By Michael Gaffney
The Worcester City Council, led by Candy Carlson, George Russell, and Khrystian King are calling for an audit of Discover Central Massachusetts. The city hands over $500,000.00 to the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber takes their cut, and then hands it over to Discover Central Massachusetts without any accounting.
I’ve previously written about how awful the return on in investment Discover Central Massachusetts is for Worcester. The city basically gets nothing, but the Chamber of Commerce sure does profit! (Let’s face it, it is a taxpayer subsidy so the Chamber can pay Tim Murray $250,000 per year.)
The argument against is the usual nonsense. Instead of just doing the audit, Ed Augustus used the tired old argument that “I’m disappointed this budget hearing is being politicized.”
Back in January of 2017, when I proposed the same audit, the argument was that it was a “witch hunt.” Strong argument, Augustus – you are certainly worth the $250,000 the City shells out.
Now I know most of you won’t clink over and read the 2017 and 2019 articles, but you really should. The hypocrisy is hysterical and I love that Worcester Magazine actually used the same images in both articles:
The issues with Discover Central MA and the Chamber of Commerce have not been resolved and the Council should be able to get a simple audit to know how the monies they are budgeting for and handing over to the Chamber of Commerce are spent. It’s vexing that anyone would speak against the Council doing its’ job.
Here is my argument (as described by Worcester Magazine) back in 2017 –
At-Large Councilor Mike Gaffney said his goal in originally requesting an audit of the Chamber of Commerce, and this week in shifting his focus to two requests amounting to greater separation between the Chamber and DCM, was not to prove the tourism agency was unsuccessful. Rather, he said he was concerned at the financial arrangement of routing city grant money through the Chamber, which is active in lobbying efforts and politics.
“No problem with giving the money, just give it [directly] to the organization,” Gaffney said. “Why are we doing this pass-through?”
Currently, the city grants the Chamber $500,000 annually, and the Chamber “sub-grants” the money to DCM. The tourism agency is housed in the Chamber offices on Main Street, payment for which is spelled out in the grant agreement with the city. The president of DCM, Christina Andreoli, is also the executive vice president of the Chamber. All of those things were red flags for Gaffney, who read the definition of “kickback” on the Council floor and alleged poor past judgment on behalf of Chamber President and CEO Tim Murray and General Counsel Stu Loosemore.
“It seems inappropriate that an organization we’re sending money to has, for a subset, has to pay that money back,” Gaffney said.
I must amend my prior position that Discover Central Mass has been successful. Their big campaign to promote local business over the holiday season was an absolute joke as I wrote about here:
On December 13, 2018, Discover Central MA posted an article about “a number of small businesses” on Main Street claiming downtown shouldn’t look like a highway. There were five businesses mentioned. None of them were new businesses.
Considering the taxpayers of Worcester pay $500,000 per year for Discover Central MA’s services, this is rather unacceptable. The City could have run 60 second ads six times a day for the entire month of December on WTAG for a couple thousand dollars and spent the rest of the money on school books or, heaven forbid, cut the funding and slow the growth of the City’s expenses. But, there are pockets that need to be lined.
I went on to explain the shell game and finances of Discover Central MA.
Maybe some councilors read the article or Russell had enough of the Chamber’s bullshit and decided to flip his position and call for the audit – he was the biggest critic of the audit when I suggested it in 2017, because it appears at least the three of them aren’t playing around:
Councilors Khrystian King, George Russell and Candy Mero-Carlson were among those who took issue with the way an annual $500,000 city payment to the agency passes through the Chamber of Commerce. King requested an independent audit of the way the money is spent, Russell asked for a cherry sheet of a previous year to be sent to the council before the next budget hearing, and Carlson pointed to issues in the contract between the city and Discover Central Mass.
They are absolutely right! There are issues that need to be explored and addressed. An audit is a simple fact-finding process that when requested by a fellow councilor or three, should be passed as a matter of course. Oversight and transparency is the most important part of the job of a city councilor.
Why is there a pass-through from the City to the Chamber to Discover Central MA – just issue the check to them directly or stop issuing the checks.
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the comedy here – Russell acted surprised to find out that the city gives over $40,000 a month to the Chamber of Commerce to pay Discover Central MA’s rent…
Similarly, Russell expressed frustration that the relationship between the Chamber of Commerce and Discover Central Mass was never made completely clear. He didn’t know, for instance, that the city gives about $41,000 to the Chamber of Commerce every month for Discover Central Mass. The line item, overall, is about $500,000 a year, and Russell said he was unaware that money was going to the Chamber of Commerce then disbursed to Discover Central Mass.
Hey Russell, I pointed out the payments two years ago:
Currently, the city grants the Chamber $500,000 annually, and the Chamber “sub-grants” the money to DCM…
The city’s grant agreement allows DCM to pay the Chamber $40,000 for overhead costs….
Russell must have been sleeping through the 2017 meeting.
Better late than never.
Of course, the Worcester Magazine article then engages in a diatribe about how personalities are involved with the current request for an audit. It is the same lame argument as presented back in 2017:
At-Large Councilor Moe Bergman was even more direct with his opposition to the order, saying the city was getting “bogged down” with issues of personality more than substance.
Bergman pretends to be a conservative, but hasn’t seen an audit could vote for or tax increase he couldn’t vote for – his only tax cut proposal came from an article I wrote. He plays the right-wing conservative for the religious zealots while is simultaneously a pro-infanticide, pro-tax creep for the left-wing. And if you rent, are lower middleclass, or poor he detests you. It’s quite the accomplishment having a moral compass that points in two directions at once. It will be interesting to see if he can get reelected now that Aidan “turtle” Kearney’s rat-blog is a joke.
The only people politicizing and engaging in personalities on this matter are the bag-men that don’t want the public to know how the shell game works.