Friday, August 14, 2009

An MP&F and MDHA News-Sandwich

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 1:46 PM

click to enlarge (Delicious photo manipulation courtesy of D. Ricky Rodriguez.)
  • (Delicious photo manipulation courtesy of D. Ricky Rodriguez.)
Two things. 1) In the category of "No news is still news," Pith got a hold of MP&F's contract and invoices with NES. They've been in charge of marketing for the utility since 2005. No cost overruns. No blog monitoring. No gross violations of conduct for which to be righteously indignant. 2) In light of Blake Farmer's Tuesday discovery that MDHA head Phil Ryan had budgeted $900,000 for communications about the proposed downtown convention center -- even though MP&F signed an open-ended contract -- Pith thought it best to call Mike Pigott to see if he was also aware of this suspiciously unmentioned cap. Sure enough, Pigott knew too:
Caleb: We were told that $900,000 was the communications budget for the entire length of the project. So we had used roughly half. Many of the early costs were heavier one-time things like setting up a web site and putting a speaker's bureau in place. After they were set up, they required maintenance, but not nearly as much work as at first. We expected costs to drop further when work began on the center next year and periodic construction updates became the main focus.
Now if you'll indulge me, take these two rather stale pieces of bread and slap them together. Take a bite. Isn't that delicious?! Isn't the sum so much tastier than the parts? No? OK, let me try to explain why this otherwise bland news-sandwich tickles my taste buds... The best part about a controversy, or a mini-controversy, is assigning blame. Scientists have shown that strenuous finger-pointing makes us happier -- it's like adding Crisco to the already greased up endorphin neural pathway -- but the sugar high peters out quickly, especially when it's hard to actually tell who's at fault. With that bit of throat clearing aside, let me say that a week after NewsChannel5's initial report I think we have a clearer idea of what went wrong. The open-ended contracts given to a PR firm and a consultant to help MDHA promote the new convention center were the result of a failure in management. A failure in management that was supported by all levels of management. Let me try to explain. NES is politically agnostic. They're beholden to TVA, yes, and the Mayor probably has some idea of what goes down on Church St., but they're not reporting directly to him. On the other hand, Dean was responsible for handing down the duty of coordinating Music City Center pre-development, along with an extra $250K to execute said duty, to MDHA, stressing that these were the guys capable of handling the job. Now that the contract flaps are out in the open, he's acting as if they've violated some sacred trust. But that's the thing: everyone knew. Phil Ryan says he had a budget cap of $900,000 for MP&F. MP&F says they were told of the same number. Dean and finance director Rich Riebeling went to (or were billed for) a bunch of meetings in which high-priced, on-the-clock PR partners were present. That NES got their moneys worth is a result of proper oversight. That MDHA did not is a result of lax oversight that no one, especially the Mayor's office, seemed to object to. That Ryan is now left to fall on his sword is an unfortunate political reality. That Dean is the man holding it steady is, at least after so much willfully neglectful supervision, at least a sign that he's willing to be, for once, assertive. Even when it means sacrificing a good soldier.

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