Council, Orasi clash on event budget overrun

Reporter Editor

Paul Sturiale told the city council he would step down from the Rockdale promotion project at the end of the month. Paul Sturiale told the city council he would step down from the Rockdale promotion project at the end of the month. City council members— expressing irritation and shock that a firm hired to promote Rockdale is $30,000 over a $32,400 budget for two concerts— took what might be a first step to sever ties with Orasi Development on Monday.

Paul Sturiale, who has represented Orasi in Rockdale, will no longer be involved with local projects after this month.

It was a meeting of polite but pointed confrontations. Later in the session, council member Joyce Dalley and Gary Griesbach, chair of the Rockdale Municipal Development District (MDD), clashed over perceived differences between the council and the entity.

That exchange was sparked by what is usually a routine nomination and appointment process in which the city names MDD board members.

This time around, a motion by council member Doug Calame to appoint four nominees to the MDD board, including former city council member Toby Johnson, died for lack of a second.

And Mayor John King revealed he had allowed his name to be placed in nomination for that board but was considering whether to withdraw it after learning there was opposition from current board members.

‘APPALLED’—Joan Ratliff, Rockdale Tourism Committee chair, told the council she was “somewhat appalled” that the committee didn’t have access to full budget numbers from Orasi until last week and over what those numbers revealed.

She said not only was Orasi $30,000 over the $32,400 budget for upcoming Fair Park concerts by John Corbett this Saturday (see separate story) and Reckless Kelly (Sept. 28), there were also issues with the initial event promoted by the firm.

Ratliff said Orasi’s promotion for last weekend’s “antique fair,” which was scaled back to essentially a visit by two antique appraisers Saturday, was also over budget.

Ratliff said Orasi’s original budget was $8,800 and initial expenditures were over $10,000. The figures $14,000 to $15,000 were thrown out in passing later in the discussion.

She apologized to the council. “We would never have approved that kind of overage without coming before you (the city) first,” she said. “I feel like we were caught in the middle.”

Ratliff said the committee cut some costs and volunteers worked at Saturday’s appraisals, saving some money.

CANCELLATION—The scaling back of Friday’s events—promoted as a large antique fair at Wolf Park—were also discussed.

A major point of contention was money paid to a statewide antiques organization.

“Why did Orasi pay $1,500 to hire someone to find appraisers whothenchargedus$1,000?” Denice Doss, tourism committee member, asked.

Sturiale replied that Orasi found the appraisers and the organization was hired for its contacts throughout the state. “ They promoted Rockdale to 2,800 people,” he said.

Doss and Sturiale also differed on how a large antique dealer, originally scheduled to appear at Wolf Park on Friday and Saturday, canceled the visit.

“He told us Orasi had canceled him,” Doss said.

Sturiale said Orasi did not tell the dealer not to come to Rockdale and termed the matter a “misunderstanding.”

While the appraisal Saturday drew 100 persons to Wolf Park, and Ratliff said some businesses, notably a downtown antiques dealer and a restaurant, did booming business during the two days, only two motel bookings in Rockdale could be attributed to the antiques activities.

AGGRESSIVE— Sturiale accepted responsibility for the cost overruns but urged the council not to terminate its agreement with Orasi, which is being paid $1,500 per month for its promotional work.

“My style is to be very aggressive,” he said. “We’ve got to take big steps. We were hired to build a brand, to get everyone working together, the city, the Chamber of Commerce, the MDD.

“There were things we didn’t see when we put this together,” Sturiale said. “We’re wanting to give people a reason to come to Rockdale. I believe when they see two, three, four successful events, they will gather to people who are successful.”

Sturiale said the concerts budget was put together before the talent was determined.

He said the original first concert headliner was envisioned as Charlie Robison, at $4,000. When that didn’t work out, Corbett was signed. “We thought he was a steal at $7,500,” Sturiale said.

Sturiale’s conclusion: “ The closer we get to the goal line, the harder I push. I don’t think I’m the right kind of person for this event. It’s a difference in style.”

“I will work through the end of the month on the concerts and I will step down,” he said.

He urged the council to retain Orasi.

RESOLUTION—Dalley presented a motion, apologizing in that it asks for an additional $15,000 to be mostly used for big-city market radio advertising to promote the two concerts.

That’s to be paid with hotel-motel tax funds, not from the city’s general fund (Rockdale taxpayers). That’s also the case with Orasi’s monthy fee.

It was approved unanimously and also included the following provisions:

• Invoices for all expenditures for the antique fair, with the exception of Rockdale Signs and the two appraisers, must be submitted before any payments will be made to Orasi.

• Orasi must stop work on all projects after the concerts. Orasi will continue with social media.

• The tourism committee will continue working on cutting costs on concert budgets.

Dalley, who before retiring did extensive marketing and tourism work with major metropolitan areas and states, noted: “In all my working years I had never dealt with a company which did not spell out what was included in a budget and what was not.”

MDD BOARD—Mayor King recommended delaying action on MDD board nominations until a special session at 5:30 p.m. Thursday but the topic was an agenda item and council members wanted it discussed.

King said he had submitted his name but that he’d had a conversation with board president Griesbach and there was substantial opposition to his being named a board member.

Griesbach said if the council appointed King as an MDD director, “I don’t think every member of the existing board is going to agree and stay on it under those circumstances.”

Griesbach urged the council to appoint persons with passion for the task to the board, noting that it required a considerable commitment to work.

He said the MDD had contacted the council and recommended a nominee. Griesbach did not mention the nominee but The Reporter has learned it was Johnson, who served on the council from 2010 until earlier this year.

Calame then made a motion to appoint Johnson, Adam Straznicky, Trent Wages and incumbent Bobby Pelzel whose term is expiring, to the board.

The motion died for lack of a second.

King said he hopes the matter can be resolved in Thursday’s special session.

COMMUNICATION—Dalley said she urged King to place his name in nomination, saying it might lead to “better understanding” between the city and MDD.

Griesbach said he felt there was a “lack of communication” and urged council members to attend development district board meetings.

Dalley said she appreciated the work of the MDD but questioned some of its actions. She pointed out that the city spent most of August trying to trim its budget and lessen a tax hike “and the MDD shows up and asks for $50,000 we don’t have anywhere in the budget.”

Griesbach defended the request (as the city’s share of a proposed water park “splash pad”) as something that would benefit Rockdale.

“I can name six or eight families, and you probably can too, who go outside of Rockdale for this kind of recreation,” he said.

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