By Jan Worth-Nelson
The Flint Cultural Center Corporation has contributed $384,000 to the Citizens for a Better Genesee County (CBGC), according to a required campaign finance form filed with the State of Michigan Aug. 2.
Citizens for a Better Genesee County is the committee that proposed and is promoting the county-wide Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment .96 millage up for a vote this Tuesday, Aug. 7. The millage would provide about $8.7 million/year for ten years for a dozen nonprofit arts and cultural institutions in the county.
Three payments from the FCCC to the Citizens committee were reported: an initial sum of $342,175 April 24, the day after the proposal was approved by the Genesee County Board of Commissioners. That contribution was followed by a $20,707 payment June 15 and a third payment of $21,250 with no receipt date listed.
Benefits from the millage would include free admission and/or discounts at the Flint Institute of Arts, Sloan Museum, Whiting Auditorium, Flint Youth Theater and the Flint School of Performing Arts, a grant-making program to a plethora of arts organizations county-wide, and “game-changing” funding increases for Berston Field House and the New McCree Theater.
Randall Thompson of Fenton, listed in the occupations line of the reporting form as a public relations representative from Pulse Communication, has identified himself as president of the CBGC and also signed the campaign forms as “treasurer or designated record keeper.”
Thompson has said the Citizens are a volunteer group of about 25 citizens advocating for the arts who have met monthly throughout the campaign in each others’ homes. He has said repeatedly he has not been paid for his work. The form shows that he himself contributed $2,500 to the committee, which as he has explained was to cover a late campaign finance filing fee to the Genesee County Clerk.
No other donors to the campaign were reported.
According to the form, of the money received so far, the two largest payouts were $252,336 to Visual Authority LLC in Troy for printing and mail and $89,910 to Crossvoter of Birmingham for digital advertising. The form did not indicate any payments to Randall Thompson. A $1,500 intern stipend/gas was listed to David Thompson, who told EVM he is Randall Thompson’s son.
The form listed $7,500 to Dykem Gossett PLLC of Lansing for legal fees, and $1,000 to Performing Arts Consultants on Mallery Street in Flint. That is the same address as Charles Winfrey, executive director of the New McCree Theater.
Other payments listed were a $120 membership fee to the Fenton Regional Chamber of Commerce, $350 membership fee to the Flint Genesee Chamber of Commerce, $550 to the Flint Genesee Chamber of Commerce for advertising, $100 membership fee to the Flushing Chamber of Commerce, $250 membership fee to the Grand Blanc Chamber of Commerce.
In the interest of full disclosure, East Village Magazine received $1,020 from the committee for a full-page ad in the August print edition. David Thompson dropped off the payment in person, and when asked about his payment from the committee he at first said he was only an intern and was not paid, but when told that his name appeared with a payment amount on the form, he said he did receive a payment but thought it was for something else.
In a statement provided to EVM today, Mark Sinila, chief operating officer of the Flint Cultural Center Foundation said, “Regarding the Flint Cultural Center Corporation’s reported contribution to Citizens for a Better Genesee County, yes, the ‘Corporation’ which is a non-recipient of any potential millage funds, was the organization that provided support for mailings, legal and other additional expenses for their campaign.
“The only strategic initiative behind this was the fulfilment of the Corporation’s mission to support and promote the vibrancy of arts and culture in our community,” he wrote. “This millage, by providing sustainable, long-term support, does just that. The Corporation is a support organization in one way or another for all the institutions here on Campus. Most of the funds came directly out of marketing budget in order to support this initiative due to the inherent significance.”
The .96 mill proposal would cost the average Genesee County homeowner about $48/year, based on an assessed valuation of about $50,000. Taxpayers’ money would go first to the Genesee County Board of Commissioners, which would then pass it to the Flint Cultural Center Corporation for distribution.
Advocates of the proposal point out a single visit by a family of four to the Cultural Center Campus would get back the $48 investment. They say pouring public money into the arts would be a major step forward as the community attempts to recover from the water crisis and other economic declines of recent decades. They say since the arts have virtually disappeared from most Flint schools, the millage would provide funds and programs from the cultural center to get them back.
Opponents of the proposal say the millage is too much at the wrong time for the community, without enough accountability built in. It would be the third highest millage for Genesee County property owners. Critics have expressed concern that once the funds started flowing into the cultural institutions, the public might not have enough of a voice and that access, especially to poorer communities, might not be guaranteed. They also have voiced displeasure with what they see as a lack of transparency by the Citizens for a Better Genesee County and a lack of detail about why the money is needed.
Sinila repeated the assertion by virtually all the arts executives in public presentations and two recent town halls that an arts investment will spur economic growth and encourage learning opportunities for children and families.
“We believe the arts to be an important part of, and contributor to, a higher quality of life for all residents of Genesee County. We also believe that the beneficiary organizations of this millage have, and can continue to, deliver programs and experiences of high quality and importance for our community. For these reasons, the Flint Cultural Center Corporation has supported this initiative, and urges Genesee County residents to do the same by voting in favor of this millage on Aug. 7,” Sinila said.
Distribution amounts if the millage passes would be as follows, according to a memorandum of understanding released two weeks ago:
Millage total is .96 mills = $8,775,654.56
minus 193,752.96 to the local DDA and BDA (as required by state law) minus $500,000 for grants to be administered by the Greater Flint Arts Council
Equals total estimated millage amount of $8,081,902.21 to be disbursed by FCCF annually as follows:
Flint Institute of Arts (0.2 mills annually) = $1,792,413.11
Flint Institute of Music (0.2 mills annually) = $1,792,413.10
Sloan*Longway (0.2 mills annually) = $1,792,413.10
The Whiting (0.2 mills annually) = $1,792,413.10
The Floyd J. McCree Theatre (The New McCree Theatre) (.0469 mills annually) = $412,246.63
The Friends of Berston Fieldhouse (.0469 mills annually) = $412,246.63
The Greater Flint Arts Council (.01 mills annually) = $87,756.54
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to indicate that the address of Performing Arts Consultants is the same as the address of Charles Winfrey, executive director of The New McCree Theater.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.