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Chip Drago
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The Political Round-Up

Sonny fetes Hunter; grits for Rudy; lawyers on the move; Tanner never says never; Sam at 60; Bravo Ciara!
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Former Congressman Sonny Callahan will host a luncheon Wednesday, April 11, at the Capital City Club in Montgomery for presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

Hunter represents the San Diego area of California. U.S. Rep. Terry Everett of Dothan is Hunter’s campaign chairman in Alabama. Everett, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee with Hunter, will attend the Montgomery luncheon.

Later Wednesday Hunter is scheduled to meet with Gov. Bob Riley, a former House colleague.

Hunter follows into the state many other GOP and Democratic presidential prospects, including U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as well as U.S. Sen. John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and onetime Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.  

Grits for Rudy
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani raised about $40,000-50,000 for his GOP presidential bid during a breakfast fundraiser this morning at the Theodore home of local Republican leaders Terry and Jerry Lathan.

"It went very well," Lathan said. "We were very pleased. Grits and eggs for everybody. It was awesome."

According to Lathan, Giuliani gave a short talk and then took questions from the gathering of about 35 supporters.

"I've never been with a presidential candidate who wanted to talk to you and listen (as much as Giuliani did)," Lathan said. "He wanted to stay and talk. He loved it. Everybody enjoyed it and learned a lot. It was very successful."

Among those attending were City Councilwoman Connie Hudson, her predecessor in the District 6 council seat, Bess Rich, local businesswoman Celia Wallace and Hal and Harold Callaway of Gulf Shores.

With a belated Easter basket containing various items related to Mobile and Alabama (Mardi Gras beads, a pecan pie and pralines from 3 Georges, a book 101 Reasons Why I Live in Alabama and a greatest hits CD from the band Alabama), Giuliani and his entourage left for an appearance in Montgomery promising to return to Mobile in the fall. 

Lawyers on the move
The law firm of Olen, Nicholas and Copeland has dissolved with Steve C. Olen and Steven L. Nicholas joining Cunningham Bounds. Reggie Copeland Jr. is "weighing his options." Russ Copeland has joined with Hoiles and Dasinger on the Eastern Shore. Michael Youngpeter remains at 166 Government St. in a solo practice. Royce Ray's plans were undetermined.  

Tanner 'never says never'
Former state Sen. and ex-Mobile County Commissioner Gary
Tanner is regularly rumored to be eying a return to his old District 3 seat on the commission in elections next year.

“I never say never,” Tanner said. “It’s a possibility.”

Tanner said he will make a decision but “not until later on.” Qualifying is about one year away.

Tanner said he had no problem with an expansion of the commission to five members. However, he objected to adopting the present five school board districts because that would result in some county commissioners representing a constituency that resided entirely within incorporated areas of the county.

Tanner said he saw the county commission as responsible for the unincorporated parts of the county.

Using the school district lines wouldn’t be fair really, according to Tanner.

Open meetings law violations are almost inherent in a three-member body, said Tanner, so an expansion to five members would help to address a burgeoning problem.

“That law is going to get serious,” he said. “As more people catch on to this, it’s not going to be good for the three county commissioners.

A Democrat, Tanner resides in the same district as Republican incumbent Mobile County Commissioner Mike Dean.

Sam at 60
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones will mark and perhaps celebrate his 60th birthday Saturday, April 14.

Bravo Ciara!
A few questions linger in the debacle over a Mobile County-financed concert by rap/pop star Ciara on March 24 at the Mitchell Center to benefit area charities.

Undisputed is that the Spring Break Blast with Ciara and a couple of down bill acts bombed. When the smoke cleared, there was no money for any charity.

Estimated attendance varied from 2,000 to 4,000. Mitchell Center arena manager Victor L. Cohen pegged the audience at 2,000-2,500. 

The county commission approved by a 3-0 vote on March 12 a $50,000 appropriation to United Cerebral Palsy of Mobile from Commissioner Juan Chastang's discretionary education account. The check was processed March 20.  

Signed by UCP representatives Glenn Harger, president, Ross Diamond, chairman, and Debra Frost, and notarized on March 21, the contract then apparently was sent to the county where County Administrator John Pafenbach and Chastang signed it on March 26, two days after the concert.

Also on March 12, UCP entered into a contract with B.O.G.C. Management to stage two fund-raising concerts to benefit UCP and a second charity, misidentified in the contract itself as "Teen Focus." Both BOGC president Allen Horn and "Team Focus" officials acknowledge that Team Focus, which provided no funding or sponsors for the event, would receive 30 percent of the net proceeds from the concert.

The second concert is tentatively scheduled for the fall, although Horn concedes that the second concert is "on hold."

Horn, Chastang and UCP officials essentially take the position of the old medical anecdote: The operation was a success but the patient died.  

