NOLAmotion Blog

May 15, 2007

Orientation, Bloviation, Platitudes and Attitudes: How Not to Re-start a Small Government Agency

Filed under: Blogroll,Louisiana politics,Music,Politics,Uncategorized — nolamotion @ 1:16 am

Warning: this post, like the meeting it covers, is looooonnnggg…..

The Thursday, April 26 meeting of the Louisiana Music Commission was attended by only 4 people who weren’t either commissioners or state employees: me, Eric Cager and his Cutting Edge Music Business Conference cohort Vernon P. Thomas, and Carlo Ditta, founder of the Louisiana Independent Music Manufacturers Association (LIMMA) and Orleans Records.

Because there was no true Public Notice (and still no website), the public didn’t know about the meeting. However, the Hainkel Room, a senate meeting room in the Capitol–an ironic location since the late Sen. John Hainkel was a strong supporter of the past LMC–was filled with folks from Louisiana Economic Development (LED) who were required to attend at the behest of their boss, Asst. Secretary Don Pierson.

With Chairman Maggie Warwick happily ensconced at the dais, and Pierson at the table, the meeting proceeded with 2 hours (!) of orientation for the 10 (of 15) newly appointed commissioners attending. Oh what a well-oiled machine LED must be.

They started with introductions. The LMC members were brief. Then Chairwoman Warwick took over and basically told her life story (later she told the story of Elvis and the Hayride, and not the short version for she likes to tell stories). We all sat enraptured as she regaled us with us how she moved to Shreveport in 1960 (from Texas) and played on the Louisiana Hayride, then in its final year (it ended in August). She moved to Nashville for the next 20 years and returned to Shreveport in 1981 when she married Alton Warwick.

Now you know this is very important to the musical history of Louisiana. How else could it be, since the Warwicks, in 1999, successfully filed for a federal trademark of the phrase Louisiana Hayride. And thus, an artist who had nothing to do with founding, producing or otherwise establishing one of the nation’s most important radio shows, and whose experiences with it constituted less than a year, now owns the name.

Ah, the entertainment business, a bastion of ethics and fairness. Oops, this is the Ethical & Fair LMC, as Ms. Warwick and Lynn Ourso repeatedly emphasized. Surely there’s nothing unusual going on here.

Or is there?

Of course the Warwick’s FAME Foundation, which seeks to spend $300,000,000 developing property around the Municipal Auditorium, some of which the Warwicks and their business partners own (see the latest article on their plans here, and be sure to read the comments at the end of the story), for the benefit of musicians in Shreveport and which is set to receive $500,000 in Capital Outlay funds this coming fiscal year from the State of Louisiana, that’s ethical and fair, isn’t it? I mean, just because you’re Chair of the state agency dedicated to developing music doesn’t mean you can’t get state money for your “nonprofit” foundation to develop the biggest music project in the history of the world, right? That seems about as ethical as things can be in Governor Blanco’s Louisiana.

Don’t you agree?

Sorry, I digress. But so did the meeting, for it extended to 3 hours.

The introductions revealed a some very qualified new commissioners, particularly Loyola’s John Snyder (see his very helpful website here); educator, legendary jazz musician and Mayor of Greenville Dr. Ernest Lampkins; attorney Dino Gankendorff; musician, educator and producer Greg Davis; and music activist and manager Cynthia Simien all bring strong music business experience, both past and present, to the table. (I apologize for not knowing much about some of the other members’ music business backgrounds.)

Sidenote: Johnny Palazzotto is back on the LMC. The longtime owner of a record label, he has very admirably produced the Baton Rouge Blues Festival and its Blues in the Schools program for the past decade. However, he complained that he couldn’t get his CDs listed on iTunes…Duh, JP, I wouldn’t say this in public if you want to be taken seriously as a music biz VIP worthy of being on the LMC. Most Louisiana labels are on iTunes, figure it out Mr. P!

