask why in the world our elected leaders are so afraid of regular citizens. Could it be that they simply already have a pre-conceived agenda, and therefore need warm bodies friendly to their cause to simply play ball? All signs point to "absolutely".

It looks as if the convention center, and its careful masters, are in no danger of community input regarding its operations after all.

Chamber Awards... Itself

The Star News also reports that the Chamber has just given out its annual Business Achievement Awards ( Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, Bill Sharbaugh of PPD, and Rob Kaiser, Publisher of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal were the recipients. Most notably, these men are all members of the Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors. So when the Chamber searches for local business leaders to give awards to, it seems to really narrow the field by keeping it strictly within the bounds of its own organization.

Kaiser, in addition to serving on the Chamber, is also a member of Wilmington Industrial Development - yet another heavily taxpayer-funded organization. Saffo was awarded for his work on the convention center - even though his capacity is that of an elected official - not a capital investor, or free market visionary. His ability to spend other people's money well, against their wishes, must have been recognized as the key element in his deserving of the award.

What's the lesson here folks? It seems we have quite a cozy relationship between politicians, committee appointees, and taxpayer-funded organizations. Like any animal, they have learned to rely on each other for their own existence. Like a well-oiled machine, they constantly serve themselves and each other almost simultaneously; operating on the principle of quid pro quo; existing only to validate each other's existence, and to achieve the ultimate goal - gaining more power, influence, and more of your money.

Please add your name to this petition, demanding that taxpayer-funded economic development agencies submit to accountability and transparency standards, so that we as taxpayers know where our money is going and what we are getting in return:

Wilmington Downtown Inc. Needs Your Cash

In a recent email sent out to his entire list, Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI) Executive Director John Hinnant had this to say:
Please encourage the City of Wilmington to increase its investment in downtown economic development.
Give the City of Wilmington your input on spending priorities by completing a short online exercise at by December 14. In less than five minutes, you can complete this brief exercise. I also encourage you to forward this email to all your friends and colleagues.
Please feel free to use any of the sources below if you have questions or would like additional information. Thank you in advance for your participation.
More information:
On the web:
WDI is one of the cornucopia of duplicative so-called "economic development" agencies that receive a chunk of taxpayer handouts every year, and contribute to the reason taxes went up across the board for both city and county residents this past fiscal year. The City of Wilmington defends its funding of WDI and others with the argument that outsourcing economic development is cheaper than doing it themselves. But what actually constitutes as "economic development"?

According to its website (, WDI is still promoting the tree lighting ceremony of Nov. 26th; an event called "King's Run", a 5K and 15K race through Wilmington in remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and various self-promoting of WDI's new iPhone app, and other social media. This is what is so important for taxpayers to fund year after year; and the reason for Hinnant's shameless email begging for more money.

It was recently reported that Wilmington is facing a $6 million shortfall in the upcoming budget, and the local media never reports the fact that the amount of debt owed the city reaching upwards of $30 million.

Taxpayers are doing all they can to keep their homes and feed their children in this economy; and the well-insulated taxpayer-subsidized groups such as WDI cannot see past its own self-interest, and self-perpetuation; and are certainly never too proud to keep asking for more.

In addition, how do we know the efforts of these groups actually equate to economic development?

Economic development creates jobs and a more robust and vibrant economy. How many jobs have tree lighting ceremonies and fundraisers created? The city never holds WDI's feet to the fire to really prove its existence, and justify its funding. Hinnant and WDI take advantage of their comfortable position of doing nothing but self sustaining activities, knowing that they will never have to prove that they are really developing the economy; and have gotten so arrogant, that they are asking for more money, despite this current economy (which, ironically, should be in considerable better shape thanks to "economic development" agencies); and despite the city's position of debt and deficit hitting enormous levels.

In this day and age, local government's do not need any economic development organizations that operate on taxpayer money. They should instead focus on fostering a more business-friendly climate, and offer a more streamlined government that operates on less. Another local, taxpayer-funded "economic development" organization, Wilmington Industrial Development (WID), pays its director over $320,000 a year! That's more than most key positions in the federal government, such as Secretary of State, the Vice President of the US, and many others. Meanwhile, they have accomplished nothing of any significance, as we still have unemployment hovering around 9% plus.

Paying these organizations to do nothing but sustain themselves, host private functions, and promote small local activities for tons and tons of taxpayer money that could go toward public safety and other much needed uses, is far beyond irresponsible. The amount of money paid to these directors is vulgar, and serves as an insult to the struggling taxpayer that must fork over their money for these causes. We need to rise up and do exactly the opposite of what Hinnant is demanding - that our governments withhold ANY and ALL funding of these organizations.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Gravely Chronicles Part III: Spin Baby, SPIN!

The saga continues.

The Star News finally released their contribution toward the USS Gravely local funding fiasco on Tuesday.

