Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bad press blamed
for poor NACO

The national counties association
will hold its convention here

The negative publicity surrounding the National Association of Counties' annual convention in Honolulu next month is making it difficult to raise private funds to help host it, City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said.

Raising funds

A look at the private and public contributions for the National Association of Counties:

Private contributions raised by contractor Capital Connection:

» $10,000: James Campbell Industrial Park
» $1,000: SAP Public Services
» $1,000: Verizon Hawaii
» $5,000: CompUSA
» $3,500: Link2 Gov

($20,500 total as of June 13)


$815,000: Honolulu
$85,167: Hawaii
$42,584: Kauai
$85,167: Maui
$37,307: Hawaii

($1,065,225 total)

In kind:

» $195,400: Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau/Hawai'i Convention Center (includes promotions, brochures, convention center rental, airport information booths and welcome banners)
» $2,500 (wine from Persis Group)

"I'm sure that has a lot to do with it," Dela Cruz said.

But those contracted by the city to organize and fund-raise for the convention say there are other factors that make it difficult to solicit private donations, including the city's ethics guidelines.

The City Council's Executive Matters Committee will take a request today to accept the nearly $470,000 in cash and in-kind donations for the conference.

The full Council, in a special meeting today, is also expected to accept an $85,000 donation from Maui County to help pay for $229,000 in transportation costs associated with the conference.

Dela Cruz said the Council was advised by the Ethics Commission that members could not directly solicit donations from private companies.

"Because of ethics concerns and misperceptions, the Council did not want to get directly involved in fund raising," he said.

Instead, the city hired Arizona-based Capital Connection as part of a $75,000 contract to seek private donations. Last year, Capital Connection, with the help of special event consultant Stacey Pawlowski, helped raise $500,000 in private sponsorships for the national counties conference held in Arizona.

The Council budgeted $815,000 to pay for conference costs. While the Legislature appropriated $50,000 last year for the conference, the governor did not release the money. This year, state lawmakers did not appropriate any money for the convention.

So far, Capital Connection has raised $20,500 in private cash donations and $2,500 in in-kind donations.

"If Capital Connection is unable to produce an acceptable amount of ... sponsorships, I'm definitely going to be disappointed," Dela Cruz said. The contract calls for a $350,000 fund-raising goal.

Pawlowski said that at NACO's convention in Arizona, about 40 percent of the donations came in during the last month before the conference.

But in Hawaii the fund-raising effort appeared plagued with problems from the start.

About a month after the fund-raiser was hired, the NACO organizer at the time left, and a new person was not hired until October. Pawlowski said there was some delay in receiving information and other tools for her to do her job.

And the strict ethics guidelines might have also contributed to the slow fund raising.

Pawlowski said Maricopa County officials were allowed to call companies directly to make sure they received the sponsorship information.

"In Hawaii the legal opinion said the (Council) was not allowed to do that," she said. "I myself made the calls."

Pawlowski said another problem is that corporate entities with no presence in Hawaii were reluctant to provide sponsorship, deciding instead to support next year's conference in Chicago.

County officials from across the country have been criticized about traveling to Honolulu, with some constituents viewing the trip as a junket on taxpayers' money.

Pawlowski said that based on her fund-raising experience, she has not heard that the negative publicity has affected fund raising.

But Dela Cruz thinks otherwise, especially if companies see people pulling out of a conference.

"If the attendance is going to be reduced, then that automatically reduces what you're going to be getting for sponsorship," he said.

Valerie Lee, the coordinator contracted by the city to help, said the number of people registered for the conference is a little more than 2,900.

While they had hoped for 4,000 people, she said the number of conference attendees -- not counting family members accompanying them -- is still within the normal range for NACO conventions at between 2,700 and 3,200.

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