Give and Take
When Lieutenant Governor Joe Rogers organized a conference on youth education last spring, he got a lot of help: The University of Denver lent him the Magness Arena at cost; BeWell.net, a local Internet provider, set up a Web site; polling company Floyd Ciruli and Associates pitched in its expertise; and the Pollack Norman advertising agency threw in some design work and a printed folder -- or so Rogers thought.
According to a lawsuit filed in April, the Lieutenant Governor's Conference on Youth Education, the nonprofit organization formed by Rogers to run the event, owes Pollack Norman $25,500.
Ad-agency partner George Pollack didn't return repeated phone calls, and the agency's attorney, Daniel Blum, declined to comment on the case. But according to documents filed in Denver District Court, the company agreed to provide services from September 1999 through January 2000 and says the conference "expressly and impliedly agreed to pay Plaintiff" for those services. The Denver-based agency, which produces slick print, radio and TV ad campaigns for clients such as Cellular One, Soundtrack, KN Energy, Wendy's and United Bank, says it mailed invoices to the lieutenant governor's office and that the conference, which was based in that office, not only "received, examined, accepted and retained" the invoices without objecting to any of them, but also agreed to pay the charges.
Rogers, who would discuss only certain aspects of the lawsuit based on his attorney's advice, says those claims are outrageous. He calls the suit "baffling" and contends that the agency charged three times what its services were worth. "It doesn't make sense to me or anybody," Rogers says. "[Pollack Norman] had submitted a proposed contract which included the kinds of services they could provide...TV commercials, radio commercials... none of which fit within the scope of this conference. We never signed it. They started billing based on that contract."
Although Pollack Norman created the logo and look of the conference, as well as its slogan and title, the brochure the agency provided to the participants was "literally a folder," Rogers says, and the written material on it was supplied by the lieutenant governor himself. "If you talked to anyone in graphic arts, they will tell you [the $25,500 charge] is outrageous," he adds. "I am simply not going to agree to pay that kind of money, especially when we've been triple-billed."
In court documents, Rogers counters Pollack Norman's claims: The agency agreed to provide its work for free or as a donation to the conference, he says. Since the suit was filed, the conference has offered to settle the case for $8,500, an amount Rogers argues is more than appropriate for what was provided.
The April 8 event, which used the working title "Uncensored," was Rogers's most ambitious endeavor since he took office in January 1999. The conference signed up 1,540 juniors and seniors from 200 Colorado high schools, although only 1,045 showed up at DU. They were asked for their thoughts on school discipline and the dropout rate, as well as how to improve the teaching of reading, writing and math. DU undergraduates led numerous breakout sessions for the teens, some of whom wore conference T-shirts with the Pollack Norman-created slogan "Our Voices. Our Solutions. It's about time!" Panel discussions, speeches by Rogers and others, and free meals were also on the daylong agenda.
Although it had to be postponed for two weeks and still got a lower-than-expected turnout -- Rogers had originally hoped to bring in 3,000 to 5,000 students -- the conference was deemed a success. "The day went great," says Donna Wilson, DU's director of special programs. "The high school students were wonderful, and the breakout sessions facilitated by the undergraduate students here were just tremendous. My only concern is what happened to all the work that the students did. I'm excited to find out what happened to the results."
Rogers had promised to release those results in a ten-page booklet that was supposed to be distributed this fall to every school, teacher, administrator and school-boardmember in the state. The release date has been delayed until at least January, however, as the conference looks for a company that will agree to donate its publishing services. "Lots of reports are issued by state government that nobody reads," Rogers says. "We want to make this one that people will read. We are taking the time to do it right."
When he announced the conference in September 1999, Rogers said his goal was to raise $1 million in donations and in-kind contributions, and a number of corporate sponsors -- including Coke, Pepsi, Kellog, Kraft Foods, McDonald's, Norwest, Safeway, US West and United Airlines -- are listed in conference materials. Two foundations, W.A.M. America's Kidz Network and the El Pomar Foundation, also donated money -- $25,000 in the case of El Pomar. Other organizations, such as DU, BeWell.net and Ciruli and Associates, donated their time, energy or services.
"But unfortunately, the fundraising that the lieutenant governor had hoped for didn't come to fruition," says Deirdre Bourke, a senior account executive at Conferon, a nationwide conference-planning firm. "To do it the right way, [$1 million] is what we felt we would have needed."
Bourke, who helped arrange to have DU host the event, says she donated her personal time toward Uncensored's planning because she "believed in the whole concept of it. Unfortunately," she continues, "I didn't want to use any of my company's resources, so I stepped out" when it became apparent that Conferon wouldn't be reimbursed for any of its costs. "I got the impression that Pollack Norman was expecting to get paid for their services," she adds, "as I was."
In all, the conference collected only $98,500 in cash contributions, according to information supplied by the lieutenant governor's office in response to Westword's request. Another $60,000 to $75,000 worth of goods and services were donated, bringing the total amount to less than one-fifth of the goal.
DU's Wilson, who was in charge of allocating the cash, says she spent all of it. "I feel like we did our part here," she adds. "We did everything at cost, facilities and food and all the things you would expect. Keep in mind that they used the Magness Arena...and that's converting it from ice to stage and back, as well as at least a hundred breakout rooms."
But a lack of cash isn't the reason the conference is fighting Pollack Norman's suit, says Rogers's attorney, Charles Casteel, a member of the Davis, Graham and Stubbs firm who's also donating his time to the conference. "It's not a dispute over whether someone can pay," he explains. "It's about whether it should have even been billed. The conference is about kids, about children, so it's a question of where you put your money. Do you put it toward kids, or pay somebody who you don't expect to pay?"
There is now just under $31,500 left in the conference account, according to Rogers's office, although a staff member couldn't explain why that would be, since DU's Wilson spent all of the cash. But Rogers says he'd like any leftover money to go to furthering the goals of the project -- he plans to travel the state next year, promoting his findings and trying to get schools to implement changes based on them -- and not into the bank account of Pollack Norman. He might even consider holding a second conference in two years, he adds, or one that's just for teachers.
"There were so many good folks that helped us with this. I'm very much willing to take this to a jury of six people and ask them what they think," the lieutenant governor says. "I had to make a decision. Would I pay these guys an exorbitant amount of money and do the wrong thing, or do the right thing and go to court?"
A trial date has been set for April 2, 2001.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.