Back to the action: Don Pierson, truly a master of the government committee room meeting, held the commissioners spellbound as he explained what each LED team member in the room could do for the LMC. With new Entertainment director Sherri McConnell reorganizing her charges into a triple threat of Film/TV, Digital and now Music, Pierson revealed an organization poised to help the LMC with its every need: a marketing director to develop a marketing plan and to handle media relations, the Human Resources contact, the Fiscal manager to help them with their compensated travel to and from meetings, the Small Business director, even the Advanced Materials director was there.

(Note: to gain insight into how well LED is handling the film business, see this article in 225BatonRouge.com.)

After hearing from this team of eager experts, one commissioner asked the obvious question: what is the LMC budget? Pierson then dropped the most obvious bomb: zero, for the LMC no longer has a line-item budget. However, he quickly added, the commission is part of the LED family and, though music must compete against all the other components of LED for money, it is part of an accredited economic development organization. I know their faces didn’t reveal the glee they were feeling, but the LMC sure seemed pleased. They didn’t ask another question about why there was no LMC budget.

Pierson happily noted that the LMC’s enabling legislation has a unique clause about raising money from “public or private” sources. And he then made the connection: the LMC can raise money by staging events, or soliciting companies or foundations. Or, as Bernie and I expressed it, they expect the organization to sing for its supper.

You have no idea how many cockeyed plans were made in years past: concerts (to take advantage of musicians by having them play for free), fundraisers, events, etc. to raise money for the LMC. But, the reality is, nobody wants to attend a fundraiser for a state government agency. We already pay taxes. And music brings in tens of millions in taxes. The LMC deserves a budget.

For the record, at least while we were in charge, no matter the cause: you have to PAY THE BAND. Musicians should not be expected to play for free to raise money for a state agency or for most charity events.

Can you imagine a fundraiser for the Department of Insurance? Oh, wait, I had a $600 surcharge on my homeowner’s policy for Louisiana Citizens. I guess that department figured out a better way. Besides, we were told long ago that there was no legal mechanism to receive and disburse any funds raised for the LMC and that such funds would wind up in the General Fund of the State of Louisiana. I bet you can’t wait to donate to the cause.

Since nobody licenses musicians or otherwise regulates the music industry in a way that produces a revenue stream, the LMC always faced a problem in lobbying for a reasonable budget. And, ever since LED budgetarily absorbed the LMC (in 2005), there has been no line-item component of the state budget for the agency. Talk about starting over. There is NO BUDGET for music in the world’s most musical wellspring. Thanks, Ms. Blanco and friends. You’re doing a heck of a job!

So the meeting plodded on. At one point, an attorney from the Ethics Board explained the basics of serving on the LMC and how members could not profit from their service or do business with the agency. The FAME Foundation wasn’t mentioned during this part of the meeting.

After the 2 hour orientation, most of the LED folks left, leaving an even smaller audience for the next exciting component: what should the LMC be doing? A Strategic Plan was recognized as being the next logical step. And the formation of an Advisory Board was discussed. That allowed Ms. Warwick to bring up the name of her favorite music business attorney, Joel Katz. Don Pierson had one more thing to add at this point: LED could pay for a weekend retreat for the LMC to work on the new Strategic Plan.

How nice.

After purging 14 years of files and data and 8 years of the website that made 3 past strategic plans available to all, LED would spring for a working weekend retreat. I wonder if they can book a nice location like the beach? I wonder if they’d let me sign up?

The only member of the audience asked to speak was Carlo Ditta who expressed his desire to expand the role of LIMMA. The LMC then got a little sidetracked discussing how they could try to help make musicians successful. As if government can make the music business work! Fortunately, commissioners Gankendorff and Davis provided a reality check by noting how badly broken the industry currently is and how little anyone can do about it.

Then the meeting ended. I went up to the dais and introduced myself to some of the members, gave out a copy of the last strategic plan and of the educational interactive CD ROM script the late Tad Jones wrote and offered to make myself available to anyone who wished to learn more about what the LMC did for the past decade and a half.

Then I drove back to New Orleans, back to something that made sense–the first weekend of Jazz Fest.

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