"Here are the facts," stated Horn: "In an effort to assist UCP in fundraising -- I have worked with them for over 15 years in raising monies -- we talked to booking agents for Ciara. They felt the Mobile market would be very receptive to a show and provided us with a pro forma that projected an attractive return for the monies. We signed a contract and booked two other lead acts.We then hired a veteran local advertising agent, and booked the Mitchell Center. The idea was to leverage
monies from this event to create a series of concerts to promote community awareness for UCP and other charities. The ad agency booked WABB & WBLX to promote (the concert). All went well ... except the ticket sales. Every step of the event is documented in writing. Everything requested has been provided to the County attorneys for their review."

Chastang referred inquiries to County attorneys Jay Ross and Mark Erwin, though the Riley appointee has been quoted as saying everything was "fine" and "legal," if not dandy.

“Pafenbach and Jay think everything was done right under our policy and procedure,” said Nodine. “I think it went from step one to step 12 and skipped everything in between.”

“I voted for it because unfortunately I assumed due diligence had been done … unfortunately the attorney and the administrator failed in their duties and it’s an embarrassment on the commission and an embarrassment on United Cerebral Palsy and Team Focus. I’m disheartened. That money could have helped children out -- $25,000 to each instead of gambling it on a concert. ”

The county has a process involving stringent guidelines before such appropriations reach the check-cutting stage, according to Nodine.

“My job is to account for every (taxpayer) dollar spent, to have good records and accountability practices,” the commissioner said. “This makes a mockery out of our system as far as procedure and the (actions of) the administrator and legal are concerned.”

“The only reason why I voted for it was I thought it was going to help children that were afflicted with cerebral palsy,” Nodine said.

Dean did not return phone calls.

“Our intent was to take the money and try to make more,” Harger said. “That’s what makes fundraising hard. You do the best you can with what you’ve got. Every time (in fundraising events) you take a risk. In this situation, we were asked if we would like to be involved with a concert at the Mitchell Center. The intent was from my understanding to take the money from Chastang’s, for lack of a better word, discretionary monies and, as it was explained to me, the idea was to try to take it to make more money. It was not to be a one-time deal. We’ve worked with Allen for 15 or 20 years on previous projects. We’ve had a longstanding, successful relationship with Allen, absolutely.

“This risk did not pan out. That’s no big secret. This is not the first concert we’ve gotten involved in. Concerts are strange animals. When I looked at this and the talent based on the phone calls I made to high-level folks, especially considering it would be on a college campus, well, concerts are always a risk. Like BayFest, it’s a huge risk they take. Due diligence aside, unfortunately in this instance, it did not work out. State, federal and United Way pay A, B and C but don’t pay D, E and F and that’s why you’re always trying to raise money. It’s an unfortunate job we have sometimes. A lot of times it works and sometimes it doesn’t."  

Harger said a golf tournament in November was successful and the Hog Wild Festival recently was “a big fundraiser that turned out well for us.”

About six or seven years ago, UCP attempted a Bienville Blast, envisioned as a springtime version of BayFest, Harger recalled. However, it fizzled.

“It took us a long time to recover from that,” said Harger. “We’ve been very cautious and try to be cautious every time. I’d love to be able to tell you that everything we do works. Most of them do work. It depends on community sponsors and participation.”

Could UCP simply have taken the $50,000 and applied the money to its operations rather than going for Door Number 3?

“Yeah, I guess we probably could have,” he said. “I don’t know that I would have. Needless to say, that’s all part of the discussion. Risk is what it is unfortunately. Any kind of fundraising event, unless someone guarantees the whole deal (is a risk.) A dinner with a speaker, a golf tournament, a silent auction, a gala, a bike race, a run, whatever it is, is a risk.”

“I don’t like it. I sound sort of calm about this, but I never want to lose money because we’ve got a client population we’re trying to serve and we’re trying to do different things to help them. And I don’t want to create a problem between us and the community and the county. We do a great job in the community and have for a long, long time."

UCP was founded locally 60 years ago to provide services for disabled adults and, primarily, children with cerebral palsy and other similar disabilities. The agency which covers south Alabama as far north as Montgomery serves 700 families.

To meet budget, the agency “has to do a lot of fundraising,” Diamond said. “We are always looking for opportunities to raise funds through projects, casual day tee-shirt sales, golf tournaments, whatever we can get ourselves into” to fund the UCP mission.

"On this particular incident, we were first contacted by Allen Horn of BOGC Management, a promoter who UCP has worked with at least 15 years in fundraising projects of all different types, golf tournaments and concerts we’ve tried in the past. Seven or more years ago, we tried Bienville Blast. The county was a partial sponsor for that event. UCP was on the hook for the vast majority of the expenses and that was a big loss. The agency lost money. Since then our policy is not to attempt to conduct a concert without a sponsor covering all of the expenses. We can’t afford to take a loss.”

Diamond said UCP was approached about the concert on “fairly short notice, sometime in March.”

