Chamber, Utroska spar over Chamber’s report

A financial report that Blythewood Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Brenda Portnall said would be a full disclosure of the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce’s funding and expenditures for the eclipse events held in Doko Park last August, fell short of Councilman Tom Utroska’s expectations Monday evening.

While general categories of revenue and expenses were listed in the report, no receipts for any of the Chamber’s roughly $20,000 expenditures were included. The Chamber received $13,000 in accommodation tax (A-tax) funding from the Town and $6,165 from vendors and sponsors after it requested and received the A-tax funds from the Town.

Three of the councilmen did not comment at all on the report. Councilmen Malcolm Gorge, Larry Griffin and Mayor J. Michael Ross told The Voice they had not yet read through the report which was delivered on Friday prior to the Council meeting on Monday evening.

Utroska first addressed attendance numbers for three weekend events prior to the eclipse event on Monday. He and, earlier, Councilman Eddie Baughman, said the numbers were disappointing. When applying for accommodation tax funding for the three weekend events, Chamber Executive Director Mike Switzer told Council he expected to draw at least 3,000 visitors for those events, 90 percent of which would be classified as tourists.

“I don’t see [in the report] how many people were in attendance Aug. 18, 19 and 20,” Utroska said, “or what percentage of them were tourists.”

Switzer said attendance was only about 200 each night, taking no responsibility but blaming the low attendance on the warm weather. He said he didn’t know the percentage of tourists.

“We did our best and that’s what you got,” Switzer said.

The Town also awarded the Chamber $1,900 to market and advertise the three weekend events and $6,600 to market and advertise all four events.

“How many Facebook followers did you have when you were promoting the event and how many do you have now?” Utroska asked.

“I don’t know,” Switzer answered.

“I would like to have that information,” Utroska said.

According to the social media statistics in the report, the Chamber spent $75 on the eclipse event and received 104 Facebook response. Copies of a sampling of daily Facebook posts were included in the report. There was no other documentation identified as Facebook expenditures.

“You paid staff $7,500 for the events. Who is the staff?” Utroska asked.

“Kitty Kelly and myself,” Switzer answered.

Switzer initially said that Kelly received about two-thirds of the $7,500, then changed that to three-fourths.

The Chamber reported the following revenue/expenditures for the Aug. 18, 19 and 20 weekend events and the Monday eclipse event.

Revenue:

$12,950   Town A-tax funds

        915   Vendor fees

     5,250   Sponsorships

 $19,115   Total revenue

Expenditures:

Staff                          7,475.25

Amphitheater         2,400.00

Musicians & DJ     2,185.00

Marketing               1,113.10

Movies (2)              2,318.00

Eclipse Glasses      2,750.00

Waste                          755.00

Prize Money               850.00

Security (RCSD)        600.00

Parking                       200.00 

Misc.                            191.68

 Total:                  $20,838.03

Controversy over the funding and expenditures first arose two weeks prior to the eclipse event when it was learned that the Chamber had not provided items it was funded for and the eclipse glasses provided by the Chamber were unauthorized and had to be recalled.

After publishing a scathing letter in which she criticized Councilmen Tom Utroska and Eddie Baughman for not praising the Chamber enough for the success of the events and expressing disappointment that the Chamber didn’t keep its word on certain things that Switzer promised when requesting funds from Council, Chamber Chairman Belinda Portnall was effusive Monday night repeating several times that the Chamber’s work was phenomenal and that the event was phenomenal and that the chamber had a tremendous turnout.

But, after thanking the Chamber for organizing the events and praising them for their work, Ross weighed in further.

“The events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday lacked the numbers we thought we’d get,” Ross told Switzer. “For the money we spend, we like to get results and the food vendors didn’t do that well.” Ross said.

“And Monday’s attendance [for the eclipse] was a no-brainer. You probably didn’t have to do much – it was the eclipse! And some people just stumbled on us,” Ross said. “But it was great.”

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