Monday, January 22, 2007

Truth Hurts

Here's the audio from the first article on FPA.
One unhappy camper claimed they were misquoted, so I figured they have told that lie to enough people at this point that it was a good time to post the audio.

The real lies in this audio are the claims that I can pick up bank statements for FPA at Carolina First, which is not true...and the promise to provide me with board minutes and surveys.

We've been asking for this information and more since May and the FPA continues to intentionally violate open records laws.

I wonder why?

- Paul Blake

Five Points Swindle
Editorial by Paul Blake

The Five Points Association gets hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars. Too bad the association is currently defunct.

The S.C. Secretary of State’s office confirmed on Monday the Five Points Association (FPA) had failed to file required financial records with the state by the Aug. 15, 2005, deadline.
“The organization is expired,” Melissa Dunlap, the chief of staff at the secretary of state’s office, told City Paper.
Dennis Hiltner, the president and acting treasurer of the association, was required by law to file by the deadline but failed to do so. When City Paper asked questions, including why the association missed the deadline and whether holding both the office of president and treasurer created a conflict of interest, Hiltner told the newspaper, “I won’t be the treasurer after next meeting.”
When asked why, he said, “I just decided.”
Five Points Association Executive Director Merritt Brewer announced during the Aug. 24 membership meeting that the association received $220,000 in hospitality tax funding for 2006.
During that membership meeting, FPA Vice President Jeff Whitt announced decisions about the allocation of the funds. Part of the money will be used to finance and advertise a future pub crawl involving Budweiser, the purchasing of pub crawl t-shirts designed by Virginia-based Portico Publications, owner of the Free Times, and the hiring of C.C. Riggs Advertising Agency.
Columbia City Council's approval of funding for a defunct organization should raise questions from Five Points merchants and Columbia taxpayers. How can the city give hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospitality tax revenue to an organization that has failed to file proper paperwork with authorities?
“The city gets a full copy of financial statements before they are awarded money,” Brewer said, claiming that the decision to provide funding likely came before the FPA was required to file paperwork with the state.
Mayor Bob Coble said he didn’t know whether the city looked at the FPA’s previous financial records before giving away hospitality tax money.
“Obviously the Five Points Association is a well-known entity,” Coble said.
Coble also said he was aware of a new organization that merchants had started in Five Points and also said he believed Hiltner has done a “very good job” with the FPA.
But that “very good job” would certainly be debatable for anyone taking the time to look at the tax return filed for special events in 2004.
According to records obtained by City Paper, some of the FPA’s special events— which are subsidized by public money— are money-bleeding operations.
Paint Five Points, for example, lost $20,607 in 2004.
The Five Points After Five event lost $8,926, but the year prior (2003) shows a $6,037 profit. Why the $14,963 difference in just one year?
More questionable, though, is the incredibly popular Saint Patty’s Day festival. For the 2004 festival, the FPA claims it made only $64,080 in profit. Not bad, eh? Well, that’s after claiming a whopping $279,723 in expenses.
Where did all the money go?
City Paper doesn’t know. And neither do taxpayers.
When asked about the expenses, FPA representatives assured the newspaper that they would be forthcoming with the details of these expenditures. So far, the organization hasn’t been.
“I think it’s a situation where they are doing the same thing over and over,” said Randy Dennis, who thinks Five Points After Five should be breaking even and not losing money.
The supposed “successful” concert series creates a great amount of exposure for Budweiser. The beer company, in turn, writes a tax-deductible check directly to the association. This “donation” gives Budweiser tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertising placed by the association as well as signage at the event. The hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars funneled to the association by City Council, tax exceptions and synergistic partnerships make it a sweet deal for all involved, including Free Times, a City Paper competitor that has not reported aggressively on the FPA.
Meanwhile, many of the daytime merchants located in Five Points feel excluded. In May, 18 merchants formed a new organization called Our Five Points, as first reported by City Paper. One of the founders, Elizabeth Cromer, owner of It’s All In The Name, claims the group now has about 30 members.
The most recent Paint Five Points this summer left out two obvious Five Points merchants.
“I’m a new gallery in Five Points and I wasn’t aware of Paint Five Points and they didn’t tell [Portfolio Art Gallery owner] Judy either,” said Laura Brown owner of The Artists Basement.
City Paper has had its own experiences with the FPA. In May, the first meeting that representatives for this newspaper attended, Hiltner added to the agenda his complaint of black City Paper newspaper boxes chained to lampposts and trash cans. His concern was over destroying expensive green paint. This concern came the same week that City Paper reported on the formation of Our Five Points.
City Paper has since moved offices to Five Points and joined the FPA at the Aug. 24 meeting. The newspaper immediately offered to sponsor Five Points After Five. Brewer agreed to allow the sponsorship.
But Brewer, of course, is outranked by President Hiltner. Brewer later wrote in an e-mail to City Paper, “I can only have 1 print sponsor. They give us a great deal too. The Free Times has long been a part of this event and they promote the hell out of it! The are necessary (according to my surveys) for the success of the event. Your being a part of the association is great... and because of that I will help you with whatever you need, but I can’t have 2 print sponsors for 1 event.”
This “successful” event lost $8,926 in 2004.
Meanwhile, the official sponsors for the event include 10 bars and restaurants and two radio stations. Brewer promised to provide City Paper with the “surveys” in the next two weeks.
“They are not representing the merchants in Five Points,” said Cromer of It’s All In The Name. “I think new leadership would be a good thing.”
When repeatedly asked why the association filed in 2004 with Hiltner’s signature but not 2005, Hiltner raised his voice. “I forgot, Paul,” he snapped. “Hang my ass.”
Instead, I think we’ll just show our readers the rope.