“What was told to us was that Commissioner Chastang wanted to donate $50,000 from a discretionary account to be used to fund a concert as a charitable fundraiser with the intent that if it was successful, if it was profitable, UCP would get 70 percent of the profits from the concert.”

Simply accepting the money without participating in the concert was not really a possibility, said Diamond.

“I don’t think we could have done anything else with it under the circumstances,” he said. “Somebody was offering to promote a charitable fundraiser for us, so it would not be like us to turn it down. We didn’t have any idea the other commissioners were not involved or aware of this. That came as a big surprise to us. I don’t know that we had any contact at all with the commissioners. We had no control over the promotion of the concert. Also, it meant we didn’t have to have an agency employee devoting a substantial amount of time to the promotion. We didn’t and don’t know that there’s anything wrong with the commission offering to promote a fundraiser.”

“I wasn’t on board when the Bienville Blast was done, but it was a painful experience and it’s still painful,” said Diamond. “We still have a balance on the loan we took out although we’re getting close to getting it paid off.”

“The uproar is a surprise to us,” he said. “Take the Junior Miss Pageant (actually Scholarship Program). Everybody knows the county contributes to Junior Miss. All the commissioners use county monies to provide assistance to charitable organizations.” 

America's Junior Miss scholarship program receives a $100,000 appropriation from the county.

Cohen said the Ciara concert did “fairly well,” about 2,000-2,500 attendance.

What does fairly well mean?

“It depends on your perspective,” he said.

How about profit and loss?

“You’ll have to ask the promoter that,” Cohen said.

Tickets were priced at $40 and $30 in advance, $45 and $35 the day of the show and $20 for students.
Net proceeds from ticket sales after taxes was $40,779.82.

Total expenses -- rent, ticket office, staffing, equipment, catering and miscellaneous -- was almost $25,000.

The arena paid the promoter almost $17,500.

A total expense for advertising and promotion was not available.

The budget for Ciara and the other acts was reportedly about $100,000.

Was the Ciara flop predictable?

BayFest executive director Bobby Bostwick said he hates to second guess such decisions because the outcomes are unpredictable, something quirky can occur for good or bad that results in success or failure.

Nevertheless, Bostwick said a Ciara concert would generally be the sort he shied away from.

“There is a real danger with any group or act that appeals to teeny boppers, to young kids -- her appeal with pop music is mostly to an audience that’s probably 12 to 16, maybe a little older, too, but that’s her big base -- young girls my granddaughter’s age,” he said. “They probably think she’s hot but they’re not going to buy a ticket.”

Acts with a brief history of success, one or two hits, generally don’t tour well, said Bostwick.

“That may not be true with Ciara,” he said. “I don’t know a lot about her.”

“I would never risk $40,000 for a small show like that,” said Bostwick. “There are too many variables with that. I’d hire acts that cost more but they’re proven ticket-sellers and we have a lot of acts to appeal to different folks to cover the bases.”  

“One tweak that you don’t even understand can wipe you out,” he said. “If it’s one or two weeks out and tickets are not selling, promoters cancel in most cases. You’ll hear a lot of different reasons -- somebody’s sick, it will be rescheduled, one thing or another, whatever -- but the reason is usually poor ticket sales.”

“I hate to say somebody overpaid,” Bostwick said. “I don’t know what this woman ordinarily gets. They were probably hoping to sell 5,000-6,000 tickets. You can market anybody if the marketing is strong enough. The $100,000 budget for talent is probably true, I’m guessing. Everybody’s different and someone can say ‘what the hell makes you an expert.’ Everybody guesses. A tour will make 15 or 20 stops or more and go over great in one place but not another. My thought is to get a history. X number of tickets were sold. I just think I would research. Book somebody with a good track record selling tickets."

Underground Railroad Bicycle Route Begins in Mobile
A new, long-distance bicycle route following the historic path of the Underground Railroad has been completed and will originate in Mobile with a send off ceremony on Saturday, April 14 at 1 p.m. at the AfricaTown Welcome Center (1959 Bay Bridge Road).

Created after three years of research and planning by Adventure Cycling Association, the largest bicycling organization in North America, the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route travels 2,058 miles from Mobile to Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. It follows the most fabled trek to freedom in American history and honors the bravery of freedom seekers and those that provided shelter.

“The Underground Railroad Route has to be one of the most historically important bicycle journeys ever created — plus, it is fantastic riding,” said Jim Sayer, Adventure Cycling Association’s executive director.

Community meetings set
Two community meetings are coming up. The first is Councilman Fred Richardson's in District One - Beats 30, 31 and 32 on Thursday, April 19 at the Dumas Wesley Center starting at 7 p.m. Also, on Monday, May 7, Councilwoman Connie Hudson will hold a District Six community meeting at Christ United Methodist Church starting at 7 p.m.
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