ONLY ON 3 INVESTIGATION: Bring It! Downtown misuses public money throwing party

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Submitted: Sat, 05/04/2013 - 3:59am
Updated: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 1:15pm

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A task force launched to market Downtown Wilmington misused public money, throwing a party last week that included more than $1,000 worth of alcohol, according to a member of a board overseeing the group.

The Wilmington City Council formed Bring It! Downtown last year. It's overseen by board members from Wilmington Downtown Inc. and the Downtown Business Alliance. Joan Loch, owner of the downtown store Crescent Moon, chairs the group. According to a source close to the situation, Loch appointed herself to be chairperson. Loch refused to do an on-camera interview for this story; however, she did provide a statement.

The party was held to premier a new video Bring It! Downtown produced with a local production office, Blueberry Fusion. Documents show Bring It! Downtown paid more than $5,000 for the video. According to an employee of Blueberry Fusion, it also still holds the rights to the video. Loch didn't bid the project out to other local production offices or the four television stations in town to see if she could get a better price.

Originally, Loch paid the Hilton Wilmington Riverside $3,602 for food, 12 bottles of white wine, 18 bottles of red, and three cases of beer, according to a receipt we requested.

In exchange, Loch secured $2,700 of in-kind advertising from "Wilmington Magazine," which has been resurrected by a publishing firm in Mt. Pleasant, SC. After we began our investigation, we learned that Loch was instructed to get the money back from the Hilton.

"On paper it appears that the city is paying for the money," said city spokeswoman Malissa Talbert, who also said the city was unaware of the issue until WWAY began looking into it. "Then they were made aware later after the fact that that was not appropriate and they needed to change the bookkeeping to make it very clear that public moneys were not used for that purpose."

Records now show that "Wilmington Magazine" paid the $3,602. A call to the publisher has not been returned.

In all, receipts and purchase orders show Loch spent almost $10,000 to produce the video and host the party. That's almost a third of the public money the Wilmington City Council earmarked for Bring It! Downtown for two years.

In an email written a few hours after our original request and addressed to Bring It! Downtown members and city officials, Loch admits she made a small mistake, but contends the video and the party fulfilled the mission of marketing Downtown Wilmington.

"It was a mistake," Loch said in a statement to WWAY Friday. "Mistakes happen. We have made the city and their attorneys aware of the situation and have taken corrective measures to fix it. We felt that the in-kind advertising with Wilmington Magazine would fit the bill, however there was an accounting error. Wilmington Magazine has paid for the party at the Hilton, and we have reimbursed them for the advertising. The city's attorneys have approved this plan as have CPAs."

The three-and-a-half-minute video focuses mainly on a mother who lives downtown with her husband and kids, as well as a downtown business owner. It skims quickly over downtown parking but doesn't address the ongoing fear of many that downtown is not a safe place to visit.

We have reached out to Mayor Bill Saffo's office for comment but have yet to hear back.

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38 Comments on "ONLY ON 3 INVESTIGATION: Bring It! Downtown misuses public money throwing party"

dean bailey
2015 years 8 months ago

its about time we overthrow fed/ state and local gov. its not working for us,

Guest Reply
2015 years 8 months ago

Let’s back up a smidgen…OK?
Lately, all the attention in the “Election Officials” realm has been directed towards…none other than…Mr. Brian Berger himself. Ya got it!
It’s like my late Father used to say for years and years, a WWII Veteran pilot that watched the corruption of elected officials way longer than I…and we. And I quote:
“Once we turn all of our attention to everyone elses business, other than our own at home, the Eskimo’s will come down and take over by invasion”. (I agree).
Just maybe Mr. Berger “does” have the goods on some of these elected folks after all…and in their retaliation and their smoke screen is… using Berger’s mental attitude as a diversion to their own wrongdoings. Worth a thought with morning coffee isn’t it? Council has you right where you want them to have you…looking outward instead of inward.
I asked myself the other day…”Why hasn’t Saffo been in the news lately?”…then I read this “Oooops…we spent taxpayers monies the wrong way” article…and who is at the helm? Correct…Oh No…Mr. Bill!
This world won’t help a soul unless those are willing to help themselves…and as we all sit reading articles every now and again about Council spending tax dollars foolishly (our tax dollars)…the majority of taxpayers here go on getting poked… prodded and raped.
Don’t let the Eskimo’s continue to ruin your lives…and they will…and laugh at us from now until they break our bank accounts…as they quietly fade into the grey.
Corruption was put into place by a “check mark” on a ballot. Corruption can be removed by numbers. This is still America…as much as we believe it’s melted away…we can rekindle the fire folks :-)
The End!

2015 years 8 months ago

If public money was being used they should get at least 3 bids/proposals before selecting a vendor.

2015 years 8 months ago

Video production services are limited in this area.
A 3 bid process would have probably included WECT, WWAY and a few smaller organizations as well.
In THAT case WWAY would NOT have turned down the money and why should they?
Of course Blueberry Fusion is located downtown, so this organization probably would have not included WECT as they are not located down town?
It’s also interesting to note that WDI is a member of the DBA.

Look, I’m all for the marketing of down town and honestly? I don’t think the city should be involved in it monetarily.
Why? Well, if the city is doing the right thing – providing good infrastructure, a safe environment to conduct business, and encouraging business start up by having lower taxes then businesses should be attracted to here.
But what the city is doing is telling downtown businesses (headlines from te last year or so) – you want extra police protection when the bars let out? Pay for it.
You want events down town like fireworks? We’ll set up a special tax district.
You want a Convention Center in the hope sit will drive business down town? We’ll set up a special tax district whereby that tax pays for eh CC. In other words – pay for it.

Now that this story has been brought out these organizations, like DBA and WDI should come under increased scrutiny because they are too intertwined and too cozy. The city should end all funding for all marketing organizations related to down town for two reasons. First the marketing is ineffective IMHO, and second when things like this happen, the city won’t be involved.
These organizations have lost any credibility they may have had and have become an embarrassment to the city.
Now Council, on the other hand, created this mess but the real issue is how Council treats down town. They encourage business development but then hamstring businesses with taxes, and regs like Historic Preservation. Council has also demonstrated, by their actions, that they are always on the lookout for more taxes – ANY TAXES to fund some of their spending ideas. Charlie Rivenbark has PUBLICLY stated that forced annexation was good for the city because the tax base would increase. Laura Padgett (and others) want Hamilton to re-word her proposed legislation, so that the city can tap into beach sand pumping funds so that the city can maintain River Walk. The County had no say in the development construction and benefit of River walk yet Council wants a county fund to pay for maintaining it!!!!
The entire council needs replacing.

Every wonder why the ballpark was put out as a general property tax increase for ALL city residents? Yeah, down town merchants WANTED the ball park but when you’re looking at $54M in costs over 20 years that’s a hefty tax to impose a small “special tax district”. In order to minimize the impact, Council decided to go city-wide property tax increase to make the tax increase numbers “look” smaller. And failed.
Like marketing of down town – has failed.
And funding for that marketing – has failed.

Yet Mayfaire (“the new down town” according to the SN) is full. Even the proposed Phase III is already spoken for. Yet empty spaces are seen down town.

Go figure

2015 years 8 months ago

State law says no recall of elected officials in this state.
We are one of 12 states that does not allow recall of any officials

so you can try to help yourself all you want but it won’t work

The end