In the aftermath of the USS Gravely commissioning, several folks are still trying to get a total accounting of what our $50,000 was used for. The Star News received a vague report regarding some of the expenses:
About $25,000 for a fireworks show. More than $15,000 for transportation expenses. Another $2,000 to give hungry sailors their first taste of North Carolina barbecue.
Originally estimated at three weeks for a full report, the Gravely committee has revised their timeline:
Scheu said he expects the committee will provide local governments and the media with an accounting of the taxpayer funds later this week.
Again, there are several key factors apparent in this issue. First, the Chairwoman of the Gravely Committee is Louise McColl, campaign manager to both Mayor Saffo and Chairman Thompson. It was McColl who received the taxpayer money for the committee from both the city and the county.
...government critic Ben McCoy, points out that commissioning co-chairwoman Louise McColl is politically connected and has managed election campaigns for Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Chairman Jason Thompson.
"It wasn't long ago we had both governments on hands and knees begging us for more money," McCoy said. "A couple of months later, the boss walks into the room and says: ‘I need $50,000' and it's no problem."
McColl did not return calls for comment.
According to the Star News, local officials have stated that citizens critical of the political implications of this maneuver are "missing the big picture".
They say the event was historic for the Navy and Wilmington, showed the area's support for the military and generated tourism revenue and good will for the Port City.
Those benefits are well worth the $50,000 cost, officials say.
First of all, it is a known fact that the US Navy had chosen Wilmington for their location to commission the Gravely regardless of Louise McColl's ability to use her underlings in power to rob the taxpayers of $50,000. They were coming here anyway, which negates any argument for the money being spent in the first place. Second, the Navy operates on federal taxpayer money - I'm sure that they are quite accustomed to paying for the expenses of their sailors without being subsidized by local taxpayers wherever they port at any given time.

Jason Thompson, known for his charming wit and razor sharp intellect, had this to say:
"The people who can't see that are shortsighted with ignorance and spite and can't look at the common good,"
Ignorance. Spite. Can't look at the common good. These are qualities that your elected official bestows upon mere citizens begging at the gate for a little transparency from their all-powerful and superior government who governs from above, more learned and intelligent than the rest of us; we the peons - who know not what is best for even our own good.

The "common good" is a mantra of those big government types who wield power with an iron fist, and look down with disdain upon those whom they lord over with the politics of self-interest and personal consumption. This is the oligarchy; the chosen ones whose mere existence far surpass those of us who live to serve their wishes, who bask in their glory; who pine for their favor and charity; who beg at their table like dogs. Jason Thompson, ringleader to this elite establishment, and a legend in his own mind; scoffs down at you and I from his perch high above; warning us to cease any inquiry into their actions - for they are all for the common good; something that they have monopolized; and we know nothing about.
Thompson and Saffo say the local governments made money from the ceremony through sales and room-occupancy tax revenue, and that the high-profile event brings recognition to the area, boosting its reputation, attracting more tourists and bolstering the local economy in the future.
Thompson said the county calculated the estimated economic impact of the commissioning, which showed that the county will get a 21 percent return on investment for its contribution.
Who would dare challenge the power cabal with an argument like that? Never mind that increased revenue through room and sales taxes merely go directly to government, and in no way lessen the continued burden of taxpayers; and let's ignore the fact that terms like "bringing recognition to the area" and "attracting more tourists" cannot be measured, proven, or in any way ever tied to the $50,000 in taxpayer funds given to a political operative. We'll overlook the idea that this event "bolstering the local economy in the future" is a vague and baseless argument that will never be quantified, and is nothing more than feel-good lip service from governments who have made it their number one priority to deliver propaganda ahead of all other services. And when the county issues mathematical equations that show that the more taxpayer dollars are given away to non-essential functions, the better off we all are - you'll just have to trust them; since if you've been paying attention, you're already aware that they know what's in your best interest far better than you.
"Anytime I can give a dollar and get back two in real dollars, I would think the taxpayers would want to do that every time," he [Thompson] said.
Wow! Everything you ever thought you knew about money has been rendered obsolete. The great economists are all wrong. Financial experts have been put to shame. Jason Thompson has discovered a secret that no one has ever figured out. If you give Louise McColl one dollar, you get two dollars back in return! This is amazing! Why didn't he just say so in the first place? Hey - I've got an idea! Let's raise property taxes to 100% - give ALL of the money to McColl - we'll all be rich! What? Oh... you mean he completely fabricated that illusion to try and dissuade the public from investigating his little investment with our money? Whatever money generated in the economy was not because of our $50,000, given that they were coming here anyway? Shucks.
Scheu said the money donated by the city and county represented less than 25 percent of the total budget, with the rest of the money coming from private donations. The StarNews was one of about two dozen sponsors.
 So the total budget for "pub crawls", drinking binges, all-night partying, gluttony, and other economic development initiatives was over $200,000? That's got to be quite a lucrative venture for Ms. McColl. She is chairwoman after all - one can't just invest that much time and effort organizing keg deliveries and how many cheese balls to have made without being fairly compensated. I wonder if we'll ever know the truth about how much exactly that figure is? She did tell us at the last County Commissioner's meeting that no matter what, she's not going to stop bringing commissioning ceremonies here to Wilmington. Sort of a career planning move on her part.

Minus our $50,000 so generously given by our visionary leaders, the committee would have had over $150,000 in private donations to play with according to their figures. One would think that this would be quite enough money to set up a pretty serious bar tab. The ship contained 283 sailors - divide that by $150,000, and each sailor has an entertainment budget of a paltry $530.04. With the involuntary contribution of unemployed taxpayers facing foreclosure on their homes in many cases, that figure jumps to $706.71 per sailor. Now we're talkin'. Like my Grandfather always said, "If you can't get over 700 bucks in free money to party with over a weekend, there ain't no sense in joining the Navy".

Thanks Louise. And thank you Jason and Bill. Without your impeccable guidance and courageous leadership, that money may have been wasted on something stupid like public safety; thereby helping us move out of #97 of most crime-ridden cities in the US - on a list in which Los Angeles is #158. But at least now we understand that without taxpayer-funded pub crawls, our economy would be in the toilet.