Following extensive debate Monday, a proposal for event planning for Solon’s bicentennial celebration was approved at a cost of $27,000.
“It’s a pretty irresponsible use of tax dollars,” Councilman Robert N. Pelunis said during the Finance Committee Meeting where he voted against the proposal. He said he feels it is something that can be handled in-house by the city’s administration.
“We already do these events each year,” he said. “It’s not like we are adding a lot of things.”
Some of the events outlined in the proposal include a time capsule opening, Home Days, a black tie event and a bicentennial video presentation. Mr. Pelunis said it is not like much help is needed for a time capsule opening; the city presents Home Days each year; a black tie event is an event that can be planned in-house; and the city has a contract with LPV already for video production and can add the bicentennial video to that.
Community Center Manager Rich Parker said that these are just some of the events presented in a rough draft form, and other events have not yet been mapped out. Palmer Event Solutions, hired to take on this task, will work with pre-planning as well as throughout the entire year, totaling an 18-month contract.
Mr. Pelunis said he researched the matter through the Bureau of Labor Statistics and an event planner typically makes $23.95 an hour. This contract would mean that the city is looking to pay for more than 1,100 hours, which he believes is way too high.
“We are not talking about just a little festival,” Councilman Robert Shimits, who is president of the Solon Historical Society, said. “We are supposed to be a premiere city and this is an opportunity to show it off.
“Not everyone gets to be 200 years old,” Mr. Shimits continued. “It’s a once-in-a-generation event.”
Mr. Parker said that while the recreation department has enjoyed presenting events such as Home Days each year, “no one is a certified event planner.
“This is a pretty large endeavor,” Mr. Parker noted, and a “citywide series of events.
“It is important to have a certain level of expertise provide us guidance.”
Councilman Douglas A. Magill also opposed the proposal.
“One of the things that is both a challenge and a joy of leadership is developing an organization that has capability and professionalism.
“You try to bring the strongest people around you that you can and then you challenge them,” Mr. Magill said. “We have competent and professional people working for the city who has done this kind of thing before and I would be astonished we couldn’t pull it off ourselves.”
By farming it out, Mr. Magill continued, “the question becomes, who owns this?
“If we are getting consultant happy here hiring as many consultants as we are, I don’t know that we are doing the best with the city’s money.”
By contracting it out, it becomes their event, not Solon’s, Mr. Magill said of Palmer Event Solutions.
“This should be Solon’s event,” he said. “We are doing a disservice to the competent people we have here.”
“I grew up here and would like to see a fabulous event,” Councilman Nancy E. Meany, who voted in favor of the proposal along with Councilman Marc R. Kotora, Jeremy A. Zelwin, Councilman William I. Russo and Mr. Shimits, said. “I look at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“The question is, do we want to put a good year-long event out there or scale it down?” she continued. “It’s how you perceive it. We should have a year-long great celebration for this great city.
“Do I like that it is $27,000? Probably not,” Mrs. Meany said, “but I see the necessity.”
She said the recreation staff has a lot on their plates.
Mr. Parker said he reached out to other communities who have held bicentennials, and some have used consultants and others have not.
“Palmer will help us make this a great opportunity,” Mr. Parker said.
Mr. Zelwin asked if the city has looked into having volunteers take on some of the event planning responsibilities.
“It will definitely be part of the process, but has not been done yet,” Mr. Parker said. Mr. Parker also noted that there are far less civic organizations than in the past and “no one is doing it for free.”
Mrs. Meany said perhaps longtime businesses like Nestle would be interested in being a sponsor.
Mr. Parker said that seeking sponsors is part of the “back end” work being tackled by the recreation staff.